We are all aware that it was George Stevenson who invented the steam locomotive in England in 1814, and brought about this revolutionary mode of travel all over the world. It was a marvel of the times, a horseless carriage and attracted throngs along the rail tracks to watch this stupendous invention. It created enthusiasm amongst the boys. It became the norm for groups of boys to congregate at railway stations, waiting for trains to arrive to note its numbers in their little notebooks. They were the 'train spotters' of the England of those days. Many children of subsequent generations, wanted to be railway train drivers when they grew up.
This enthusiasm for trains was not restricted to children. 'Slow Train', was a popular song out in 1963 bemoaning the fact that many railway lines and stations were closed by Dr. Beeching in the UK. A more famous version by Bob Dylan became popular in the eighties. Novels and 'Who Dun It' about train journeys were written and one has only to think of Agatha Christie’s, 'Murder on the Oriental Express' and '4.50 from Paddington'. Narratives such as 'The Great Railway Bazaar' and the 'Patagonian Express' by Paul Theroux were also published.
Chandra Shumsher helped the British immensely during the course of World War I by providing wooden sleepers, plus personnel to lay down tracks across the plains so that troops could be transported quickly across India to the war zones in the North West Frontier. The money that the British paid for all this was deposited in London, so that Chandra Shumsher could utilise it to buy arms for the intended Military Campaign against the Tibetans. This planned onslaught did not take place. Later during World War II, when Joodha Shumsher was PM, Nepal was helping the Allied Forces again to build railroad tracks to the Indo-Burma border to fight the Japanese.
The introduction of the narrow-gauge Nepal Government Railway or NGR, built by Martin Company of Calcutta in 1925 during PM Chandra Shumsher's time, was the start of a railway system in our country. King Tribhuvan, PM Chandra and their entourage travelled on the first memorial trip on 7th Magh 1983 BS (1926) from Adhabar in Nepal to Raxaul in India. However an article in Annapurna Post of 21st Jan. narrates that subsequently a seven wagons train carried goods from the ropeway depot at Matatirtha to Lainchaur daily. It was on this that local children used to hang on to get joyrides! This train stopped running in 1957.
Some years ago at a of the HAM performance at the British Embassy hall, I met a lady who was very concerned that the locomotives of the NGR in Nepal were just being dumped in the Terai. She felt rightly that these should be conserved in a special Railway Museum for future generations of Nepalis to be aware of and admire. Our heritagewallahs should take note. Currently, the Janakpur - Jaynagar Railway is not fully functional and in dire straits. Much repairs and extensions need to be done. The talk now is of the broad gauge railway lines to be brought to five points in Nepal. These have been pinpointed to be at Kakker Vitta, Biratnagar, Janakpur, Bhairahawa and Nepalgunj in the very near future. Though said to be in the final states one is never sure of reality! With all these on the horizon it seems that we Nepalis will have to be content at present with the little toy railway, donated by India in the Exhibition grounds at Kathmandu.
The British made the railroads in the different provinces of India for quick and sure accessibility. Some elderly Nepalis, who had their education in India, must remember with nostalgia their two annual trips to and fro to the hill station boarding school where they studied. The long leisurely journey as the train chugged along the plains of India, sleeping on the upper or lower berths of the railway carriage, having sweet and delicious tea in clay pyalas, watching birds flying in the horizon and greeting or bidding farewell to the sun as it rose or set are surely etched in their memories. These conditions are now changing in our part of the world. The rush to get from one place to another, by motorway or autobahn or even planes in this fast paced living has sounded the death knell of that leisurely world.
I was surprised to see the other day a Railway Department of Nepal Government tucked away in a corner of Bishalnagar. I suppose that this site is appropriate in that there has been so much talk about the same from both our Southern and Northern neighbours.
An electric train running along a route of 945 Kms, from Mechi - Mahakali has been envisaged for long but there is the snag of how not to scare the wild life in the Char Kose Jhadi of Chitwan. The Kathmandu - Pokhara rail of 187 Kms, and Nijgadh - Bharatpur connecting one are on the designing board. Together with these possibilities it is not surprising that a Rasuwa - Kathmandu connection to Tibet and on to China in the north is also being seriously envisaged. Seeing that China has sent freight by railway from Yiwu to Barking in UK, some 12,070 kilometres away, the line to Kathmandu via Shigatse is a minor undertaking. Last but not least, is the Metro Rail Link for the capital Kathmandu. Hopefully travelling on the railways for mass transportation will be less hazardous for us Nepalis than that on the roads where the drivers of large vehicles go recklessly. Well, plenty seem to be on the cards but when, if ever they become realities, only time will tell. We just have to hope for the best.
The author writes fiction under the name of Mani Dixit. Website: www.hdixit.org.np. Twitter: @manidixithd