WillyLogan.com

Technology, History, and Travel

Category: Travels (Page 1 of 2)

Riding the meter-gauge rails

Broad-gauge (left) and meter-gauge (right) trains at Jaipur Junction.

Broad-gauge (left) and meter-gauge (right) trains at Jaipur Junction.

When private British capital first started building railroads in India in the mid-nineteenth century, the lines were built in broad gauge. With a spacing between the rails of 5 ft 6 in, this was, and still is, the widest rail gauge in common use anywhere in the world. The colonial Government of India started to build their own rail lines in the 1870s. These public-sector railways were more cheaply built than their private counterparts, and they were made in meter gauge (3 ft 3 3/8 in).

Even after independence and the nationalization of the private railways, broad-gauge and meter-gauge lines continued to be developed in parallel with each other. Only in the 1990s did the Indian Railways start to convert meter-gauge lines to broad gauge, under Project Unigauge. Since then, large stretches of meter-gauge lines have been replaced by broad gauge.

Meter-gauge lines survive here and there. One such line runs between Jaipur Junction and Sikar, 107 km (66 mi) to the northwest. Meter gauge used to run all of the way to Churu, another fifty miles to the north, but that stretch has recently been closed for conversion to broad gauge. (The time table posted in Jaipur Junction station still says Churu on it, although the name has been whited out and replaced with Sikar.) Someday the Jaipur–Sikar line will also become broad gauge. But in the meantime, seven meter-gauge trains will continue to run back and forth between Jaipur and Sikar every day.

Since meter gauge won’t be around forever, I felt obliged to ride the Jaipur–Sikar train when I had the chance. A month ago, I rode one of these trains from Jaipur as far as Chomun, one-third of the way to Sikar. The meter-gauge tracks at Jaipur Junction station are on the north side of the broad-gauge lines, so the tracks don’t have to cross each other. I found a place where both gauges run side-by-side, showing the difference in size.

Comparison of meter gauge (left) and broad gauge (right).

Comparison of meter gauge (left) and broad gauge (right).

The meter-gauge train was smaller and, I dare say, cuter than the broad-gauge trains I am used to seeing. Inside, the coach was just wide enough for a bench seating four or five adults.

Meter-gauge locomotive of 52083 Jaipur-Sikar MG Pass train.

Meter-gauge locomotive of 52083 Jaipur-Sikar MG Pass train.

Meter-gauge luggage car.

Meter-gauge luggage car.

Panorama of a compartment in a meter-gauge train.

Panorama of a compartment in a meter-gauge train.

I sat in the coach just behind the diesel-electric locomotive, because that one was farthest along the platform and nobody else was in it at first. When the train left Jaipur station, only two other men were in my compartment. At the first stop, Dher ka Balaji, the compartment filled up. The train passed by Jaipur’s sprawl for a while, then it reached the open countryside. After several station stops that I didn’t see the name of, the train pulled into Chomun station, a nice little colonial Public Works Department structure.

The single platform of Chomun Samod station.

The single platform of Chomun Samod station.

Glimpse of the facade of Chomun Samod station.

Glimpse of the facade of Chomun Samod station.

At Chomun, my meter-gauge technological tourism came to an end. I returned to Jaipur by city bus.

Having ridden on a meter-gauge train, I can now appreciate how much the Indian Railways have changed since the days when the narrower gauge was more prevalent. The train I rode to Chomun just didn’t have the capacity of the much larger broad-gauge trains I have ridden in India.

4341-delhi-wall-crenelations_1600px

Old Delhi’s walls and gates

The remains of the fortifications of Old Delhi don’t make it onto most tourists’ itineraries when they visit the city. This is understandable, because Old and New Delhi have a range of world-class tourist attractions – such as the Red Fort, Qutb Minar, and Lutyens’ Delhi – which overshadow the city walls. But as I have found on several visits to Delhi, exploring the remains of the fortifications can be a rewarding experience. From my visits to the gates and walls, I have learned about urban planning, military science from several eras, and adaptive reuse.

Old Delhi was founded in 1639 by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, who wanted to move his capital to a more suitable location than Agra, which was experiencing problems with drainage, overcrowding, and erosion. The original name of Old Delhi was Shahjahanabad, after the city’s founder. The centerpiece of Shahjahanabad was the Qila Mubarak (Blessed Fortress), now known as the Lal Qila or Red Fort. The fort stands on the eastern side of Shahjahanabad, with its back to the Yamuna River. It served as the royal palace and center of the Mughal government. To the west of the fort, an area of about 1,500 acres was enclosed by city walls built of stone rubble. The walls were broken by eight main gates and several lesser portals.

The walled area of Old Delhi still retains its historic identity. It even has its own postal code, 110 006, and it is colloquially referred to as “Delhi-6.” Only fragments of the walls and four of the eight main gates remain, though. On the southern side of Old Delhi, Ajmeri Gate, Turkman Gate, and Delhi Gate still stand on little plots of land, disconnected from the historic walls and surrounded by their own fences and gates.

Left to right: Ajmeri Gate, Turkman Gate, Delhi Gate.

Left to right: Ajmeri Gate, Turkman Gate, Delhi Gate.

Stretching eastward from Delhi Gate are some sections of the old city wall. One stretch of the wall is preserved in a city park, Ekta Sthal (Place of Unity). Only the outer side of the wall is protected, though. The inner side backs up to an alley, and there are several encroachments and illegal constructions built on the historic wall.

Backside of preserved wall segment in Ekta Sthal.

Backside of preserved wall segment in Ekta Sthal.

View from ramparts of Delhi's walls.

View from ramparts of Delhi’s walls.

One ramp up to the battlements hasn’t been encroached upon yet, and you can climb up and have a look around. From here you can see a round tower built in front of the wall. The tower doesn’t seem to match the style of the rest of the wall – and it shouldn’t, because it was built by the British in the nineteenth century. It is a Martello tower, designed to hold cannons and serve as an outer defensive post. The British built Martello towers all over their world empire in the nineteenth century.

Walkway to Martello tower.

Walkway to Martello tower.

Martello tower ruins.

Martello tower ruins.

Northeast of Ekta Sthal and the Martello tower, sections of the city wall now serve as retaining walls beneath more modern construction.

Remaining city wall serving as a retaining wall.

Remaining city wall serving as a retaining wall.

The longest stretches of surviving wall are on the north side of Shahjahanabad, around Kashmiri Gate. Parts of the city’s fortifications are still attached to Kashmiri Gate. Unlike Ajmeri, Turkman, and Delhi Gates, the surviving structure of Kashmiri Gate wasn’t built until the nineteenth century. The gate was constructed in 1835, and then in 1857 it was expanded to have two portals. A bastion next to the gate is built in angular star-fort style, a form of construction that was introduced to India by the British.

Kashmiri Gate, Delhi's only gate with two portals.

Kashmiri Gate, Delhi’s only gate with two portals.

A European-style bastion next to Kashmiri Gate.

A European-style bastion next to Kashmiri Gate.

Sections of city wall still stand on both the east and west sides of Kashmiri Gate. The sections on the east side are protected from encroachment by a metal fence. The sections on the west are not protected at all. Holes have been punched in the walls here and there. The arches under the battlements are used for stabling livestock and storing hay and building materials. When I visited the unprotected section of wall, I didn’t feel comfortable playing tourist and snapping picture after picture. I felt the same way that I would feel taking pictures of a stranger’s house. The walls are historic landmarks, but they are also places where some Delhiities live and work.

One of the preserved sections of wall near Kashmiri Gate.

One of the preserved sections of wall near Kashmiri Gate.

Maruts on display

Michael J. Neufeld, a curator at the National Air and Space Museum, recently published an article entitled “The Nazi Aerospace Exodus” in the journal History and Technology.1 The article discusses the diffusion of technical knowledge out of Germany after World War II, by means of technical specialists as well as technological artifacts (rockets and planes and such). The most famous example of this movement of knowledge was Wernher von Braun’s V-2 team, although they were just a few of the many specialists who carried German aerospace knowledge around the world.

The former Allied nations of the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union got the first pick of German technical specialists. Later, specialists also traveled to less-developed nations to serve their modernization projects. During the 1950s, for instance, German teams tried to develop military jets in Spain, Argentina, Egypt, and India.

Neufeld observed toward the end of his article that one of the many legacies of the “Nazi aerospace exodus” is German technology on display in museums in countries that received this technology. As an example, the National Air and Space Museum displays a V-2 rocket and an Messerschmitt 262 jet fighter, both of which were captured after the war and shipped to the United States for testing. Neufeld assumed that technology with German heritage must also be on display in the third-world countries that received them.2

At least in the case of India, I can say with certainty that Neufeld was right. When I was in India last summer, I came across two HF-24 Maruts, the indigenous Indian jet fighter that was developed by a joint German and Indian team. (I’ve described the Marut in two earlier blog posts, “Air power in independent India” and “Industrialization, Nehru-style.”) One of these was, not surprisingly, in the Indian Air Force Museum in New Delhi. The museum, located at Palam air field, displays most of the plane types that have flown for the IAF since its inception in 1932. The museum’s HF-24 Marut is in a prominent location in the middle of the main display hangar.

HF-24 in the IAF Museum.

HF-24 in the IAF Museum.

HF-24 in the IAF Museum.

HF-24 in the IAF Museum.

The other Marut I came across last summer was a complete surprise. It was on the campus of Barefoot College, a sustainable development NGO (non-governmental organization) in rural Rajasthan. This Marut was not set up for display purposes only, but as a giant play structure for rural children. A Hindi sign nearby gives a first-person description of the plane’s history; it is signed, “Your faithful friend, Marut.” In the two decades that the jet has been in its present location, children have scrawled and doodled text and designs on top of the original IAF paint scheme. A ladder mounted on the side of the fuselage allows an Indian child (or, in my case, an American grown-up) to climb into the cockpit and pretend to be flying over Rajasthan, blasting Pakistani fighters out of the sky.

HF-24 Marut (tail no. BD843) at Barefoot College.

HF-24 Marut (tail no. BD843) at Barefoot College.

This photo shows the cockpit access ladder, as well as some of the graffiti that has accumulated on the plane.

This photo shows the cockpit access ladder, as well as some of the graffiti that has accumulated on the plane.

Jet fighters: they’re not just for kids anymore!

Jet fighters: they’re not just for kids anymore!

In America, we would never put a retired military plane in a place where children could climb over and inside it. We’re much too protective of our planes—and, to a degree, rightly so. I do think it is important to preserve some of our old technology for future generations to see and perhaps learn from. But I’m also glad to see that the Marut at Barefoot College has been put to some real use, rather than being locked away in a museum or elevated out-of-reach on a pedestal.

  1. Michael J. Neufeld, “The Nazi Aerospace Exodus: Towards a Global, Transnational History,” History and Technology 28:1, 49-67. []
  2. Ibid., 59. []

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén