Friday, March 11, 2011

Train to Kan Mehtarzai – the highest railway station in Pakistan

Very few of us would have listen to this place called Kan Mehtarzai – and so did I till I was reading of history of Pakistan in a book I found when cleaning my junk box the other day. Junk boxes sometimes take you by surprise as something added to these years ago suddenly become important when it is time to throw things out for good. I also found autographs of the famous comedian duo Laurel and Hardy from the same junk box, which became part of my post on my other blog Hobby Shobbys a couple of days earlier.

So back to this place called Kan Mehtarzai. The place in present time is just another unknown small towns and villages scattered in some of the most remotely located places in Pakistan. But in the beginning of the 20th century, Kan Mehtarzai figured out very high for the British when Chromate deposits were discovered in an area located between the Muslimbagh and Kan Mehtarzai in the district of Kila Saifullah as far back as in 1901. 

The discovery made the British to lay a railway line between Quetta and Muslimbagh (then called Hindubagh). The work on the railway line commenced in 1916 from a place called Khanai, located some 30 kilometres north of Quetta, and completed in 1921 for train traffic up to Muslimbagh. In 1927, the Muslimbagh to Qila Saifullah section was opened and finally the section up to Zhob was opened in 1929. The total length of the railway section was around 294 kilometres and had eleven railways stations including the Kan Mehtarzai.

And before I divert from topic, let me get back to Kan Mehtarzai once again. The place between Kuchlag and Muslimbagh became the highest railway station of Asia of its time, located at a height of 2,224 metres (7,295 feet). The railway station was part of the the Zhob Valley Railway (ZVR). This once the longest narrow gauge railway system of the Indian Subcontinent, served the British and the Balochistan Chrome Ore Company, which incidentally laid this railway line, well for years as it help extract millions of tons of raw chromate and subsequently ship to England through Karachi port. These mines still continue to produce some 300-500 tons of raw chromite daily, which is being exported to many countries, China being its biggest importer.

Today, the dilapidated mud plastered Kan Mehtarzai railway station is a desolate and a rather quiet place, as no longer those small narrow gauge engine hauls passenger and good bogies on this once very active railways of the Indo-Pak subcontinent. No more is there the hustle and bustle of miners, British soldiers and traders and the locals. Nor there is the aroma of typical Balochi cuisines like sajji that once may have been sold here. The last goods train that honked its horn and halted at this one of the highest railway stations of Asia was way back in 1986, the passenger section of the train was done away with a year earlier in 1985. Thereafter, finally the days of narrow gauge came to an end due to wearing out of the narrow gauge engines and bogies. There is nothing much left of the narrow gauge railway tracks as most of it had succumbed to pilferage and theft.

I wish the train to Kan Mehtarzai was still operative, as the place receives heavy snow fall and could have been developed in to a tourist resort and it would have been an adventurous travel with the train stranded in snow as it did many times during winters when the train was operational. India is still maintaining its Darjling railway track to attract tourists to this equally elevated platform. It is sad to see things of the past fading away rather than maintained as heritage and tourism attractions.

I wish there were cellular phones with camera back in 1986 as someone could definitely shot the last journey of the Zhob Valley Railways at Kan Mehtarzai railway station.

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nisar said...

Its really heartening to see places and sybmbols of past going to dogs just due to our lethargy and indifference.
" Sab kahan kuch lala -o- gul main numayan go gaeen ---- khak main kia soortain hon' gi kai pinhan ho gaeen" (Ghalib)

Jalal HB said...

Very well said, specially quoting Ghalib's verses that really go by the lost symbols of the past

Anonymous said...

Well said, I once travelled this train when my father was appointed Principal of Government College, Zhob( then Fort Sandeman).