Opening of the Khyber railway

The UK’s National Army Museum has this rather good photo of The opening of the Khyber railway, 1925. Photograph by Randolph Bezzant Holmes (1888-1973), India, North West Frontier, 1925. NAM Image Number 118645.

The text says:

The Khyber Pass Railway from Jamrud, near Peshawar, to the Afghan border near Landi Kotal was opened on 4 November 1925. Built to allow easier movement of troops to the frontier, the railway climbed more than 1,200 metres (3,900 feet) through 34 tunnels and 92 bridges, and culverts to reach Landi Kotal.

Chaman, Shela Bagh and Gulistan stations in 1895

Photo taken by William Henry Jackson and published in Harper’s Weekly, 1895, now available on the Library of Congress website.

Chaman station
Railway station at Chaman, near Kojak Tunnel.

Gulistan station
Gulistan Station on the Great Military Railway.

Gulistan station
Although labelled as “Gulistan Station on the Great Military Railway, at entrance to Kojak Tunnel”, this is actually Shela Bagh station.

In Afghanistan there are several 2 ft gauge railways…

A very interesting claim that there were some 2 foot gauge railways in Afghanistan in 1894 (one may have been at the Mashin Khana royal arsenal in Kabul).

Narrow-gauge railways.
Wednesday, 25th July, 1894.
J Harris in the Chair:
This 2-ft. line is also established in Madagascar where the French rule, it is also in Afghanistan, Turkestan, and Siberia. It was introduced there by Skobeloff. When he was meditating the invasion of India he had this introduced, and I may state that the Russian troops were seen using one of those railways on the frontier for military purposes before the British knew anything about it. When the outposts observed it they reported it to the Commander-in-Chief and he telegraphed to the War Office. The War Office ordered railways of this sort to be sent out straight. They were sent over mountains on the backs of elephants to the frontier. In Afghanistan there are several 2-ft. railways.
Source: Narrow-gauge railways, Minutes of Evidence at the railway standing committee, Victoria, Australia.

Railway “Just like pushing a knife into my vitals”

The Amir of Afghanistan’s colourful and often-quoted description of British railway expansion towards his country being like a knife in his vitals comes from his autobiography.

having cut a tunnel through the Khojak Hill they were pushing the rail line into my country just like pushing a knife into my vitals
Source: The Life of Abdur Rahman, Amir of Afghanistan, volume 2, page 159

the Khojak tunnel, circa 1905

The Khojak Tunnel is on the Chaman Extension Railway, which opened in September 1891 to link Quetta with Chaman on the Afghan frontier. Chaman would have been the starting point for the construction of a British railway to Kandahar, had the military situation required it.

The book The Life of Abdur Rahman, Amir of Afghanistan, G.C.B., G.C.S.I. (John Murray, London, 1900; reprinted in 1980), is nominally the autobiography of the monarch known as the “Iron Amir” who ruled Afghanistan from 1880 to his death on 1 October 1901.

However the introduction to the 1980 reprint by Malcolm E Yapp suggests the book was written by state secretary Sultan Mahomed Khan, who travelled England to study at Christ’s College in Cambridge where he wrote a dissertation on the laws of Afghanistan. Sultan Mahomed Khan corresponded with the Amir while writing the book, but the Amir died before seeing the finished work.

Abdur Rahman, Amir of Afghanistan

Yapp calls the book “a careful piece of propaganda designed to present the Amir to British readers in the most favourable light”. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan “it was better for the Amir’s reputation that he did not appear as the author.”

Yapp notes that the Amir “was absorbed by the latest mechanical contrivances (he claimed to mend all the watches in Kabul) and had a vast store of miscellaneous items of information.”

He was “a man of depth and complexity. […] On the one hand he murdered his opponents with a relish which bordered on the sadistic and on the other he could spend hours arranging flowers in vases.”

Friendship Bridge opening photographs

A Russian-language photograph archive with images of the official opening ceremony for the Friendship bridge between the USSR and Afghanistan on 12 May 1982, and associated events including a tree-planting ceremony on the previous day.

The photos include a view of the bridge decorated with large photos of Soviet and Afghan bigwigs – I think they are Brezhnev on the left and Afghanistan’s President Karmal on the right(?).

RAF on the Afghan border

(no trains in this post!)


“ON THE AFGHAN BORDER – Air-Marshal Sir John Steel inspects the Bomber Squadron R.A.F. at Risalpur.”

Air Marshal Sir John Steel inspects the line of planes at the Royal Air Force (RAF) base, Risalpur, India. Formation of planes flying over Khyber Pass – problem bordering area between India and Afghanistan. Several shots of the planes in the air.


Hawker Hearts – early biplanes.

Several shots of the aircraft in flight over snow covered mountains in Afghanistan. RAF (Royal Air Force) man handle plane at base on the North West frontier. Shots of aircraft coming into land at the base. More shots of planes in-flight.

(Hawker Heart should presumably be Hawker Hart.)