TRAIN Journey

Savouring a train excursion

By Jamil Khan 

LAST month on a brief vacation, I and four of my friends decided to go to Rawalpindi by train. We had travelled several times upcountry by bus and train, but this was the first time that I was travelling with my friends. So we booked our seats and berths through a reservation centre located at City Railway Station. Our journey, however, would start from Karachi Cantonment Station (a.k.a. Cantt Station).
We had four options: the Chenab Express, the Khyber Mail, the Tezgam and the Awami Express. We preferred the last one. We approached Cantt Station, and were to travel in Awami Express. The train’s last destination was to be Peshawar, while we would be getting off at Rawalpindi.
At the Cantt Station, we were welcomed by a steam locomotive, which has recently been installed by the Railway officials to attract passerbys. Thousands of passengers travel by train, as this is one of the best local modes of transportation. The platform is a place full of hustle and bustle as the people start boarding the train.
Coolies often overloaded with heavy bags, hurrying up to carry the luggage to the train; people trying to keep up with the coolies to make sure that the luggage is placed in the right bogie. You can also see some people walking up and down the platform to find their seats. Little children running to and fro, and some clinging to their parents too. A number of emotional scenes can also be witnessed here. Everyone on the platform waves a hand to say goodbye to loved ones, as the train slowly starts to move. Our train left the platform at 8:00am.
Once the train started its long journey, one of my friends suggested that we should discuss the facts and figures about Pakistan Railways to kill time as this was going to be a long journey. This was not difficult as we had gained a lot of information about trains while planning this trip. We learned that the first railway track opened for public traffic was on May 13, 1861 from Karachi City to Kotri. The total length of the track at that time was only 105 miles. At the time of partition, Pakistan had a 5,048 miles tracks. Now the Railway Network has expanded all over Pakistan, especially from the main cities to the far flung areas of the country.
Around 65 million passengers travel by trains annually, while daily, 228 mail, express and passenger trains operate throughout Pakistan. The management of Pakistan Railways also operates special trains on various occasions like Eid, etc., which helps thousands of passengers reach their destinations on time. Another interesting piece of information we learned was that there are also steam safaris being run by Pakistan Railways so that we can enjoy the legendary Khyber Pass and Thar Desert.
From Peshawar, one can travel in a safari train in order to experience the beautiful and picturesque hills of North-Western areas of Pakistan, along the Afghan border. And to explore the beauty of the Thar Desert, safari trains run through Mirpurkhas. To see the Railway Museum in Golra Sharif, a new service, the Gandhara Steam Safari Train has been started from Rawalpindi. There are also a number of goods trains carrying kerosene oil, petroleum products, grains and many other things from Karachi to other cities of the country on a daily basis.
As our discussion was going on, the train made a short stop at the Kotri Railway Station. We disembarked to walk and get some refreshments at the station. Here, we were surprised to see that the water coming from taps was very muddy. Passengers were forced to use this unhygienic water for drinking and other purposes as well. We were also compelled to wash our hands and face with this muddy river water. After a little while, the train started once again on its journey.
Our next stop was Hyderabad at around 11:00am. Here we preferred staying inside and enjoying our home-made snacks, rather than going outside in the scorching heat. The train stopped here for half-an-hour; this is one of the stops where most of the trains stop for a longer period. After taking light refreshments, we started to play cards, reading digests and other text which we had brought from our homes or purchased from the book-stalls at the platform. All sorts of things are available at the platforms, there are stalls of edible items, tea stall and also those selling toys and newspapers and magazines. Though the reading material available there is slightly expensive.
Our next stopover was at Rohri at 4:00pm, where we once again saw all kinds of people lined up on the platform. It seemed so colourful as though the whole platform had come to life. However, as before, people were using muddy water to wash, which came directly from the river to the city.
After this, we stayed for a short while in Samasata. Our next break was around 11.30pm in Multan. It is one of the most famous and ancient cities of Pakistan, also known as the City of Saints.
At the platform, everyone was rushing to purchase souvenirs for their loved ones. Among other souvenirs, the Sohan Halwa of Multan is very famous and the crowds thronged the stalls to get some for their loved ones. After shopping, we had dinner at one of the restaurants at the platform.
As the train left Multan City, we were almost asleep and by the time we woke up, the sun was rising over Lahore city. Here our train stopped for half-an-hour. Most of the travellers disembarked, while two or three bogies of our train were separated from the rest of the train. Here the train changed tracks and began to head towards Rawalpindi. The travel between Lahore to Rawalpindi is almost five hours. At 11.30 am, we were in Jhelum, while around 2:00pm we finally reached Rawalpindi Railway Station. Here, two of my cousins were waiting for us.
As we left the station, we admired the model of a narrow gauge steam engine placed outside the building of Rawalpindi Railway Station. I am sure, it was a tour that we will never forget.
-Published in Dawn | Jun 26, 2004

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