How the First Locomotives Reached Lahore: By Sea, By River, By Bullocks, By Elephants

By Owais Mughal, July 2008.

This article has appeared earlier on the website, All Things Pakistan.
See other articles by Owais Mughal on Pakistan.

The citizens of Lahore saw a railway locomotive for the first time in their city in March 1862. Lahore at that time was connected via Railways to Amritsar and rest of the India but not to the port city of Karachi. The Lahore-Amritsar line though complete, was not inaugurated yet. It was to be inaugurated later on April 10, 1862. Therefore, Karachi being the closest port to Lahore, was used to import the first locomotive that was to drive down in Lahore.

'Eagle', the oldest surviving locomotive in Pakistan. Photo by Thomas Kautzor.
'Eagle', the oldest surviving locomotive in Pakistan. Photo by Thomas Kautzor.

The photo above is not the locomotive which first made its appearence in Lahore; This is however, now the oldest surviving locomotive in Pakistan. It is named as 'Eagle' and it was built in 1876 in England. It is now placed outside Moghalpura Workshops, Lahore. The photograph is courtesy of Mr. Thomas Kautzor

The first train in Lahore

From Karachi port, this locomotive was shipped to Lahore via river transportation system. It was a long and slow journey. The locomotive was shipped from Karachi port at Kimari to Kotri (located at western bank of Indus) by train. At Kotri it was tranferred to a steam boat of Indus Steam Flotilla company.

To get an idea of how slow the transportation sytem was as compared to present day; it usually took 34 days for the steam boats to bring freight from Kotri to Multan (~700km) via River Indus and Chenab. Since this locomotive had to be transported further north, it must've taken even longer time. I am not able to find the exact time it took this locomotive to reach from Kimari to Lahore. The steam boat finally brought the locomotive up through Indus and Ravi. At Lahore it was received at the banks of River Ravi.

From the banks of Ravi the locomotive was brought into the city where a gathering of city notables and awam was arranged near present day chauburji. As there were no railway tracks laid out from the banks of Ravi to chauburji, the locomotive was pulled on Lahore streets by 102 bullocks and pushed from the back 2 elephants. This event of the first locomotive appearence in Lahore was captured by the Lahore Chronicle of March 1862 in the following words:

"Wednesday last was a great day in Lahore, and one that will be long remembered as the commencement of a new era in the Punjab. On the afternoon of that day, the bulk of the European residents and a large portionof the native inhabitants of the city assembled near the beautiful, but partially ruined gateway, known as the 'Char Burj' of the Multan Road, where tents had been erected for the accomodation of the ladies and a band of music in attendance for their amusement.

After the lapse of about half an hour, a roar of many voices proclaimed the approach of some strange creature that was to astonish the natives, and immediately afterwards, a monster made its appearence in the shape of a steam locomotive. But humiliating to say, instead of bounding along with the speed of lightning by its own power, it was being ignominiously dragged at a foot pace by one hundred and two bullocks, and stowed by two elephants.

The tender (of the locomotive) followed, dragged and propelled by about the same number of animals. The excitement exhibited by the crowds of Seikhs, Hindoos, Mussalmans, Afghans and other races, was great while their expressions of wonder on beholding the machine, the curiosity they displayed regarding its use, and the observations they made to each other on the subject, were as interesting as they were singular.

The Char Burj or Chauburji of Lahore, circa 1880
The Char Burj or Chauburji of Lahore, circa 1880

If you think above account was interesting, wait till we talk about how Karachiites treated their first sighting of a locomotive. There it was declared as a 'monster' and people threw shoes at it. That interesting story is for another day.


  • Hundred Years of Pakistan Railway by M.B.K Mallick, 1962