The importance of Landi Khana-2

Here are a few other pictures of Landi Khana station when it was open in 1926-32:

Landi Khana camp

Landi Khana camp-2

Unlike now, there are some fortified compounds near the station as well as local habitation.

We also look at the Pakistan Railways timetable of  November 1972. It was still officially called the Pakistan Western Railway.

PWR 1972 001

This also shows the timetables of three of the narrow gauge lines which were all closed by the early 90s.

The line to Landi Kotal now had services only on Sunday, still with the hard-working HGS locos. Sometimes the SGS 0-6-0s were also seen there.

Now we return to the India-Pakistan war of 1971 which resulted in the liberation of Bangladesh. While most of the action took place in what was then called East Pakistan, there were also significant military operations involving the armies, navies and air forces of the two countries.

There were a significant number of POWs captured on both sides. The Indian army officers and other ranks were imprisoned at Lyallpur (now Faisalabad), while the relatively smaller number of 12 IAF officers were sent to a PAF prison at Rawalpindi.

The story of the escape has been covered in several books, such as:

“Death Wasn’t Painful”, by DS Jafa (who was one of the POWs, though not one of the three escapees)

“Four Miles to Freedom”, by Faith Johnston (a journalist who had access to the concerned persons in later years).

and an appendix in “My Years with the IAF” by Air Chief Marshal PC Lal, which is written by another escapee Harish Sinhji.

These are all available from Amazon in and other Amazons.

They are all worth reading, although the second one may be a little better written.

I am not going to recount the full details of the story, which you can read in the books mentioned above. There is also a film “The Great Indian Escape” which is being released in October 2019.

The three who escaped were :

Flight Lieutenant Dilip Parulkar

Flight Lieutenant MS Grewal, and

Flight Lieutenant Harish Sinhji

The actual escape from the prison was not too difficult. The question was how to get back to India. A basic map of the northern half of Pakistan may help:

Pakistan Punjab-map

If you are trying to get from Rawalpindi to India, you have to cross through a long stretch of relatively populated areas and then the well-guarded borders with large defensive positions on both sides. Even in August 1972 (long after the cease-fire) it would be extremely dangerous.

But reaching the Afghan border was simpler. The distance from Rawalpindi to the border crossing at Torkham (beyond Landi Kotal) was considerably less. Then, unlike now, Afghanistan was a relatively peaceful country and it would not have been a major problem to contact the Indian embassy in Kabul or other sources once beyond the border.

So the western route it was. The only problem is that no one was familiar with the exact route to the border. While the IAF had struck as far as Peshawar, no one had a clear idea of how to get to the border from there.

Help came in the form of a variety of books which were sent to them from the stocks of various Pakistani cantonments. One of them was “Murray’s Guide to India” which was probably from the 1920s or the 1930s. This used to be the standard handbook for traveling Brits in India during the Raj, and was packed with exquisite details and maps.

I could not locate the exact edition which the POWs used, but it may have had maps like this one from an earlier edition in 1903:

1903 Afghan Frontier by Murray

 

At that time the railway had ended at Jamrud.

Perhaps a good map would have been like this (an extract from the official Indian Railway map of 1933):

NW India 1933 001

In this map Landi Khana is shown as the terminus, as it was until 1932.

Thus, the escapees reasoned, they should make their way to Peshawar and then to Landi Khana which was only about a mile from the border. They were to pose as PAF officers on holiday.

From Harish’s account:

Landi Khana plan 001

The escape on the night of 12 August 1972 initially went like clockwork. They left through a tunnel to the adjacent road at about 00.30 on the 13th. In a short while they found a Peshawar-bound bus, which reached its destination by dawn. By 06.00 they had got to Jamrud, and then to the fort which is known as the gateway to the Khyber. A friendly local helped them to get on a bus to Landi Kotal, which was effectively the last town in Pakistan. It was then 09.30, nine hours after leaving the camp.

Continuing with their plan, they enquired about transport to Landi Khana which was about four miles ahead. Many of the locals were puzzled, as no one had any reason to go there. Finally they got an offer for a taxi. By then they had aroused a lot of curiosity.

The local Tehsildar’s clerk  came up and started questioning them. What followed is summarized here in an extract from Jafa’s book:

Landi Khana capture

To cut a long story short, they were taken into custody. They were soon on their way back to the prison at Rawalpindi. If only they had known better than to ask for a long-vanished place……

The IAF officers were then sent to the larger and more secure camp at Lyallpur where the 500-odd Army prisoners were already housed. Ultimately all of them were repatriated in early December 1972 after spending almost a year in captivity.

However, if they had kept quiet and somehow made their way to the lightly-guarded border 4-5 miles away, they should have been able to enter Afghanistan and ultimately return to India. Or maybe not, since the people of Landi Kotal were familiar with stranded Bangladeshis trying to leave Pakistan by the same route.

Perhaps today’s IAF pilots have been briefed better. Wing Commander Abhinandan did not have time to plan an escape, which would have been almost impossible as he was the lone Indian prisoner at the time.

 

 

The importance of Landi Khana-1

You would have heard of Landi Kotal, long known as the terminus of the Khyber Railway and the main cantonment guarding the head of the pass.

Landi Khana is not so well known. We first look at a detailed map of the Khyber Railway, which featured in an article by Victor Bayley and Gordon Hearn, the men most responsible for the construction of the line:

Khyber map

This lists all the stations on the line. Most of them were not shown in timetables.

The line was completed up to Landi Kotal in 1925 and to Landi Khana in 1926. Actually the line (or at least the embankment) was built up to a point right on the border. This point is mentioned as Tora Tigga Nala in contemporary accounts, though it is unclear what exactly it was (A station? or siding? or no track at all?)

Trains ran all the way up to Landi Khana in the first few years. Then the King of Afghanistan “requested” the Indian government to close the last stretch of the line. So no trains ran beyond Landi Kotal since 1932.

Here we see the 1930 NWR timetable for the line going all the way to Landi Khana:

Landi Khana TT 1 001

My old friends from Dehradun would note the passenger train connecting Peshawar Cantt with that city. Coming to the point, we see from the small print that the trains ran between Landi Khana and Peshawar twice a week, and started from Landi Kotal on the other five days. This was the peak traffic for this line; by the time regular services ceased in 1984 the train ran up to Landi Kotal only once a week.

In the reverse direction, we see the same pattern, except that on Sundays the train left Peshawar later to provide a connection with the Frontier Mail and ran up to Landi Kotal.

Landi Khana TT2

Timetables in later years mentioned that “Passports will be examined at Jamrud”, meaning that you needed a passport to travel into the tribal territory where the British government had limited powers. However (as my father recounted), tourists from other parts of India could travel up to Jamrud, probably have their picture taken there, and say that they had visited the Khyber.

This is a picture of Landi Khana station (which obviously was taken between 1926 and 1932):

LANDI_KHANA_STATION_1932

Note the Gurumukhi script. And the ever-reliable HGS locos which tackled the Khyber and Bolan passes without much fuss.

There appears to have been a small military outpost here, but it must have closed long ago. Which is why many people (even those presently living in Pakistan) do not know of its existence. As we will see, the remnants of this station still stand but there does not seem to be anything around it. The local villagers still use water from the water pipes laid in the 1920s for watering engines.

This is a grab from a video taken a few years ago:

Landi Khana station today

No one has bothered to remove the Gurumukhi inscription, which has been done in many stations in Punjab since 1947.

You may find it interesting to watch this 9-minute video (entirely in Urdu) from 2017 to see this place as a sideline to a trip up to the Afghan border:

One of the places they passed was this station which was one of the stops on the excursion trains which ran until the floods wrecked the line in 2008.

Shahgai (Khyber)

Here another sign in Gurumukhi script still survives, unlike this one from pre-partition Lahore:

Lahore-just-before-Partition

If you approached the Afghan border, you would see this sign if you tried to cross anywhere except the official route:

Afghan border(3)

And if you did succeed in crossing, you could look back and see this:

Afghan border

It should not be difficult to understand what P, J and LKL were. In those days all distances were measured in miles.

Now, you may say, you have told us all about a corner of Pakistan so obscure that few Pakistanis (leave alone Indians) have heard of it. Why is it important?

The answer is: It was important to know about it if you were an Indian POW in Pakistan in 1972.

To be continued.

 

Changes in station signs over time-1

From the areas now in Pakistan in the 1930s/1940s:

Lahore-just-before-PartitionLandi Kotal Railway Station during British RajLANDI_KHANA_STATION_1932

Note the combination of languages; including Hindi in Lahore and Punjabi in all these places.

Landi Khana had train services only between 1926 and 1932. Then the station and tracks seem to have been undisturbed until the floods of 2006 seemingly closed the Khyber line forever.

Now we see current pictures of Lahore and Landi Kotal (where excursion trains ran sporadically from the closure in 1984 until 2006).

The only languages here are English and Urdu (although a few stations such as Peshawar also have Pushtu):

Peshawar City new

Note how the regional language has been pushed into a corner.

However, you can still visit the long-forgotten Landi Khana station which is some distance from the highway into Afghanistan:

Landi Khana station today

This is taken from a video shot a few years ago. As this is a remote and long-forgotten place, no one bothered to remove the Punjabi script.

(While many people in Pakistan speak Punjabi, they use a different script unlike the Gurumukhi used in India).

And this station which used to be a stop for the trains from Peshawar to Landi Kotal:

Shahgai (Khyber)

Here, perhaps it was found to be too much trouble to modify the sign which is fitted into the sturdy boundary wall.

We now compare the old and new signs at Shelabagh (on the way from Quetta to Chaman on the border near Kandahar):

Shelabagh (old)Shelabagh new

It is not clear what is in the smaller inscription in the newer sign, but normally the Balochi language(s) do not appear on the signs.

The southern end of the famous Khojak tunnel is seen here. Until the Konkan Railway came along, it was the longest rail tunnel (3.9 km) in South Asia.

And finally to Karachi (1940s) and now:

 

Karachi Cantt new

As you can see, somewhat distorted Hindi (Devanagari) script was used earlier. Today we see Urdu along with Sindhi.

While hardly any pre-1947 pictures from the area now in Bangladesh can be seen on the net, there are still some interesting points to be noted. (To be continued).