The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is intimately linked with the development of Darjeeling as the queen of hill stations and one of the main tea-growing areas in India, in the early 19th century.
The densely wooded mountain spur on which Darjeeling now stands was formerly part of the Kingdom of Sikkim. It was adopted by the British East India Company as a rest and recovery station for its soldiers in 1835, when the area was leased from Sikkim and building of the hill station began, linked to the plains by road. The region was annexed by the British Indian Empire in 1858.
Calcutta had been linked by rail in 1878 to Siliguri, in the foothills of the Himalaya. By this time the tea industry had become of great importance for the Darjeeling region, and the existing road transport system was inadequate to cope with the increased traffic. Franklin Prestage, Agent of the Eastern Bengal Railway, submitted a detailed proposal for a steam railway from Siliguri to Darjeeling. This received official approval and construction work began immediately. By 1881 it had been completed in three stages.