Why is DHR a World Heritage Site?
The Government of India made an application to UNESCO for the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway to be inscribed on the list of World Heritage Sites in 1998 in recognition of its social, cultural, economic and industrial value as a lifeline of India. The World Heritage Committee of UNESCO, at its 23rd session held at Marrakesh in Morocco on 5th December 1999, decided to inscribe DHR on its World Heritage Site list stating the following reasons:
"The DHR is the first, and still the most outstanding, example of a hill passenger railway. Opened in 1881, it applied bold and ingenious engineering solutions to the problem of establishing an effective rail link across a mountainous terrain of great beauty. It is still fully operational and retains most of its original features intact".
It meets cultural criteria (ii) "An outstanding example of the influence of an innovative transportation system on the social and economic development of a multi-cultural region, which was to serve as a model for similar developments in many parts of the World".
It meets cultural criteria (iv) "The development of railways in the 19th century had a profound influence on social and economic development in many parts of the World. This process is illustrated in exceptional and seminal fashion by the DHR".
What is Heritage?
'Heritage' will be something old but not everything old is heritage. Heritage is passed to us to look after by our parents and grandparents.And for us to pass on to our children and grandchildren to look after.
Why is DHR important today?
By the 1990s, DHR was in poor condition and Indian Railways tried to close it. A number of local people, led by Sherab Tenduf-la of Darjeeling, petitioned Indian Railways to keep DHR open and develop it as an attraction for tourists.
In 1998 Indian Railways applied to UNESCO for DHR to be listed as a World Heritage Site. DHR was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1999 – saving it as the pride of the people of the Darjeeling Hills for all the people of the World.
DHR is very valuable to the local economy of the Darjeeling Hills:
- DHR is known to people all over the World
- Tourists come to the Darjeeling area to see DHR and travel on it
- This brings more tourists to the Darjeeling area – where they also spend their money on other tourist attractions, hotels, food, souvenirs and taxis
- This helps so many people in the Darjeeling area – even if they are not directly employed by DHR
- It also remains a local means of transport
What does World Heritage Site status mean for the DHR?
When the DHR was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, it was the first industrial World Heritage site in Asia and only the second railway site in the World.
Since then, DHR has been joined in India by:
- Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus) (2004)
- Nilgiri Mountain Railway (2005)
- Kalka - Shimla Railway (2008)
Railway World Heritage sites in Europe are:
The other railways are World Heritage sites because of their infrastructure of tunnels, viaducts etc through mountain areas. Only DHR is listed for being a fully operational heritage railway with its original locomotives, coaches, wagons and buildings as well as its innovative infrastructure of spiral loops and zig-zag reverses.
Only DHR is also listed as a World Heritage site because it links the different cultures of the diverse communities from Siliguri up to Darjeeling. Everyone living in the Darjeeling Hills is part of the DHR World Heritage Site.
The DHR is our inheritance. It is mine, yours and ours too.
So let us look after it well for the nation of tomorrow.
Let’s all keep it special!
Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan (CCMP)
Northeast Frontier Railway is funding UNESCO for 2 years to develop a Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan (CCMP) as a manual to determine how the tangible and intangible heritage of the DHR and the communities it serves can be conserved for the future in a practical manner.