A Cultural Politics of Mobilities and Post-Colonial Heritage: A Critical Analysis of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR)

Roy, Sujama (2010) A Cultural Politics of Mobilities and Post-Colonial Heritage: A Critical Analysis of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR). Doctoral thesis, University of Sunderland.

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Abstract

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) had been introduced in 1881 in the hills of Darjeeling as a vehicle for economic and social development in Colonial India. The importance of Darjeeling as the economic and strategic centre accelerated the implementation of the DHR as the main mode of transport in the Himalayan foothills of Northern Bengal. At the time of its inception Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was a commercial railway carrying freight and running regular mail trains serving the new needs of the region as it developed as a military base and tea production centre. Since then the DHR has evolved through different periods of time incorporating different phases of its own existence both as a mode of transport and as a heritage form. In 1999 the DHR was declared as a World Heritage Site due to its significance as a hill passenger railway and an example of the engineering excellence of 19th Century and the socio-economic development that it brought into the Darjeeling region. However, even after ten years of its inscription as a World Heritage, very little research has been done on the DHR. This thesis, thus, focuses on the DHR. In my research, I have firstly attempted a cultural analysis of the 'journey' of the DHR. How it is instrumental in making 'travel experiences' and how it is itself constituted through different embodied travel practices and performances. In this context it is shown how the 'hybrid geographies' of humans and machines that contingently make both people and materials move and hold their shape. In this way, it explores the complex relationality between the traveller and the mode of travel and how it incorporates different aspects of mobilities and materialities. I also focus on the DHR's relationship with the community alongside the railway track: how the people and this 19th century mode of travel, continue to be attached with complex and enduring connections. Secondly, I have focused on the representational aspects of the DHR. It is evident that tourists reorder the world through the manipulation of texts, images and practices
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similar to what colonialism did to codify colonial people to better impose its institutions and policies. In the present context I therefore explore, in light of post-colonial theory, how the DHR has been proliferated in various discourses. Hence, I examine the significance of the intangible aspects inherent in the DHR and attempt to trace out these 'contact zones' by drawing upon aspects of post-colonial theory. Indeed, the research gains theoretical currency from two different theoretical perspectives, namely, 'Post-Colonial Theory' and the new 'Mobilities' paradigm. Methodologically, the research was broadly ethnographic and based on mainly on interviews taken in the field, as well as observations on board the train. Significantly, I also walked extensively along the track (nearly 35 km) from Kurseong to Darjeeling at different times as a comprehensive way to understand the whole process of the DHR. This can be conceptualized as the 'co-present immersion' of a researcher in the field for observing and recording. The thesis concludes with indications to possibilities of future research on the DHR such as the relations between cars and the DHR which could bring new understanding to the mobilities paradigm.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Divisions: Faculty of Education and Society
Depositing User: Barry Hall
Date Deposited: 09 Jan 2013 09:44
Last Modified: 07 Mar 2017 13:56
URI: http://sure.sunderland.ac.uk/id/eprint/3307

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