Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Mock Invincibility - Railway Station, Lahore

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When civil engineer William Burton designed the railway station in Lahore in 1859, he had before him the precedence of railway architecture from Sindh. While the stations were all straightforward buildings, major river bridges in that province were designed with strong fortifications on both ends. Rail river crossings usually being in remote places, these defensive arrangements were manned by soldiers or police, a practice that continues to this day on some strategic bridges.

Now, it was understandable for remote bridges to need protection but to design the station of a major city with elements of a strongly fortified place was rather odd, especially in times of peace. Not strange then that it was assumed the design was purely defensive. Closer study of the ‘fortifications’ shows that despite their formidable appearance, they are merely decorative.

Nevertheless, visually at least Burton created an English castle in the heart of Punjab. At either extremity of the wide frontage, separated from the main building by extended wings, sits a combination of two thickset towers topped by embrasures. The porch of the foyer is commanded by two slimmer towers with pitch-roofed garrets. Two similar arrangements with clock faces oversee the surrounding areas from a higher setting above the foyer. The parapet of the entire roof is loop-holed to add to the general effect of an impregnable castle. But other than the massive turrets on the sides and loop holes, the garrets are merely decorative and do not serve any defensive purpose.

The great upheaval of 1857 was over with peace restored in the country and the British firmly in control. Burton may have felt that a similar uprising was unlikely in the future. Yet, a strong statement of power and authority was necessary to keep the ‘natives’ bridled. The fortress-like layout of the railway station was testimony he deemed necessary.

On completion in 1861, standing as it then did in a wide open space, the red brick building would indeed have struck awe in the hearts of the masses. As they regarded it from a distance, many would have wondered if the station was meant to keep them away and serve only the white sahibs.

Though soldiers may never have trained their rifles on anyone from the railway station, anti-aircraft guns were placed in the bulky embrasures at the two extremities of the building during the wars of 1965 and 1971. Other than that, the impressive fortifications have only been the empire’s statement of might and authority.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 21:34,


At 22 February 2013 at 10:03, Anonymous Saima Ashraf said...

Great work

At 22 February 2013 at 13:30, Anonymous Sanjay Yadav said...

Aap Sindh key baarey mein bahoot likhe haiy. Afghanistan ke itihaashr key baarey mein kuch likhiyega. And Aap apne article mei ye line zaroor likhye ga kih, "The word 'Paradise' has come from sanskrit word 'Pardesh' meaning foreign country. Aur ek book hai titled 'Janaanistan' meaning land of women I don't know the author of the book but in the book 'janaanistan' the author has dreamt of nation in which women would do all office world police judge prime minister president parliamentarians all will be women and men will do household chores. Janaanistan book key baarey mein mere hindi sir ne mujhe bataya thaa and kaha tha keh ye book India mein bahoot dhoondhne se bhi nahi milti. plz write something about this book in your article.

At 24 February 2013 at 21:12, Blogger Nayyar Julian said...

Have you seen Lahore Railway Station lately. Just cant relate you have so aptly described here. It looks like a machli mandi sir. We cant make new but are destroying old heritage fast.

At 24 February 2013 at 22:12, Blogger Jalal Hameed said...

I think with the ban on followers of passengers on platform, the station now looks cleaner


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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days