The International Steam Pages

Two Weeks in Pakistan, 1992

I went to India on two lengthy bashes in 1976, one mainly for general tourism (although you could hardly miss the steam as you travelled) and the other purely for steam. When we moved back to the UK in 1981, money was extremely tight and through the 1980s, apart from three tours to Indonesia which I led for other people, I only got to Asia twice and that meant Indonesia which has always been my first love - in any case my long holiday as a school teacher was in August which is definitely not the best time to visit the sub-continent.

By 1992, the writing was on the wall for steam in Pakistan. My late friend John Tillman was working from time to time there as a transport consultant and he offered to set up a trip for me at the end of December 1992. There was plenty to fill the time although the Khyber Pass train, alas, was out of action, the XA pacifics were just a memory and the narrow gauge branches had breathed their last.

I flew out of Heathrow soon after school finished for the Christmas holiday and into Islamabad the next morning. I was terribly out of practice in this part of the world, but it wasn't too difficult to find my way to Rawalpindi station where I made my way to the refreshment rooms. Almost immediately, I was greeted by a loco inspector who had been assigned to accompany me round the northern part of the country for the first part of my visit. With him was another key to my success, a free first class pass to cover my entire journey! It was going to be a very cheap trip. 

I have broken the account up into manageable chunks. The only notes I have are the locations and dates scrawled on the slide mounts, I have used these to pad out my increasingly unreliable memory of past events. As such the tales may owe a little to unintended poetic licence...

There are some video clips of this trip posted on my YouTube Channel. .

Overall it was an extraordinarily satisfying experience. Since it was my first experience of the sub-continent for 16 years and I had left India exhausted and not a little frustrated, Pakistan was a revelation. The lasting memory is of lovely, friendly people who shared my own enthusiasm for the traditional railway. It was unfortunate that the end of steam was approaching and I never had a chance to go back.

In these days of 'free' digital photography, it's easy to forget that not so long back slide film was so expensive that every exposure added significantly to the tour budget. Hence, I have few 'people' pictures to remind me of the warm welcome I got:

Firstly Alahdita and his son on SPS 3195, the young boy would not have a chance to follow his father onto the footplate. Secondly the crew of SPS 2988 who begged a portrait before the sun went down.

My security guards at Mirpur Khas, easily cowed by the local librarian who refused them entry until they left their guns behind, the station people at Changa Manga, totally unphased when I turned up a day late for my chartered train and finally the track inspection group at Malakwal.

Rob Dickinson