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.