Safeguarding Mountain Railways of India: Developing heritage management framework for the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) – a UNESCO World Heritage property since 1999 represents a unique creative engineering marvel, demonstrating the influence of innovative technology and interchange of human values in the latter part of 19th century. The ‘Toy Train’, as it is fondly known, was the first industrial heritage site in Asia to be inscribed on the World Heritage List. Still operational today, these hill passenger trains are outstanding examples of bold, ingenious engineering solutions concerning the establishment of an effective rail service that transports its passengers through a charismatic panorama of breathtaking views, green valleys and high waterfalls. 

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Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan for Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

The Indian Railways as the custodian of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway has been confronted with many challenges concerning the conservation, maintenance and management of the site. While the construction of good quality roads in the region has brought better connectivity between the plains to the hills, this has also attributed to the rapid uncontrolled urban development in the region triggering encroachments, further affecting the heritage value of the site.

The major challenge is to define heritage in the context of Railways on how to conserve and manage the overall operation of DHR as a Railway Heritage site. 

On the other hand, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee at the time of inscription had recommended the State Party to establish a special heritage management unit responsible for monitoring, conservation and management of the site, as well as a comprehensive conservation and management plan. In this context, the Indian Railways entrusted UNESCO New Delhi to develop a Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan (CCMP) for DHR as well as a set of conservation manuals that will help the Indian Railways to better preserve the heritage assets of the DHR, and established a self-beneficiary Funds-in-Trust at the UNESCO New Delhi Office to this end.  

The project intends to:

  • Assist the Indian Railways to establish a clear definition and delimitation of the boundaries of the World Heritage property and its buffer;
  • Develop an elaborative Comprehensive Conservation Management framework; 
  • Elaborate a set of conservation manuals for heritage assets of the DHR; 
  • Establish a detailed inventory of heritage assets within the DHR; 
  • Assist the Indian Railways to implement CCMP through the establishment of special heritage management unit;
  • Build capacity of the Indian Railways, including its site managers and staff members through transmission of CCMP heritage conservation and management practices

Project Timeframe

Oct 2015 - June 2019


A project team was established in Kurseong, and a team of experts was formulated in order to elaborate a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) team. Over the last two years, the project team has successively collected necessary data for the establishment of a graded inventory, as well as conducted a survey to elaborate the topography. 

UNESCO CCMP team has been working closely with both the project team in Kurseong but also with the Northeast Frontier Railways. 

UNESCO held a consultation meeting with the Indian Railway on 23-24 May 2018 last which allowed both parties to review the progress made so far as well as to discuss in detail on the establishment of a management structure responsible for heritage assets within the DHR.  More details here

UNESCO New Delhi and its CCMP team will continue to work with the Indian Railways in order to finalize the CCMP. A series of workshop will be conducted to familiarize the Indian Railways officials/technicians in the use of conservation manuals. 

A GIS based Inventory will also be handed over to the Indian Railway for their daily management of the heritage assets within the DHR. 

Upcoming Activities

Communities Outreaching

While continuing working with the experts in the elaboration of the conservation plan as well as conservation manuals, UNESCO New Delhi is currently developing a set of activities reaching out to local communities including school children and youth. A community based consultation will also be held encouraging the local communities to take part in the conservation and management of the DHR World Heritage property. The details of the activities will be shared soon in the UNESCO New Delhi Home page:

Celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Inscription  on the World Heritage List

UNESCO New Delhi will be associated with the Indian Railways to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the inscription of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. A publication on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway will be launched on the occasion, and other celebration will also be held in Darjeeling and New Delhi jointly with the Indian Railways. 



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