Pakistan, 1996: The Khyber Pass, part 2

This travelogue was originally published by Dr Roland Ziegler in 1999 in German. This English translation is by IRFCA, 2012. The original German version is available at www.rolandziegler.de

This is a part of the travelogue detailing Dr Ziegler's travel through Pakistan in 1996.

Previous: The Khyber Pass, part 1

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The Khyber Pass, part 2: From Shaghai to Landi Kotal, and back to Jamrud

The upper valley, Landi Kotal, and the return trip

From Shaghai it is still 18km to Landi Kotal. And the line beyond Shaghai remains quite exciting.

On the footplate (in a tunnel)

On the floorplate (in a tunnel)

Even in the lower section of the course there were a number of tunnels (34 for the total course). Now short tunnels and retaining walls followed several times in succession. On the second day on the pass I am enjoying this section from the footplate perspective, and I have chosen the cab of the rear locomotive, which is less crowded.

27 January 1996

Gorge

gorge

Beyond Shaghai the valley becomes a gorge. The railway runs high up the north slope, while the road in this part stays below, but is divided in two on both sides of the river now, separated according to the direction of travel. Obviously there was no space for widening the original single-lane road, and so a second road was built. I suspect that even the road development has been primarily for military reasons because there isn't that much traffic across the restricted border.

27 January 1996

Tunnel

Tunnel

Tunnel, retaining wall, tunnel, sometimes a bridge between them -- this is the course of the railway line in this section of the valley.

27 January 1996

Rifleman

Rifleman

Rifleman from the Khyber Rifles looking through the open door of the carriage -- actually, in Pakistan, the doors usually remain open on the train. Since the windows are barred, the door is usually the best photo standpoint, but also a good position for our riflemen to make themselves visible.

Now the train has left the narrow section, and the valley opens up and provides space for settlements.

26 January 1996

Landi Kotal station

Landi Kotal station

The Landi Kotal station (760m high, 34km from Jamrud) has a platform track and 5 or 6 additional loop lines -- all for one regularly scheduled train a week. But of course, major troop contingents can be brought in and unloaded quickly. The station building (hidden behind the smoke) is a fort, with the former ticket office behind an embrasure. Since British rule, one or more battalions have been stationed at this fort.

Landi Kotal has also been the terminus of the line since 1932. From 1926 to 1932 some trains went 3km onward to Landi Khana, but of this section only a few relics exist.

26 January 1996

Children at Landi Kotal station

Children at Landi Kotal station

The travelers are urged not to leave the station area. Even the walk across the street to the stalls in the town is considered too dangerous -- for the Khyber Rifles, the area outside the station is beyond their sphere of influence, and they could not provide protection for us, without causing a major political crisis.

For the local Pashtun the converse applies as they are not barred from visiting the station, and so some curious people, children, and adults, gather here, as in 1996 there were not that many special trips here. One of the locals, a worthy gentleman, speaks German, and is thrilled that he can practice this language once again. A huge crowd of people forms around us, for it must be very rare that one of your own amongst the bystanders can carry on in a foreign language with the Europeans. As it turns out, he has studied in Germany, but since a long time has been back in his homeland.

26 January 1996

Cliff

Cliff

The return trip will be used for several photo stops. (A "normal" Khyber Pass charter, by the way, does not include any photo stops.)

The tunnel-rich section of the gorge, already shown above, begins with this section of almost vertical rock wall.

26 January 1996

Between tunnels

Between tunnels

One of the tunnel and retaining wall sections seen from the other side of the valley (from the road).

For the return trip on the second day I joined a few people to follow the train by minibus on the mountain road (of course, under armed escort).

27 January 1996

Bicycle smugglers

Bicycle smugglers

One of the curiosities of the Khyber Pass is smuggling. Peshawar is the headquarters of the smuggling organization, and the western districts, where the smuggling bosses reside, are off-limits to foreigners. There the bosses recruit young people who handle the work of bringing bicycles, home electronics, and other consumer goods, mainly of Chinese origin, to within the bounds of the city -- under the eyes of state power represented by the Khyber Rifles.

It is said that youngsters form Peshawar are taken to the border by bus, that trucks with contraband are unloaded at the border, that the youngsters are given the bicycles, and given more consumer goods as additional payload on the carrier rack. Then they ride the brand-new bicycles all the way down Peshawar. If everything goes smoothly, the boys can run such trips several times a day.

Sometimes things don't go well, as for instance, as in the picture, the rough road or heavy cargo takes its toll. (The bike has the original packaging still attached to the fork and fender). Our Rifleman is trying to help the guys who are struggling with a dislodged chain. The figures have their faces covered up because of the cold and strong winds.

With my western mind I wonder, if smuggling is so obviously profitable, why the trucks with the goods don't go right down to Peshawar. But that would probably go beyond the limit of tolerance for this system and upset the well-rehearsed and accepted state of balance. It would not surprise me if the several sides here all profited from this delivery process.

Other than that, in the background the picture shows one of the fortified villages again, and on the slope above the railway line. Actually, we photographers, huddled by the embankment, are waiting for the train.

27 January 1996

Upper bridge

Upper bridge

Between Shaghai and the two reversing stations the mountain road crosses the railway twice. On the bridge the picture in the afternoon light is particularly good...

26 January 1996

At the upper bridge

At the upper bridge

...so that here we have halts and run-pasts on both days.

27 January 1996

Photographers

Photographers

For photographers and videographers, this scene offers plenty of space to take pictures like the previous two. In other places we had to scramble around more.

26 January 1996

Arrival at Jamrud

Arrival at Jamrud

Return to Jamrud. Two exciting days are over, both with excellent weather for photography. There were neither technical problems nor any significant security incidents.

26 January 1996

And with these last pictures of the Khyber Pass, the whole Pakistan tour comes to an end. For us, one more death-defying bus ride to Islamabad is followed by a late night flight back to Karachi, a very short night in the very modest rooms in Karachi, and then a long flight to Europe.

Addendum, in 2002. Today, some of what was offered on this tour is already history.

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