I recently acquired a postcard entitled “Alimusjid Fort with Ropeway, Khyber Pass”, published by Mela Ram & Sons of Peshawar in the 1920s.
This aerial ropeway carried freight from the railhead at Jamrud to British military posts in the Khyber Pass during the period between the Third Afghan War and the opening of the Khyber railway.
The ropeway’s history has been somewhat ignored in comparison to the railway. I have been (very slowly) doing some research at various libraries, and am putting together an article which should appear on this website in due course.
If anyone knows anything about the ropeway or the Khyber Ropeway Company (the army unit which operated it) then do please get in touch. I guess it is pretty much beyond living memory now, but someone might have heard some stories, read their grandfather’s diary or have found some old photos of it tucked away.
(Also, do ropeway historical societies/publications/enthusiasts exist?)
At present there is a temporary exhibition at the National Army Museum in London, The Road to Kabul: British Armies in Afghanistan, 1838–1919. It is open until “spring 2011”, and I went along on 9 January 2011.
It is quite interesting (and free), although I think it probably helps to go armed with at least some background knowledge on the three Anglo-Afghan wars. It is a very traditional exhibition, with medals, photographs and objects “associated with” various people involved in the wars. There are some interactive touch-screens, and while I am of the view that such things are the work of the devil, these ones were actually functional and do provide access to some interesting photographs.
The only railway content is, unsurprisingly, in the photographs forming part of the display on the Third Afghan War. There is an interesting picture of a narrow gauge troop train in [what was then] India on show in the museum, but not on the website (as far as I can tell).
There is also a photo showing the “Ropeway transit system at Landi Kotal c.1919” (Photo NAM 1963-09-633-12). This is the first photo I have seen of the Khyber Pass ropeway, which is mentioned in passing in PSA Berridge’s book Couplings to the Khyber, which says “Two roads and an aerial ropeway preceded the inflexible iron road” in the Khyber Pass.
Finally, the exhibition highlights this quote:
In Kabul in 2001 I was sent with a unit to meet with an Afghan government minister. We had to explain that we weren’t Russian, we were British. As soon as we did he rounded on us and shouted: ‘British? You burned down the covered market!’ My first thought was s***, what have the Paras done now? I apologised and we got on with the meeting. Back at base I asked who had burned down the market. Blank faces all round, until someone at the back said he thought we had burned down the covered market. In 1842.
Warrant Officer, 1 Mechanised Brigade
Also coming up this year is an exhibition at the British Museum called Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World, which is open from 3 March to 3 July 2011.