A gem of a museum that's well worth a visit -- Golra Railway Station brings back the thrill of travelling on a 'choo-choo'
By Ishrat Hyatt
Though the Golra Railway Station was renovated and restored as a tourist attraction some time ago, it was officially inaugurated last month and is now officially on the map as a 'must-visit' heritage site for those who want to get a glimpse of a model railway station and gain some insight into the history. It is a lovely, red brick structure located on the outskirts of Islamabad, though it will soon command a central position as development work has begun around it.
The axiom, "Where there's a will, there's a way," is brought to mind when you pay a visit to the Golra Railway Station and see how neat, clean and well-kept the premises are. If you are in Islamabad and looking for somewhere to go, this is a good place to spend some time. On Sundays a shuttle service from Rawalpindi Railway Station operates in the afternoon and brings you back after an hour-- but don't go on a Monday because that is the day on which those who work here take their weekly break.
It makes an exciting trip for children especially those who have not had the experience of travelling by train. Here they are free to run around and explore; examine the engines closely and learn a little history of the railroad system. If you want, you can take along a picnic basket and enjoy it under the shade of one of the beautiful, lush Banyan trees that are many years old and line the platform like sentinels keeping watch over their territory.
It is Golra's peace and tranquility that strikes you -- it is as if you have stepped back into an era when you had time to appreciate the beautiful things around you, when life was not as rushed and busy as it is these days.
The building, which was erected in 1880, is a fine example of what used to be the standard architecture, more or less, of most of the railway stations in those days; a station master's office; a waiting room complete with big armchairs -- you wonder why the arms of the chair are at least five feet long! In the corner stands a piano that has not been used for ages but stirs the imagination as to why it was there in the first place; making you visualise a family waiting for a train that has been delayed and entertaining themselves with a some music and maybe a song. A 'fan' made of some heavy black material hangs from the ceiling and the young guide pulls a string tied to a wooden beam to show how it was operated. The dressing room has old tables, complete with basins and mirrors, though the jugs used for holding water are missing. The one concession to modernity is the bathroom, which now has a flush system instead of the 'thunder boxes' -- wooden seats with aluminum tin pots that were used in those days and had to be cleaned manually!
The station is still functional and two or three trains stop here on their way to Fatehjang, Kohat, Multan and some smaller towns in between. The trains that make the journey are modern but the ones standing at the station are the old fashioned ones complete with steam engines and attached bogies or compartments. You can check out the bogie which was used as a post office -- people had enough time to write proper letters in those days and a travelling post office was a convenient addition to the train.
At one end of the building, a museum has been created with the memorabilia which used to give travellers a safe and comfortable journey, along with models of the different trains that ran on the tracks. Old timetables; kerosene oil lanterns used for signaling; a guard's uniform and the white 'solar topi' (sun hat) they all wore; crockery and cutlery used in dining cars; tools of the trade; a telephone with separate ear and mouth pieces and many other items are on display, making it very interesting to browse through to get an idea of what railway travel was all about in the old days.
If you are interested, you can read about some of the disasters and robberies that took place in days of yore, how trains were guarded in the Frontier and so on, some reports that were sent to higher authorities are showcased here, alongwith charts and maps. The station master's office still has the old equipment and it is still in running order, though some new additions have been unobtrusively installed for the safe operation of the trains.
All said and done, it is a gem of a museum and well worth a visit, especially if you remember the good old days when travelling by train was an exciting prospect -- something to look forward to as you packed your bags; a hamper with food and books and magazines to read when it became too dark to look outside. A paratha and an omelette never tasted as good as when you had them cold with a nice hot cup of tea bought from the vendor on the platform. The strident voices of other vendors as they called out their wares -- most of these to titillate pangs of hunger that are somehow intensified during travel -- each trying to outdo the other so he could be heard and be the one to make the first sale, the thrill of travelling on a 'choo-choo'; or 'chook chook', as we say in this part of the world; the clouds of hissing steam coming out of the wood and coal fired engine; the hustle bustle of passengers and porters and the "All aboard", call of the guard as he waved his green flag, are all part of childhood memories a visit to Golra Station brings back -- a nostalgic hour or two well spent!
By Dr Noman Ahmed
Old Clifton in Karachi makes a precinct dotted with invaluable architectural heritage. Some of the buildings not only possess outstanding merit as built heritage but also significance with reference to ownership and utilisation. Mohatta Palace fits into this definition very well. It was designed by architect Ahmed Hussain Agha, a well-known figure in the region for Rai Bahadur Seth Shivaratan Mohatta in the late 1920s. The building complex is located at the junction of Hatim Alvi Road and Motilal Governdhandas Road. Seth Mohatta had built the edifice for personal use. However he had to flee the city during the riots that followed the partition in 1947. The property was allotted to the Jinnah family, against their property left behind in Bombay, India. The premises accommodated the offices of Ministry of External Affairs (Foreign Office) till 1959. The property was allotted to Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah in 1964 who moved into the premises in 1964. She led her presidential election campaign against Field Marshal Ayub Khan from this edifice. In those days Mohatta Palace was the centre of political activities, mainly frequented by opposition politicians.
Mrs. Shirin Jinnah -- Quaid's other sister, came to live in the building in the 1970s after the death of Fatima Jinnah in 1967. After she passed away in 1980, the complex was sealed as a protective measure since many relics and belongings of the Quaid were stolen. The building remained in a dilapidated state for about 20 years until it was renovated and turned into a museum by a trust titled 'Save the Mohatta Palace Fund' in 1999. The building has now become an important cultural landmark for the citizens of Karachi.
The edifice complex was erected on a 2.47 acre plot. The actual built up area comprised 18,500 sq/ft in two levels. The site experienced phases of additions and demolitions. Originally the palace was laid out with a chahar bagh lawn in the front space contained in between two out-houses. When the foreign office was moved, a temporary structure was added to the western limb of the main building. Later, another temporary unit was added to the eastern face of the main block when Fatima Jinnah moved in. However, during the renovation in 1999, the two additions were knocked down. According to the various documentation reports that were prepared during the pre-renovation phase, the external walls comprise of fine ashlar masonry done in Gizri stone while the red decorative features are finished with Jodhpur stone. The entrance steps are clad in white marble and fine mosaic works cover the floors. The barsati and the corner pavilions are studded with concrete domes.
In the pre-renovation phase, the building complex was subjected to wild growth of plants all around the structures. This botanical menace not only affected the wall and facings but also the steps and projections. Stucco plaster in varied patterns was applied abundantly in the interior spaces. Much of it was discoloured due to long neglect. Coloured glass was also used in different patterns in the openings. Wood work was done in fine-quality teak wood. The resulting architectural style is a subtle fusion of Mughal-Hindu influences that was widely practised in the region.
Mohatta Palace was a forgotten space. Heritage Foundation, a Karachi based non-government body dedicated to culture and heritage, initiated a campaign in the early 1990s to restore and revive this vital edifice. A support group of notable citizens and professionals was formed under the patronage of Barrister Kamal Azfar, the then Governor Sindh to attempt the revitalisation and restoration of Mohatta Palace. A group of architects and students led by late Professor Kausar Bashir Ahmad from Dawood Engineering College prepared the basic documentation work that was needed to initiate any practical restoration exercise. Later the work was supervised by eminent architect Habib Fida Ali who dealt with the assignment in a commendable manner. However, as the input of any qualified conservationist was missing, the overall approach was criticised on several counts.
The renovation work has completely eclipsed the aging face of the building. In other words, a cosmetic surgery has been done that has given a completely new look to the complex. In conservation, efforts are geared to physically and aesthetically consolidate the buildings by adopting a minimalist approach. The historical face of the building components are allowed to remain unchanged. Also, the additions to the site are normally kept unaltered being the reminders of different phases in history. They could be demolished only when they pose any danger to the main building or become technically unsound. The demolition of foreign office block was questioned by many a professionals on the same count.
The site is now converted into a composite museum with a
full time curator. Whereas the relevant government departments lent a helping
hand, a sizable contribution was made by multinational firms as part of their
corporate social responsibility objective. The efforts of the organising
committee were instrumental in mobilising the funds and human resource inputs
at the desired levels. The relics currently on display belong to Indus Valley
Civilisation, Sultanate and Mughal Period heritage and recent works of
ceramics. The museum has also housed special exhibits during various
occasions. Its lush green and well-manicured verdures have been used for
several open air cultural events like musical extravaganzas and displays by
prominent artists. As a whole, Mohatta Palace can be truly considered as a
success story where a group of public spirited citizens took upon themselves
to bring to life this long left-out building. It also raises the point that
there is a dire need to train professional architects in the much needed
field of building restoration which by itself is a specialised science.
Thousands of historical buildings are spread in the city and elsewhere in the
country in need of proper professional attention.
Irfan has almost completed his 'quake-resistant' home. But how did this come about?
By Salman Rashid
For Mohammad Irfan October 8, 2005 was just another ordinary day as he prepared to begin work in the factory in SITE, Karachi as he had done for so many years past. But back at home on a slope above the village of Dhadar Qadeem in Siran Valley north of Mansehra where he had left his wife, mother and four children; it was the end of the world.
Although rumours began to arrive before the mid-morning tea break, it was only at lunch time that he could get some definite news from the TV in the factory cafeteria. He tried to call the public phone in his village. There was no response. He did not know it then, but the entire telephone system around his village was down. Wasting no time, he got leave from work and early in the evening was on the first available train leaving for upcountry. It was a tired, sleep-deprived and extremely worried Irfan who trudged the miles over the landslides into his village two days after the earthquake.
His home was gone, reduced to a heap of rubble. But he was fortunate to find his family safe. He has still not stopped thanking Providence for preserving his loved one, for all they suffered were a few minor cuts and bruises. The immediate problem was the lack of a roof and to make matters worse, the sky wept, as if at their misfortune. For the first couple of days before aid started pouring in he put his family under a plastic sheet. Shortly afterwards, he had a tent above his head and relief food to hold starvation at bay. The family's most pressing worries were allayed.
Like most people of similar background, his family had a small piece of land where his wife grew some corn while Irfan toiled away in the factory at Karachi sending home the much needed cash. Once, when things were as they had always been, the whole village stood for his family in his absence. His wife could call upon anyone from the community for support. But now it was every man for himself. And with a wife, an elderly mother and four children, the eldest of whom was just twelve, and a situation that required a man about, he could simply not afford to return to Karachi.
The twenty-five thousand-rupee aid from the government did help considerably, but even that did not last very long. With his only source of income miles away in Karachi, Irfan was soon reduced to penury. By mid-2006 he heard of the rebuilding assistance of Rs 150,000 for families like his whose home had been completely destroyed by the quake. That was then his only ray of hope.
Meanwhile, in Islamabad things were happening that were to change Irfan's life forever. For one, in mid-2006 Earthquake Relief and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) approved a quake-resistant building design. At the same time, realising that the new model could not be utilised without proper training, Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF), ERRA's major partner in earthquake relief and rehabilitation, designed a programme titled Earthquake Resistant Construction Techniques. The purpose was to train local skilled and unskilled masons, steel-fixers and carpenters to construct safer buildings.
That having been said, it must be clear that it is impossible to make a fully 'quake-resistant' building. What can be done is to build structures sufficiently ductile to resist the first few jolts in order to give inmates time to escape.
When word came that a Craftsmen Training Unit had been established not far from his home and that PPAF was paying participants a thousand rupees to attend the three-day training session, Irfan signed up. Until then he was only interested in the thousand rupees and the fact that he had nothing else to do. At that time he did not believe he would be able to do very much with the training.
He attended the training in October 2006. Shortly thereafter he received the first tranche of Rs 75,000 of his rebuilding aid. Now, ERRA had made it conditional for the following instalments to be released only when the structure was approved in accordance with laid down guidelines. Now only did Irfan realise how handy his three-day training had come in for the inspectors could find no fault with his building.
When I met him in mid-February, Irfan had almost completed his home -- a home in which every single block he has laid himself. That was one thing. Having watched him at work, many of his neighbours had asked him to build their homes too. And so, in the lull between his instalments, he began work on other buildings. The terms were simple: his fee was five hundred rupees per day with the owner providing the material and sometimes labour as well.
Having finished the first two structures, Irfan paused to take stock and was pleased to note that while the factory paid him just two hundred rupees for a day of hard labour, as a mason he had earned nearly three times as much. For the first time in his life, his toils had also resulted in a little saving.
In February his tally of completed and in-progress homes, other than his own, stood at eleven. Within four months Irfan had become a master-mason. And that as a result of a highly proficient three-day training session. The thought of going back to work in the factory at Karachi is now light years away from his mind. This is Irfan's new life where he will never be away from home and family.