Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Doll House Station: Attock Khurd

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To the east the Kherimar (Sandal Destroyer) Hills of Attock district rise in a series of jagged crags; to the west flows the Indus in a channel thirty metres below ground level. On the far bank rise the sparsely forested slopes of the Suleman Hills in Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa and to the north and south the face of the earth is divided by the wide channel of the mighty Indus.

In this scenic setting, the doll house railway station of Attock Khurd stands on a low rise a hundred metres east of river’s edge. Its pitched roof with the chimneys and gables, the square pillars from which bell arches spring topped with keystones, and even the gargoyles were clearly designed by someone who valued English country architecture. This comely building, now festooned with bougainvillea, was left here as a lasting monument and a signature of the designer’s Englishness.

The Punjab Northern State Railway (PNSR) from Lahore had reached Gujrat by the end of 1875. Nine months later the mile-long bridge spanned the Jhelum River. Hiatus followed for ahead lay the contorted hills of Taraki and Sohawa that called for a lengthy and relaxing period of surveying.

Meanwhile, things were hotting up in Afghanistan once again. By 1878, the Second Afghan War was imminent. Far away in Balochistan, engineers on the Kandahar State Railway were making a valiant effort to take the line to Quetta, but it was imperative that the army in the north should also have fast, all-weather access to the highlands. And so PNSR was jolted out of vacation mode in November 1879, just months after fighting had erupted near Kandahar.

The major rivers west of Lahore in Punjab, namely, Ravi, Chenab and Jhelum had been bridged. No large-scale civil works were required and within months the first train trundled through the hills of Taraki to reach the small garrison town of Rawalpindi. By December 1880, a year after the rails started out west of Jhelum town, the terminus stood at Attock Khurd, under the watchful frown of Akbar’s Attock Fort.

Meanwhile, in the west, the Afghan War had run its course. But authorities in British India seem to have learned one important lesson: schemes in the subcontinent having anything to do with Afghanistan should never be soft-pedalled when things appear to be improving in Afghanistan. And so, without a break in stride, the Attock Bridge was completed for opening on 24 May 1883. Before the year’s end, the narrow alleys of the Story-Tellers’ Bazaar were resounding with the woof-chug of the heavy steam locomotives.

Lying on the main line to the frontier, Attock Khurd was a station for every train to pass through. But lying far from any large urban centre it served a few small villages and forever remained a way station: as the mail and express trains thundered through, only slow passenger trains stopped here. Few people paused to appreciate its beauty. In Pakistan it became another one of those neglected stations, only good for a fresh coat of yellow wash every time an officer visited on inspection.

In 2007, one hundred and twenty-three years after it was built, Attock Khurd railway station came into the notice of a railway officer with good sense. The building was sand-blasted to reveal a handsome gray stone and brick structure hiding under several millimetres of yellow wash. The pitched roofs were painted a striking vermillion shade and the east wing of the three-wing building was turned into a sun room with plate glass windows. Relatively unknown Attock Khurd was suddenly a tourist attraction.

Since the revamping of the station, there have been on again-off again plans to run a Sunday tourist train to Attock Khurd. Until September 2011, nothing concrete has emerged. Nevertheless, visitors come to watch passing trains and picnic on a lovely sandy strand just below the bridge. Attock Khurd, the last railway station in Punjab before the line crosses into the land of the Pathans, has finally won acclaim.

Note: This story first appeared in Wheels of Empire - Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL) book of days 2012.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 09:44,


At 18 April 2014 at 23:44, Blogger Unknown said...


At 19 April 2014 at 09:50, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you.

At 2 December 2015 at 17:29, Blogger Unknown said...

I passed through Attock railway station in 1989 traveling from Peshawar to Rawalpindi and thought the building enchanting .The bougainvillea covering a side of the station. kund where the Indus & Kabul river meet lies below the rail station, the massive Attock fort and the new bridge over the Indus.the railway passes over the old bridge at narrowest point of the gorge of the mighty Indus .


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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