Journeys to Remember: Karachi to Peshawar by Rail in 1950s

Posted on March 29, 2010
Filed Under >Raju Jamil, Railways, Travel
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Raju Jamil

I remember my first ever rail journey from Karachi to Rawalpindi in 1958 enroute to Murree for our summer vacations. Our entrouge included my daadi amman (grand-mother), my mother, brothers and sisters and our family servant Farid Khan. We were to travel by Tezrao in a inter-class coach which had wooden seating for eight and overhead berths for two on each side.

Shown above is 8 Down Karachi Mail leaving Lahore Station – This photo is circa 1958 – right about the time when my story unfolds

The coach we were in had fans with appropriate control knobs, adequate roof lighting with switches and a sizeable toilet. The emergency chain handle always attracted me and I had to control myself from pulling it because there was a Rs 50 fine in those times which should be close to Rupees 5000 today!

The best part of the train journey in those days was the night time when the holders (known as holdall) were un-wrapped and laid on the seats and the berths with soft cotton mattress, soft pillow and of course a quilt which, in current modern era, would best be known as a ‘comforter’. Then the huge nashtay daan (lunch box) was opened, which for the train journeys, always had parathaas (fried flat bread), qeema (minced meat), omelletes and tarkari (vegetable curry). Before the departure of the train a mud pitcher known as sura’hee was essentially purchased for Rupee one, and filled with water from the railway station tap and by God…we didn’t hear of any people being hosiptalised or dying due to cunsumption of railway station’s tap water then.

A board game of Ludo (shown to the left) or rummee during the train journey was sizzling to the extent that instances have been noted of the Ludo game board flying out of the train window with tempers flying high on the umpteenth try for SIX on the dice and not getting it! The sweet sound of deisel engine cruising smoothly towards the destination with a down train passing by in speed—was all too exciting and if you were traveling to Quetta or Peshawar, the keen await for a surrang (tunnel) was even more exciting.

As we left Karachi, the train heading in speed, intially provided the view of Drigh Road, Malir and Landhi areas. Karachi Cant used to be the commencement point for major trains like; Tezrao at 1.30 pm, Tezgam at 3.45 PM and Khyber Mail at 9.45 pm. Tezrao ended journey at Lahore, Tezgam at Rawalpindi and Khyber Mail at Peshawar. Lahore journey took close to 22 hours (748 miles – 1220 km), Rawalpindi around 28 hours (937 miles – 1518 km) and Peshawar about 32 hours (1045 miles – 1692 km). It was fun traveling by smooth and spanking clean trains then (or say) till late 70’s or early 80’s after which everything just seems to have became a dream.

As time progressed, my father’s job also progressed – which provided me three opportunities to travel in what we can describe as ‘Priority Lounge’, which we have at Banks these days…yes, I am talking about the German made Airconditioned Coaches and Sleeper Cars attached with an airconditioned dinning car where the cooling was ten times better then the cooling you receive in your airconditioned car. There were coupe’s of two and four berths which were mostly occupied by families. The berths were clad with chamoise cloth in dark green color and the coupe’ came equipped with a ladder to climb to the upper berth when going for slumber. It was indeed an ultimate luxury to travel in an airconditioned coupe of Pakistan Railway. Similarly so serene and magical was the atmosphere in dinning cars that we used to sit there for hours after breakfast or lunch or dinner, enjoying discussions and the sheer excitement of traveling in such comfort.

The beira (attendants) in airconditioned coaches/dinning cars, were in white attire with thick belt bearing steel emblem of PWR (Pakistan Western Railway) – the new name of NWR (North Western Railway) from late 60’s and a kulla with a starched fan type cloth emerging out to add to the grace of it being worn. It was something like the cap worn by our guards at the border between Pakistan and India at Wagah these days.

The dinning car had the best breakfast with all kind of cereals and the dinning car food was quoted in parties—much to the disdain of being made a mockery in the famous TV comedy ‘Fifty-Fifty’ some years later.

The photo to the left is circa 1950s and shows a Third-class buffet car which was usually attached to the Karachi-Peshawar Khyber Mail. You won’t find such accessories in Pakistani trains anymore.

The other kind of air-conditioned compartment was the one which was mostly on Bolan Mail on Karachi-Quetta route (and may be other routes too). The airconditioning was fan controlled with layers of ice laid on the top duct area…this too provided adequate cooling.

In Pakistan since my phuppa (aunty’s husband) was a senior official in Pakistan Railways, I once had the opportunity to travel by the USA gifted Deisel Engine from Lala Musa junction to Rawalpindi and in a Steam Locomotive from Karachi to halfway through Quetta…years back.

The other fascinating part of rail travel was to travel in a Saloon which were specially provided to senior officials and of course the Minister of Railway. And then there was a special three bedroom Saloon of the then President of Pakistan fitted with just about everything.

The photo to the left above shows Field Marshal Ayub Khan and Railway Minister Khan F.M. Khan inspecting coaches imported from Germany in 1958 at Karachi Cant Railway Station.

There were two categories of Saloons; an ordinary one and the one which was fully airconditioned. I had the opportuntiy to travel by both…and it was simply mesmerizing and after all these years I have not been able to forget about that journey in an airconditioned saloon from Sukkur to Lahore with my Phuppa, Phuppi and their family.

One of the most exciting ‘gadget’ in railway as I recall, was a trolley (see photo to the right). It was always heart wrenching for me to watch two well built guys pushing the trolley for miles while the DSO or DO Railway sat with their hunter’s hat and a stick under a huge umbrella to inspect or maintain the railway track.

I always thought it was below human dignity to use human labor like this while the inspectors enjoyed their inspection. Thank God that in later years I also saw electrical or Deisel Trolleys which had a mini engine like a motorboat…handled by the driver sitting nearby it. The photo to the left is one such mechanized trolley of 1960s. It was called Drewry Trolley. Note the words PWR on the trolley.

Then there was always the Conductor Guard bogey right at the end of the train which came equipped with an emergency brake system. I always found the PR guards very agile and busy. They would always be seen communicating via Morse Code messages and made sure the smooth train operation.

Pakistan Railway played an important role in Pakistan’s politics as well. Field Marshal Ayub Khan the then President of Pakistan, in early 1960s went on a public support gathering tour on Pak-Jamhooriat (democracy) Special train. He wasaccompanied by his team of cabinet ministers and officials. He travelled rom Karachi to Peshawar by train stopping at each major station and addressed the awam (people) and also distributed monthly checks to the widows, needy etc.

The photo above shows the arrival and public gathering of Pak Jamhooriat Train at Khanewal Junction.

The photo to the right shows Pak jamhooriat Train in East Pakistan. It is being pulled by an American built GM engine.

I actually went on that special train (in West Pakistan) and visited the saloon of Brigadier Nawazish Ali and F.R. Khan, MS and Private Secretary to the Field Marshall as my father was also traveling with Ayub Khan by virtue of being his Personal Staff Officer then.

Pakistan railway has come a long way–though sadly, it has not been able to maintain the grandeur the Railways used to have.

Some of the railway stations I remember passing by on journey from Karachi to Hyderabad, Lahore and Rawalpindi and Peshawar—on account of their landmark and importance on something were;

Kotri junction due to Railway Bridge on Indus we awaited to cross with Indus River flowing proudly (currently we yearn for water here..). The photo to the right is circa 1961 and one can see how much water flowed at Kotri then. One can compare the flow then to what it is now (here).

Hyderabad junction was a busy station all the time because of several trains a day running north-south as well as east-west to Mirpur Khas and India. The best buy there were bangles.

Rohri was remembered because we always saw the Yaqoob Biscuit Factory almost attached to the railway line.

Khanpur Junction was famous for khoya and Perra. We stayed to remain awake till 4 am, the time the train reached Khanpur…just to buy the khoya.

Samasatta Junction near Bahawalpur was famous for pottery works. Flashy kaamdaar surra’hee etc were the attractions. Photo to the left shows the building of Samasatta Junction. The photo is circa 1950s. Note the domed architecture of the station, which is very common in the Southern Punjab (former Bahawalpur State)

Multan was the most sought after railway station where Hafiz ka sohan halwa was the main item which everyone used to buy by default. Seniors mostly preferred to buy Multani mitti.

Lahore was (and still is…) the biggest railway station in Pakistan. Entering the railway station created a spell binding effect on us peeking through the window of our compartment—amazingly and keenly awaiting to see the cheerfull faces of our first cousins or friends waiting anxiously for the train to stop and order the coolie to lift the luggage…noting his badge number etc.

Rawalpindi came after passing by Gujrat and Lala Musa stations. I always wondered where Lala Musa Sahab lived? and wished that someday I may meet him!!!!

Further north, the most keenly awaited railway station for me during the journey from Rawalpindi to Peshawar, was Nowshera junction. It always rekindled my sweet memories of stay at my Khala’s several times when my Khaalu was posted at the Armoured Corp School Nowshera as the Commandant. The wonderful evenings at Nowshera Club….and the picnis near river Kabul…can never be forgotten.

Passing through tunnels before reaching Peshawar was scary but exciting and a glimpse of Attock Fort…from that Railway Bridge on Indus at Attock was an adventure itself.

A train getting late during our days (1950s through 1907s) was something rare.

The train journey in Pakistan is now limited to limited people—most of them scared by the ill maintenance of railway tracks – and travelling by their belief in fate. Everyone would remember the news item from few months ago when no one else but Railway Minister himslef asked the passengers to recite ‘durood shareef’ when traveling by train. He was visiting a train crash site outside Hyderabad then.

I cherish for old times train travel.

ATP’s Posts on Tramways and Railways in Pakistan:

1. Journeys to Remember: Quatta-Lahore by Rail in 1925.
2. Journeys to Remember: Karachi-Peshawar by Rail in 1950s
3. Ghora Tram: Historic Horse Tram Returns to Gangapur
4. Karachi Tramway of Yesteryears
5. Khyber Pass Railway
6. Bolan Pass Railway
7. The Trans-Balochistan Railway
8. Changa Manga Forest Railway
9. Lansdowne Bridge, Sukkur
10. Railway Bridge on Indus at Attock
11. Khojak Tunnel
12. Chappar Rift
13. Karachi Circular Railway (KCR)
14. Zhob Valley Railway (ZVR)
15. How the First Locomotive Reached Lahore
16. 3000hp Iron Horses of Pakistan
17. Lahore Rapid Mass Transit Rail Project
18. A Phoenix Rises From the Ashes of Bakhshapur
19. ek masla hai… A Railway Runs Through It
20. Ava Gardner in Lahore for Bhowani Junction
21. The Meter-Gauge of Sindh
22. Indus Flotilla Company
23. Karachi to Kotri: First Railways in Pakistan
24. Pakistan Railway on the West Bank of Indus
25. SPS#3157: Pakistan’s Gift to the People of Britain

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18 responses to “Journeys to Remember: Karachi to Peshawar by Rail in 1950s”

  1. Anwar ul Haq Piracha says:

    Good collection of information. Many things have improved and many more need to improve.
    Pillows, bed sheets are kept in pathetic condition in such modern age on all luxury train coaches. Food needs to improve a lot.
    Appreciate efforts of people who provide such good information

  2. Mehmood Hussain says:

    Yes, Dear Readers,

    Raju Jamil,narrated the true picture of ours Great time railway
    service in Pakistan, honest, very loyal, enegetic and God fearing
    Railways staff was there to provide you, easy and comfort journey, now these great are vanished, died away.

    Now you compare the present day service of our railway, corruptions, nepotise, bribery bcome the buisness of the day,
    failure, total failure of railway service,

    O, Allah, please help Pakistan, give us honest and Allah fearing serving people to Pakistan ( Ameen)

    Mehmood Hussain,
    Karachi-Pakistan

  3. @Sheeraz
    Gen. Musharraf was the one who imported Karakoram Express from China.

    The best existing train in Pakistan. Find me someone else who did this

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