The Romance of the Railways

Art by Rai

The railways in India have a lot of superlatives attached to them – oldest, highest, longest, most beautiful. Travelling by rail is an experience packed with incident (admittedly, not always pleasant). It will always hold a certain charm, in the face of all change, not least because of the many points of attraction that are attached to it. We have tried and captured some of those in this piece which includes quiz questions that you can have a go at.

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1. In October 1927, the Bombay Baroda and Central India Railway Company launched the Frontier Mail, which ran from Bombay to Peshawar via Delhi and Lahore. Traversing the longest train route in the Indian subcontinent, the train renowned for being on time – it was said you could set your watch by it. After Partition, its route was curtailed to Amritsar on the Indian side, and its name changed to the Golden Temple Mail in 1966.

Q. Which actress of the silent-movie era, born Mary Ann Evans, displayed her skill at stunt work in the 1936 action thriller ‘Miss Frontier Mail’?


2. The world’s highest railway bridge is under construction in Jammu and Kashmir’s Reasi district. The bridge span will be 1,315-metre long, arching 359 metres above the river bed level. That means you could fit the entire Eiffel Tower underneath, and still leave 35 metres to spare!

Q. Over which river, which is formed by the confluence of the Chandra and Bhaga streams, will the bridge stand?


3. Officially designated T-80, the Pir Panjal tunnel is, at 11.2km, India’s longest transportation railway tunnel. Located on the only broad gauge mountain railway in India, the tunnel stretches through the Pir Panjal mountain range between Qazigund and Baramulla in Jammu and Kashmir.

Q. The Pir Panjal tunnel is built 440m below the only road link that connects Kashmir to the rest of India. After whom is that 2.8km-long road tunnel, operational since 1956, named?


4. The history of the Samjhauta Express that ran between Amritsar in India and Lahore in Pakistan has been a rather stop-start one. Having been started on July 22, 1976, following the Simla Agreement between the two countries, the fate of the ‘Friendship Express’ has been inextricably bound to the relationship between the two neighbour nations. As of now, it’s been closed since 2019. Will its wheels ever turn again? Inshallah!


5. Shimla (then spelt Simla) was settled by the British shortly after the first Anglo-Gurkha War (1814-1816). Located at 2,169m (7,116 feet) in the foothills of the Himalayas, it was designated the summer capital of British India in 1864, and was the headquarters of the British Indian Army. This meant that twice a year it was necessary to transfer the entire government between Calcutta and Simla by horse- and ox-drawn carts. To make these bi-annual shifts easier, the Kalka–Shimla narrow-gauge railway was built through mostly mountainous terrain under the direction of Herbert Septimus Harington between 1898 and 1903. In 2008, UNESCO added the Kalka–Shimla Railway to the ‘Mountain Railways of India’ World Heritage Site.

Q. During the song sequence “Mere sapnon ki rani kab aayegi tu” in the 1969 Bollywood movie ‘Aradhana’, what novel is Sharmila Tagore’s character seen reading while riding the Kalka-Shimla train?


6. Established in 1977, the National Rail Museum in New Delhi was the first of some 30-odd such sites now run by the Indian Railways around the country. It houses a number of prized exhibits, such as a working locomotive and coach of the Patiala State Mono Rail Tramway, perhaps the oldest monorail concept in India.


7. The Rajdhani Express is a train service that connects Delhi (the Rajdhani in the name) to the capitals or largest cities of many of the Indian states. As of present, there are 24 pairs of Rajdhani Express trains connecting to 15 different cities.


8. Gateway to the famous Ranthambhore National Park and Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan, the Sawai Madhopur railway station lies on the main railway line between Delhi and Mumbai. Over two months in 2016, some 20 artists from the Ranthambhore School of Art, led by master artists Gajanand Singh and Narayan Singh, decorated the walls of the station with beautiful murals depicting local wildlife, with the tiger in prominence, making it the perfect stepping-off point for visitors to the sanctuary.


Frontier Mail:

Chenab Bridge:

Pir Panjal Tunnel:

Samjhauta Express:

Himalayan Queen:

National Rail Museum:

Rajdhani Express:

Murals at Sawai Madhopur Railway Stattion: