One Saturday morning we took the kids to the Golra Sharif train museum on the outskirts of Islamabad. The first difficulty we faced in this task was finding the museum at all, which is more difficult than you might think. Very few tourist attractions in Pakistan are actually signposted or labelled, and only the major ones have websites with visitor information on. Google Maps came to the rescue, indicating that the museum was in the E-11 sector of Islamabad. We duly drove in that direction, arrived in E-11, and started driving down the Golra Sharif road.
Somewhat remarkably we found it first time, although we had to stop by a police checkpost to ask directions from the friendly policeman sitting outside. Several dozen speedbumps later, we arrived outside the museum and parked.
The museum is actually part of the Raj-era Golra Sharif train station which is still a functioning facility, seeing traffic every day as trains rattle through from Peshawar en route to Rawalpindi, Lahore, and eventually Karachi. The waiting room has been converted into the museum’s main attraction: a collection of railway artefacts from the early days of the railways of the Raj. Glass cases containing lamps, uniforms, tools and other memorabilia line the walls. Unusually for Pakistan these are all well labelled in both Urdu and English. Chief among the attractions (for my 6 year old son, at least) is a gun rack containing original Raj-era rifles – possibly Lee Enfields, although I am not an expert.
The musem’s sole attendant was only too happy to give us a guided tour. He was friendly and well-informed about the history of the station and of subcontinental railways in general. This being Pakistan, we were welcomed to handle the exhibits and were even given a brief lesson in how to load and fire the rifles.
The next-door room contained a remarkable collection of original furniture including some of the infamously-named “Bombay Fornicators” – easy chairs with extended arm rests for impromptu naps. The room also featured an original Raj-era punkah or fan, a wooden beam suspended from the ceiling with a large square of linen attached. When a rope attached to the beam is pulled the linen swings back and forth , fanning the room with cool air. It was remarkably effective and an insight into how people managed to beat the heat before air conditioning was invented.
The main attraction was found further down the station platform: an original locomotive attached to two carriages which were used by the last Viceroy, Mountbatten, and Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, during a trip from Karachi to Lahore. Incredibly, the lights and fans are still functioning; my kdis enjoyed lying on the bunk beds and examining the kitchen in which food was prepared for these two remarkable men. It is fascinating to see such historical artefacts up close; in the UK they would no doubt be enclosed behind glass doors.
We spent time wandering up and down the platform admiring the beauty of the ancient banyan trees which give it shade, and wondering at the signs advertising chai for sale, complete with Hindi script. The museum is a window into the past, truly a fascinating place. We tipped the museum guide – there is no charge for admission nor for the tour, but it seemed appropriate to thank him for helping us appreciate the museum – and made our way back home.