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Symbol of history: Khyber Steam Safari sits idle

September 12, 2013

IT was indeed depressing to see a picture in this paper of the majestic Khyber Steam Safari train sitting in a Peshawar shed. This grand old symbol of the region’s history was a major tourist attraction in its heyday, ferrying intrepid travellers between Peshawar and Landi Kotal in Khyber Agency. The ride was reminiscent of a bygone age as it took enthusiasts through a rugged mountain landscape steeped in history and lore. Built by the British in the 1920s, the railway line was a major marvel of engineering. And while the British had built it for strategic reasons, after Pakistan’s creation it appealed both to local and foreign tourists, and was an especially popular draw with foreign dignitaries. The train has had a patchy run since the end of the Raj, reportedly stopping in the aftermath of the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan before it was revived in the 1990s. The Steam Safari ran for the last time in 2007, when it was forced to call it a day after tracks were vandalised, and washed away by floodwaters, while rising militancy in the region kept the tourists away.

In the current circumstances, revival of the safari seems like a distant dream. However, it may be possible to fire up the old locomotive and bring the train back into action if there is improved security in the area and the infrastructure needed for re-launching the ride is built. After all, KP authorities have tried, with relative success, to bring back tourists to Swat and Malam Jabba after these areas were cleared of militants. Revival of the Steam Safari would be a significant symbol that normality is returning to the region. It would be a shame to see such an integral symbol of history disappear altogether.