Shiv Chander Sharma
To give fillip to the border tourism in Jammu and attract large number of Mata Vaishno Devi pilgrims, the UT Government of Jammu and Kashmir has decided to run the heritage train from Bikram Chowk in Jammu city to Suchetgarh via R S Pura on the historical route on which once train used to run from Jammu to Lahore via Sialkot (Now in Pakistan). Sialkot is just 11 km from Suchetgarh, the last town on the Indo-Pak border on the Indian side.
This heritage train will be on the same pattern of Shimla-Kalka route in Himachal Pradesh in which hundreds of tourists visit daily to and fro. If the plan of the UT Government matures, shortly Jammuites as well as tourists and pilgrims will like to enjoy a ride in the heritage train to see the border and enjoy the journey passing through green fields in the most fertile and plain land which is also known for the best quality Basmati rice produced in India and abroad.
As the Kashmir valley prepares itself for the first train service by the year 2022 or so, very few people know that Jammu Kashmir had one of the oldest rail networks in the country during the Royal period. In 1880s, the then King Maharaja Pratap Singh had brought the rail network to the state from Sialkot to Jammu to connect the city and the State with Lahore, the then capital of Punjab.
In fact, the railway track and train between Jammu-Sialkot (Now in Pakistan) was the brainchild of the Maharaja. He even initiated a survey to study how to link Srinagar with Jammu through a railway line. Even today, almost the same route is being followed for the railway line between Jammu-Udhampur-Kashmir.
Recalling the train service between Sialkot and Jammu, Sukhdev Sharma an Octogenarian, said many of his colleagues would come from Sialkot to Jammu everyday to attend their offices and would return in the evening. He said that he had travelled to Lahore via Sialkot to appear for his matriculation examination. Even many people from Sialkot would come to Jammu to buy kites and strings during summer months around Raksha Bandhan and Shri Krishan Janamashtmi before the partition of the country in 1947.
The remnants of Jammu-Sialkot railway line existed till recent times which included old Railway Station building at Bikram Chowk which has now been replaced by Kala Kendra these days in Jammu. And a few bridges, one at Miran Sahib near NITS college and a few at other places between Jammu and the border town of R S Pura-bear testimony to this oldest train service in Jammu. The unmanned railway crossings existed at many places on the old track with one at Nai Basti near Satwari in the Jammu city along the Ranbir Canal till recent times. But now, all these stands dismantled .
Until early 1980s the ancient building structure of the Railway Station could be seen. Even still a part of the Railway Station is used as Transport Yard for parking and workshop of the J&K “ State” Road Transport Corporation buses and some remnants of the old times are present at this place. However, no body among the Jammu leaders and those at the helm of affairs in the Jammu Municipal Corporation thought it necessary to erect a sign board to tell the younger and present generations and even tourists and pilgrims coming to J&K about this ancient Railway.
Commenting on the new plan of the Government Ved Raj Pandotra,88 of Exchange Road , Jammu expressed his happiness telling many things which hardly among the present generation born after 1940s know. He said that before partition of the country in 1947, there was no direct road link between Jammu-Pathankot-Amritsar or Jallanhar not to talk of Delhi, the national capital. He further said it was possible only through the train from Jammu to Lahore and then Amritsar, Delhi and other parts of the country.
Ved Raj further said that 19-seater bus service was available from Jammu to Kathua which took more than 8 hours to reach Kathua . That too during dry weather as there was no bridge on Basantar river in Samba and Ravi river on the Jammu-Punjab border. The bus route was from Jammu to Kathua passed from Jammu to Basanter only on metalled road. Then it crossed through the bed of of Basanter river to reach Samba the Mawa on Indo-Pak border, then Rajpura, too on the border to Ghagwal and last stop was Kathua. Expressing his happiness on the heritage train, if he would live by the time the heritage train chugs on old track he would be the first person to take a ride.
Recalling the time during royal period Girdhari Lal of Jhulaka Mohallah, 91, said that before the partition of the country, the main trading centers in the area were Jammu, Sialkot and Lahore. Pathankot was of no importance, which gained importance only after the train reached Pathankot on Delhi-Jallandhar route.
However, handful of people living on the old track route, who had migrated from Pakistan to Jammu during partition of the country and constructed their houses on the track are up in hand by protesting with a fear in mind that they again will be uprooted . One among them Bharat Chowdhary said that their ancestors has tasted the fruit of migration. They fear that government will take over their land for laying new track for the heritage train.
Mukesh Singh of Miran Sahib , who has his house built on the old railway track said that when his ancestors migrated from Pakistan to Jammu, they were allotted land by the State Government as refugees, where they have constructed their houses on the track. If Government again shifts them to another place it will be tragic as those living on the track are called Patri wallas meaning that those living on the old railway track. If it happens then they will be left with no option other than the to start agitation rather then migrating once again.
Shiv Chander Sharma