A Railway Pilgrimage in Pakistan

Published at Roads & Kingdoms.

Making my way through the traffic-choked streets of old Karachi, I arrive at the railway station minutes before the 10 p.m. Khyber Mail is due to leave. On the platform, red cloth bags filled with letters and packages are being loaded onto the train. Porters are waiting in line to weigh luggage on a massive bright red scale. The caption on the dial face reads ‘W&T Avery Birmingham and Calcutta.’ 

The machine was likely built by a company based in Calcutta with headquarters in Birmingham, and is one of the many reminders of the sub-continent’s colonial past. The railways once connected Chittagong to the frontier and importing cities during the British Raj, such as Calcutta and Bombay.

The Karachi Cantonment Railway Station is part of the same British heritage, an imposing yellow stone structure set apart from the plain concrete buildings of Saddar neighborhood, a noisy commercial area, one of the original urban centers of Karachi. Stains of Betel leaf (‘paan’) spit and posters on the outer walls of the station were recently removed as part of a restoration project. Inside the station, a pizza franchise has opened and steel benches have been installed in place of splintered wooden ones. Full story here.