The lonely line through Balochistan

Many of us in India have vaguely heard of the line from Quetta to Zahidan in Iran, which was completed about a century ago. The location can be seen here in the north-west corner:

NWR-1930 map

This map is from 1930 and only shows the line up to Nushki. This is a better map from the 1960s:

PWR in 1969

A good summary of its history up to 2007 by Owais Mughal can be seen here:

https://pakistaniat.com/2007/07/13/the-trans-baluchistan-railway/

Also see the timetables from the 1930 NWR TT:

NWTT 011

Note the distances: 68 miles (109 km) form Yakmach to Nok Kundi, a further 86 miles (138 km) to Mirjawa across the border and a further 52/84 to the terminus then called Duzdap.

And from the 1943 Bradshaw:

1943 Badshaw-Zahidan line

At that point the line was closed beyond Nok Kundi, though it was revived as part of the war effort.

Now we have something more up to date, in the form of 2 videos making a travelogue by a Pakistani blogger. These are fully in Urdu, though anyone who can understand Hindi should not have a problem.

The narrator’s style may be a little irritating, but you do see a good view of life on the Pakistan-Iran border including the last PR station at Koh-e-Taftan and the nearby road crossing along other bits like the last mosque and the last ATM in Pakistan. (This station seems to have come up after 1947).

Note the single train between Quetta and Zahidan which is a mixed train with very limited passenger space. It is interesting to see the large volume of Iranian consumer goods being imported here.

 

Footnote: we hear a lot of Gwadar and its port nowadays. Did you know that it was NOT part of British India but was an exclave of Oman until Pakistan took over in 1957, long after Independence.

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).

 

The best trains of Pakistan and Bangladesh

Here you can see the start of the inaugural run of Pakistan Railway’s new premier service, the Sir Syed* Express between Rawalpindi and Karachi via Faisalabad:

And here is one of the leading expresses of Bangladesh Railways, the Sonar Bangla* * Express leaving Dhaka for Chattogram (the new official name for Chittagong):

See if you can pick out the different types of coaches. The locomotive seems to be considerably older than the coaches.

This is, of course, metre gauge and only a short portion of this major route has been improved to dual gauge with BG.

*Sir Syed refers to Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (1817-1898), noted reformer and educationist. He is considered to be the founder of Aligarh Muslim University.

** The Bangladeshi national anthem begins with “Amar Sonar Bangla”, i.e. “My golden Bengal”. This, like the Indian national anthem “Jana Gana Mana”, was composed by Rabindranath Tagore.

Also see:

https://www.seat61.com/Pakistan.htm

and

https://www.seat61.com/Bangladesh.htm

 

Stations in different countries with the same name

(Pictures are copyright of the respective photographers):

Here we limit ourselves to South Asia, but we still find a number of examples:

The most well-known pair is:

HyderabadHyderabad Sind

(Possibly the signs would have read Hyderabad (Deccan) and Hyderabad (Sind) in the past.)

Followed by the Indo-Bangladesh pair of:

Jamalpur station

Jamalpur Town (new)

This is near Mymensingh.

Another very similar pair:

Biman BandarDhaka Biman Bandar

The first one is adjacent to Dum Dum airport in Kolkata.

Then we have a small station in Karimganj district of Assam, and a large junction being built near Faridpur in Bangladesh

Bhanga AssamBhanga (BD)-1Bhanga (BD)-2

The station is not fully functional yet, but you can see the nearby police station which has the sign “Bhanga thana, Faridpur”.

Then we have this station in the Indian side of the Thar desert, which once served a town which is a few km away but in Pakistan:

Gadra Road

This town in Pakistan’s Punjab has nothing to do with the state in India:

Gujrat (Pakistan)

There was also a long-closed Kachh station in Baluchistan, on the Chappar Rift line.

This station in Bangladesh will soon get an Indian counterpart nearby:

Hili

Hili on the Indian side will be connected to Balurghat.

There is also a long-closed Belonia station in Bangladesh which served the town of that name in Tripura. In Tripura, the line through Agartala is gradually creeping towards Belonia and beyond. It has already crossed Udaipur, not to be confused with the better-known Udaipur City in Rajasthan.

Going beyond South Asia, there will be a few more matches in the Commonwealth countries and the US. Wellington in the Nilgiris and Wellington in New Zealand comes to mind. Then there is Salem in Tamil Nadu and Salem in Oregon which does have Amtrak service, while the better known Salem in Massachusetts has local commuter service.

 

 

 

Station signs then and now (Bangladesh and Pakistan)

Rajshahi, Bangladesh in late 1971:

Rajshahi station-old

Rajshahi today:

Rajshahi station-new

Dinajpur, Bangladesh also in late 1971. The two pictures from 1971 appear to have been taken by Indian military personnel:

Dinajpur old

Dinajpur today:

Dinajpur new

The Urdu signs have disappeared, while there are also less English signs than before.

Karachi Cantt in the 1940s (from a film taken by a British soldier): Possibly young L. K. Advani appears in it somewhere.

Karachi Cantt-1

Karachi Cantt today:

Karachi Cantt new (2)

Note the variety of languages used in the pictures from Pakistan.

Lahore Jn, probably around 1940:

Lahore-just-before-Partition

 

Lahore Jn today:

Lahore today

Finally, to what used to be the end of the line up the Khyber Pass:

In the 1930s:

Landi Kotal another old

And during its last years of operation (probably early 2000s):

Landi Kotal-new

 

 

Station signs in undivided India

Here are some pictures of stations and signs as they were in the 1940s or earlier. It is interesting to see the languages used in some of  the signs, as these places are now in Pakistan

First, Karachi Cantt in the 1940s (from a film shot by a British soldier):

 

Lahore, probably 1940s:

Lahore-just-before-Partition

 

Landi Khana. This is truly a rare picture, as it could have been taken only between 1926 and 1932. Note the Gurumukhi script.

LANDI_KHANA_STATION_1932

Landi Kotal, probably 1930s:

Landi Kotal Railway Station during British Raj

Landi Kotal another old

Shelabagh, close to Chaman on the border with Afghanistan and not too far from Kandahar. Note the southern end of the Khojak tunnel:

Shelabagh (old)

And finally Tanduri, on the now-closed Sibi-Khost section. It appeared in the 1891 timetable and never again. Perhaps the extreme heat gave it its name and hastened its closure:

Tanduri

(This picture seems to have been taken in 2009). The sign does look to be a century old.

Finally, this is what you would see while entering British India from Afghanistan at the Khyber Pass border checkpoint in the 1930s:

Afghan border

Afghan border (4)

It is easy to guess that the milestone refers to Peshawar, Jamrud and Landi Kotal. The station of Landi Khana was still closer to the border. It appears that an embankment and maybe rails were laid from there to the border, but trains never ran on them.

And when you tried to cross into Afghanistan at other points on the border, you would see this:

Afghan border(3)

When stations change names frequently

Railway stations in India can be renamed for various reasons. The most common reason is to align the English spelling with the local pronunciation-as the British often modified the spellings to suit their convenience. Thus there were mass renamings in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka over the past few decades. Perhaps this was not so much of an issue in Northern and Eastern India. And there have been many name changes in Pakistan and (to a lesser extent) in Bangladesh, but those are different stories.

Then there are name changes in honour of famous people (examples like CST Mumbai, CSMT Kolhapur, Bapudham Motihari and Vanchi Maniyachi).

In fact, the stories beyond renaming of railway stations could well be a topic of a doctoral dissertation or at least a middle-sized book. Maybe I will do that one day. Today, we take up the cases of some stations which have been renamed twice-sometimes twice within a decade.

We start with cases where pictures are readily available:

1):

The average resident of this city would probably stick to calling the station “Majestic”, in the same way his counterparts in other cities stick to Nampalli and Kalupur.

Then we have the case of Mangalore/Mangaluru. While the stations here came under Karnataka’s mass renaming in 2014 onwards, they had already been renamed in the mid-2000s for greater clarity.

The old terminus of Mangalore became Mangalore Central. Then there was a smaller station on the outskirts called Kankanadi, which was the locality’s name. But many long-distance trains stopped only there and not at the old terminus-hence it became important enough to be renamed  Mangalore Jn. We see the story here:

2)

Pictures of Mangalore (as it was) do not seem to be on the net.

3)

But there are several other examples across the country

Olavakkot Jn->Palghat Jn->Palakkad Jn

Here Olavakkot was a small place in the vicinity of the city then known as Palghat. At some time in the 70s it was felt that an important junction (as well as a division HQ) should be renamed to mark the larger city, hence it became Palghat Jn. Large-scale renaming in Kerala (to match the local names in Malayalam) was done in around 1990, though most of the stations were renamed only in the 2007 timetable. It then became Palakkad Jn. (There is also a smaller Palakkad Town nearby).

Other examples in and around India include:

Meean Meer West -> Lahore Cantt West -> Lahore Cantt

Meean Meer East -> Lahore Cantt East -> Moghalpura

Mayavaram Jn -> Mayuram Jn -> Mayiladuturai Jn

Bellasis Road -> Bombay Central (Local) -> Mumbai Central (Local)

Manipur Road -> Dimapur Manipur Road -> Dimapur

Marwar Jn is said to have had several name changes in the 19th century.

“Cyclic” name changes:

Dhone Jn -> Dronachellam Jn -> Dhone Jn

Kallakudi Palanganatham -> Dalmiapuram -> Kallakudi Palanganatham

Ashapura Gomat -> Pokhran Road -> Ashapura Gomat

And if you include stations with a single name change, the list will run into hundreds.

Tail piece: Here I am largely considering changes from the 1930s to the present day (except for Lahore where we are starting with the 1860s). In the 19th century there were many rather awkward spellings made by the Brits who built the lines, with names like Ullygurh (obvious) and Unclesar (not so obvious). Ghat Cooper for Ghatkopar lives on in the station code GC, as does Coorla in CLA.

Other double changes starting from the 19th century would include

Arconum -> Arkonam -> Arakkonam

Then there were particularly odd ones I have seen in 19th-century documents, such as Sickle for Sikkal and Cynthia for Sainthia. Quite possibly someone had been thinking of his wife or girlfriend in the latter case.

The changes in names of stations in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka (but not India) can be seen here:

http://www.railwaystationlists.co.uk/