Pakistan, 1996: From Taxila to Havelian

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.

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From Taxila to Havelian

To the foot of the Himalayas

We leave Rawalpindi at about breakfast time. SGS 2470 from Malakwal is still working the train. The Pakistan mainline to Peshawar now passes through hillier terrain now, and the SGS is quite short of breath at times.

At Taxila Cantonment railway station the line to Havelian branches off. Like many others in this country, the British built this line primarily for strategic reasons. As far as Havelian, construction was probably within the limits of a reasonable budget. The mountain range further on after Abbottabad remained impregnable for the railroad, and it took several decades to finally overcome it with the famous Karakoram Highway. With that highway the mountains eventually came to provide a reasonably reliable land route to China.

Taxila Cantt., Farewell to the sleeper coach

Taxila Cantt., Farewell to the sleeper coach

In Taxila, it is time to say goodbye to our sleeper train. The locomotive will be kept, however, and will work the new train to Havelian. She is being serviced at the platform, and her two additional water tenders will be filled again.

25 January 1996

Taxila, train with EMD-replica locomotive

Taxila, train with EMD-replica locomotive

On the other track while, meanwhile, a service train comes pulled by a locomotive of the series GMCU-15, from 1979, which is a replica of the EMD series GMU-15 of 1975.

As long as Alco existed, that manufacturer was the principal supplier of locomotives to Pakistan Railway. After that, GE and EMD played an interlude until Hitachi and Henschel came into play. Perhaps some day the Blue Tiger locos will also run here, provided they can be kept in working condition over a longer period.

25 January 1996

Taxila, assembling the mixed train

Taxila, assembling the mixed train

Our SGS has now done some shunting and assembled a mixed train, with which it is to continue to Havelian. As it turns out, these are loaded wagons with cargo destined for Havelian. Basically this is a good idea, moving something more reasonable across the country than just a group of railway enthusiasts. However, the line we will be on rises about 460m on the route to Havelian and the load is probably quite challenging for our locomotive's power.

25 January 1996

River bridge at Usman Khattar

River bridge at Usman Khattar

The first problem, however, is not the climb, which we have not commenced yet, but the suspension of the central axle that just simply broke shortly after Taxila. The locomotive crew are accustomed to improvising and can take the weight off the axle so that we can continue with no major concerns.

The dry river bed which we are crossing here gives us a clue as to the mass of water that must be reckoned with when the snows melt. From the bridge the route goes uphill all the way to Havelian, 83km distant.

25 January 1996

Quarry at Usman Khattar

Quarry at Usman Khattar

Right next to the bridge is a small quary where stone is broken and crushed to gravel.

25 January 1996

Bridges, embankments, and cuttings

Bridges, embankments, and cuttings

In the wide valley through which we travel now, the river has deposited a lot of debris dislodged from the mountains. The soft soil is no great obstacle for cuttings, but embankments and bridges remain expensive.

25 January 1996


Meanwhile, our loco is running slower and slower. Clearly, the train is too heavy for her. Fortunately, a light diesel engine follows one section behind us. Even though it has its own technical weaknesses, it is very welcome as a banker. On this line steam locomotives have not operated for many years, and providing a diesel locomotive as a back-up has been a reasonable idea.

The foothills of the Himalayas

The foothills of the Himalayas

And then they come in sight, the mountains that form the southern foothills of the highest mountain range in the world. The sight is certainly not that sensational, and the peaks are not even 3000m high, but a special feeling creeps over one or two of us already.

25 January 1996

Street in Havelian

Street in Havelian

In Havelian the railway route ends. But here the Karakoram Highway begins. I may be deluding myself, but for me this place looks like the starting point of a bigger adventure.

25 January 1996

Havelian, street vendors

Havelian, street vendors

Various goods that are offered on the street seem tailored to travelers as customers. There are non-perishable food products (nuts are very popular), and tobacco products are available in any store.

25 January 1996

Havelian, vegetable market

Havelian, vegetable market

Off the main road there is the vegetable market, with a very impressive offering.

25 January 1996

Havelian, turntable

Havelian, hub

Steam operations may have ceased here many years ago, but the manually operated turntable is still intact.

Havelian is apparently also of strategic importance. The border of the province of Jammu and Kashmir, disputed between India and Pakistan, is close at hand. In addition to military facilities in the immediate vicinity of the station there are some young men in otherwise unusual western clothing that address me in quite good English with curious questions about where we came from and where we are going.

25 January 1996

Afternoon sun

Afternoon sun

In the late afternoon we set off for the way back, and eventually the sun breaks through the clouds again. Our train has now shrunk considerably. The wagons have been left behind in Havelian and the recipient of the goods may have been delighted by the unexpected early delivery.

25 January 1996

Sunset in Haripur Hazara

Sunset in Haripur Hazara

Just in time for sunset we reach Haripur Hazara, and use the bridge as the place for a series of sunset shots. Because it is so beautiful, the false departure is repeated several times.

And that's it for us with the locomotives from Malakwal, the last broad gauge steam depot of the Pakistan Railways.

25 January 1996


In Haripur the bus is waiting. From there it first goes back to the road to Taxila, to the station to retrieve our baggage, and then we start on the Grand Trunk Road for the two-hour trip to Peshawar. This famous road (which also bears the number 5) in parts is a divided highway, but the ride is no less outrageous than the one a few days earlier, between Lahore and Changa Manga.

In Peshawar, we stay at Dean's Hotel, a well-known but currently a somewhat run-down establishment. After 135km and two hard hours on the bus I do not really care.

And tomorrow, the highlight of the trip is waiting for us: the Khyber Pass!

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Previous section: Malakwal again: To Khewra

Next section: The Khyber Pass, part 1

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