By Amer Sial
Golra Junction Railway Museum wonderfully chronicles the history of rail travel in our part of the world
I COULD see the tall white minaret of the tomb of the early twentieth century Punjabi mystic poet, Peer Mehr Ali Shah, where devotees visit all round the year to pay homage. The mud houses, cattle and fields in the autumn sun shine appeared like an idyllic countryside landscape while the large concrete residential buildings near the shrine painted the impression of a business centre of a city. The well-carpeted road turned bumpier, as I ventured on the road to the tomb after passing through the police check post on the borderline that divides the urban and rural areas of the federal capital.
After passing through the small bazaar near the tomb, similar to any rural larri adda and the nearby Anti-Car Lifting Cell of Islamabad Police, I was in the countryside, with the road circling through fields, recently cleared off their corn crop. The road was empty and only buses carrying devotees or tractor trolleys driven by Afghans were seen on the road.
During my journey towards the Pakistan Railways Heritage Museum at Golra Junction Railway Station, I came onto the road lending to Shah Allah Ditta, a small hamlet at the foot of the Margalla Hills where statues, engraved on the rock, date back to the Ghandara civilization of the Buddhist era.
After, covering a few kilometres from the Golra shrine, I was still looking for the railway track that leads to Taxila, when suddenly I saw a glimpse of the track behind a small village market. As I drove slowly, I made out that the Golra Junction Railway Station was located behind the market, otherwise there was no signboard. Later I came to know that the actual entrance to the station was from a few metres away from the market where a proper signboard had been installed.
Parking my car under the shadow of a tree, far from the ample cow dung, I looked for the entrance to the lush green Banyan covered platform of the station. There was no proper entrance to the station. In fact a barrier, similar to at any rural railway crossings, you may have witnessed, blocked the entrance and I had to opt for the narrow sideway space to enter.
The Golra Junction Railway Station, some 1,994 feet above sea level, is located in the southeast of the Margalla Hills and east of the cradle of Ghandara civilization, the ancient city of Taxila. The station was established in 1882 and upgraded as junction in 1912, connecting Peshawar, Kohat and Havalian.
After crossing four railway tracks, I reached the platform covered by the thick Banyan trees, with trunks newly painted white. On the left side of the platform was a hand-crane, where a sign also claimed that it was tested for lifting 508kg weight in 1984. The small, stone platform of the Victorian style railway station was calm, quiet and clean. The smell of fresh paint was still in the air as old lampposts and benches had recently been given a new look. There were no passengers on the platform as being a small station trains rarely stopped here while on their way to Rawalpindi or Peshawar.
The glass door of the green windowed museum, sporting the insignia of Pakistan Railways and North West Railways was locked. On enquiry I was told that the higher authorities had yet not decided about the timing and ticket price for the museum and it was locked till further orders.
Surprisingly, courtesy was shown and the door of the museum was opened. Inside the hall are rare items on display including watches, pendulums, kerosene tilly-lamps, gate signal lamps, crockery, fans, arms and ammunition, surgical items used at railway hospitals, a 1904 hand pump, long armed chairs used in waiting rooms and Dak bungalows, a Railway time table of 1943 and historic photographs.
The wood panelled roof of the museum had antique fans, including a rare two winged one. The British crockery at display includes spoons, forks and knives made of pure silver. The antique heating and electronic items are placed openly and can be misused once the museum is opened for the general public. Models of railway locomotives were newly made and were not antique.
A few historic pictures hanging on the outside walls of the platform included one of Afghan King Amir Abdur Rehman at the Rawalpindi Railway Station in 1886. Another one shows the passing of a steam train through the Khyber Pass in the late nineteenth century.
A majority of the items displayed at the museum belong to the North West Railways, as Pakistan Railways was called before Independence, dating back to year 1890. The attempt is to preserve and display vintage items and artifacts related to the history of railways at the Heritage Point.
The logic for establishing a Heritage Museum at Golra Railway Station was attributed as a first step towards establishing a full fledge railway station at Islamabad. A steam safari ride to the major tourist attraction, the ancient city of Taxila on alternate days is also on cards in near future.
The museum displays a rare key, which was used to lock doors of passenger coaches carrying refugees to Pakistan to protect forcible opening of the doors by extremists while journeying through Indian stations. A token instrument of the Khum Karen Railway Station of India is also exhibited at the museum, which was brought as a trophy piece by the valiant soldiers of Pakistan Army, who had captured the Khum Karen Railway station from Indians during the 1965 war.
Items on display outside the museum include a hand pump of 1901, and a ‘Heritage Special Train’, driven by an ancient steam engine accompanied by passenger coaches. The 110-year-old narrow gauge steam locomotive, steam cranes, 100-year-old hand crane, saloons, passenger and freight coaches. The saloon was said to belong to the Viceroy-e-Hind but no name was mentioned on it.
An interesting fact about the 110-year-old steam engine is that, it was in regular use, as early as 1990 and was still in running condition. The narrow gauge steam engine was run on the less frequent lines. A display model of the lane changing and up and down signal had also been installed. Different kinds of hand railway carts were also put on display and would offer a unique photo-moment to picnickers.
A two-wheel stretcher from the railways medical unit is also put at display outside the museum. These cart type stretchers were frequently used during the World Wars. I have seen a similar stretcher still at use in Nishtar Hospital, Multan.
The museum contains many heritage valuables but it lacks the necessary written information about the things put on display, their historic significance and the number of years they have been in use. The century old Banyan trees have been ignored at the heritage point even though they give a majestic look to the museum. The police post adjacent to the station also looked to have established at the time of inception of the Golra Junction but no information was available.
After spending some time all alone at the museum witnessing the heritage items, I was brought out of the past by the arrival of a passenger train on its way to Rawalpindi. I decided to leave the calm and serene environment. On reaching my parked car, I found to much amazement, my car-doors open and all the music cassettes gone.