Pakistan’s Century-Old Horse-Drawn Train

Oct 4, 2023 0 comments

In 1903, a famous social activist named Ganga Ram established a unique mode of transport in his village in Faisalabad, Pakistan. It was a tram on a pair of narrow railway tracks pulled by horses. At the time of its construction, the Ghoda Train (literally horse train) was not even that unusual. Horse-drawn railways were used all over the west in the early 19th century, but they were gradually replaced by steam locomotives. But Ganga Ram’s horse train remained in used for decades, long after the country had gained independence.

The Ghoda Train connects two villages—Buchiana and Gangapur—the latter named after Rai Bahadur Sir Ganga Ram, an engineer, architect and philanthropist, who turned this barren land into a thriving agricultural hub through groundbreaking irrigation techniques.

Ganga Ram Agarwal was born in 1851 in Mangtanwala village in the Punjab Province of British India, now in Pakistan. His father, Daulat Ram Agarwal, was a junior sub-inspector at a police station there. The family later moved to Amritsar, where Ganga Ram studied in a government-run high school. After his matriculation examination, Ganga Ram went to Lahore to study at the government college and then later secured a scholarship to study engineering at the Thomason Engineering College in Roorkee in what is now the state of Uttarakhand in India.

After graduation, Ganga Ram began his career as an engineer in the Public Works Department of the British Raj in India. He quickly proved himself to be an exceptional engineer with a talent for innovation and a dedication to public service. During his long and distinguished career, Sir Ganga Ram was responsible for designing and constructing a number of magnificent buildings and structures across Lahore. This includes the Lahore Museum, General Post Office, Aitchison College, Mayo School of Arts (now the National College of Arts), Ganga Ram Hospital, Lady Mclagan Girls High School, the Albert Victor wing of Mayo Hospital, Sir Ganga Ram High School (now Lahore College for Women), the Hailey College of Commerce, and many more. Renowned Pakistani journalist Khaled Ahmed described Ganga Ram as as "the father of modern Lahore," for the indelible mark he left on the city.

Ganga Ram Agarwal

Impressed with his work, the then Viceroy and Governor-General of India, Lord Curzon, appointed Ganga Ram as the Superintendent of Works for the Imperial Durbar to be held in Delhi on the occasion of the accession of King Edward VII to the throne. Ganga Ram fulfilled this brief and exceeded expectations, and then retired from service in 1903. The same year, he was conferred the title of ‘Rai Bahadur’ and appointed a Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire.

Upon retiring, Ganga Ram returned to Punjab to pursue his lifelong passion, agriculture. Before this, Ganga Ram had secured a government lease for 50,000 acres of barren, non-irrigated land in Punjab. Within just three years, he transformed this extensive desert into lush, productive fields. He achieved this feat by establishing a hydroelectric plant to lift water and constructing a network of irrigation channels spanning a thousand miles, all at his own expense. This undertaking marked the largest private enterprise of its kind, previously unheard of and unimaginable in the country. Sir Ganga Ram amassed considerable wealth from this endeavor, most of which he generously donated to charitable causes.

This time, Ganga Ram was allotted 500 acres of land by the government, as a reward for his past services, in the newly settled Chenab colony, in what is now Faisalabad district in Punjab, Pakistan. On this land, Ganga Ram established a village named ‘Gangapur’, which housed the first farm in India to introduce a mechanical reaper and ridge, harrows, scythes, sprays and other modern agricultural implements. To transport the heavy agricultural machinery, Ganga Ram built a horse-drawn railway, connecting Buchiana Railway station to his village, a distance of 3 kilometers.

Railway tracks of the Ghoda train. Photo credit: meemainseen/Instagram

Photo credit: Imran Akhtar

The trollies with benches bolted to the floor. Photo credit: Imran Akhtar

The Ghoda Train remained operational till the 1980s when it became disused due to lack of efforts to have it preserved. Journalists visiting the train in the early 2000s found the tram’s platform in a dilapidated condition, with broken horse trams lying nearby. The horse stables were also found completely deserted.

In 2010, the district government refurbished the project and launched Ghora Train as a unique form of transportation between the villages and also as a sort of amusement ride for the villagers.

“I liked that because there was no traffic noise or air pollution caused by the vehicle, yet passengers used to reach their destination on time,” said Siddique, a once regular passenger. “People used the service to commute between the two villages.”

Also read: Bamboo Trains of Cambodia

Unfortunately, the Ghoda Train ceased operations once more a few years later, both due to lack of funds and lack of interest from the government. It’s a shame that a historic monument that once brought prosperity to the region now sits in a state of disrepair, with neither the government nor the local community making any efforts to restore the trolleys and railway lines. This restoration could serve not only as a means of transportation but also as a monument to cultural heritage.

Ganga Ram died in London in 1927. After his cremation, some of his ashes were brought back to Lahore and buried next to the Hindu Apahaj Ashram that Ganga Ram built as a home for the elderly, the disabled and the infirm. While the ashram is no longer here, his tomb, the Ganga Ram Samadhi, still stands. On Ganga Ram’s death, renowned Urdu writer Khawaja Hassan Nizami wrote saying that if one could donate one's life, then he would have chosen to add his years to Sir Ganga Ram's life, “so that he might have lived longer and rendered even greater services to the distressed women of India”.

# Sir Ganga Ram: Father of Modern Lahore, Peepul Tree
# Who is Sir Ganga Ram and why his legacy lives on in India and Pakistan?, BBC
# Faisalabad’s horse tram – a long-lost symbol of history, The Express Tribune


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