The Lifeblood of Janakpur

September 7, 2007

**NO LONGER OPERATING AS OF 2014**  Closed and dismantled in 2014, this narrow gauge railway used to run from the historic and religious centre of Janakpur, Nepal to Jaynagar, a town just across the Indian border.  It was the one and only passenger railway in Nepal and although this rail journey no longer exists, the future of Nepal’s railways seems bright and optimistic with both the Indian and Chinese State Railway Companies attempting to reach Kathmandu by rail.




The Past


Built in 1937, this 29 km route was the lifeblood of the community.  It was originally built as a freight line to carry wood from Janakpur to India; but as freight transportation dwindled, passenger traffic became the most popular cargo.  Local tourists and pilgrims used to use the train as a cheap method of transportation to get to and from Janakpur, the home of historic temples and the believed birthplace of Sita, a Hindu god.


The Future


The future of Nepalese Railways looks exciting, with the Janakpur rail link due to open once again in March 2018.  The $100 million upgrade project kicked off in 2014 thanks to funding provided by the Indian State Railway Company.  The aim of the project is to rebuild the route and replace the dilapidated colonial era narrow gauge tracks with India’s broad gauge tracks allowing direct rail access with the Indian subcontinent. Further links, such as an East-West connection and a rail line linking Kathmandu with India are in their planning stages.


Just across the northern borders of Nepal, the Chinese State Railway Company have constructed an extension to their Tibet rail link from Lhasa to Shigatse and media reports claim that a rail link could reach the Nepal border by 2020 and possibly Kathmandu by 2022.  This rail route would have to traverse through some of most challenging Himalayan terrain and over “remarkable” changes in elevation making it possibly one the most exciting rail projects of the future.




And my Memories… written 6th October 2017


I clearly remember catching a domestic flight onboard a propeller driven aircraft from Kathmandu, with a staggeringly bad fever.  I had my fingers crossed for the whole 25 minute flight that I wouldn’t end up damaging my hearing as my ears and nose were completely blocked – which is highly dangerous as you need to equalise the pressure in your ears as the aircraft climbs to a higher altitude.


Having left the busy Kathmandu city behind, with its touristic areas, landing at Janakpur Airport was like stepping back in time.  I’m not positively convinced it can really be called an airport, as it was more of an airstrip with a small building acting as the terminal.  And what made it even more surreal was the lack of “road” taxis, as the primary transportation mode was a wooden cart pulled by either cattle or people.





My one and only reason for wanting to visit Janakpur was to catch a ride on the train, or at least attempt to catch a ride (I knew nothing about Janaki Mandir temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre).  The information available online about the train was very limited (and remained very limited all the way through to 2014 when the railway closed), but the few pictures I had found online made it seem like an unforgettable experience.


With no idea what to expect, what the train times were or even whether the train was still running, I made my way immediately to the station on the afternoon I arrived to figure out a plan for the following day.  Thankfully there was a train, but for a reason unknown to me at the time, the timetable had been amended from the normal three trains per day to just two.





The following day, I bought a ticket costing just a few Rupees to a random station along the line which allowed me to return to Janakpur the same day (this is where the two trains were scheduled to meet).  The train itself was old and crowded. People were crammed inside the carriages, and those that couldn’t fit inside, had instead found a spot on the roof with their feet dangling down the carriage sides.


The thought of being inside a carriage crushed with people didn’t appeal and instead I found my perfect spot on the roof.  From here I could see the children playing along the tracks, the villagers working in their fields and I had this perfect sensation that came with watching the Nepalese landscape slowly passing by.





After a few kilometres, the train stopped on the approach to a river.  The river had clearly burst its banks, flooding the tracks to about waist height.  In the distance I could see another train waiting, and without much hesitation all the passengers (with their goods) got off this train and waded across the flooded river to the train a few hundred metres away.  It was an extraordinary sight to see.


Once the passengers from the other train had waded through the river in the opposite direction and alighted this train (I stayed firmly on dry ground), the diesel locomotive pushed the carriages the few kilometres back into Janakpur station.  It would have been a delight to have travelled the full length of the railway, but even a quick glimpse of life along the tracks left memories that would last forever.






There are always more photos to be shared, (but sharing them all on this journal page will just make it look cluttered - so if you want to see more photos for inspiration, check out my Flickr "2007-Nepal" album.  


Previous: Kathmandu - XXX

Next: Varanasi, India - {day} 12th September 2017


or back to my Asian 2007 Travel Journal (part 2)




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