When this picture-book station was built at the end of the 1850s, immediately after the horrific ‘Indian Mutiny’ when so much blood was spilt cruelly on both sides, Lahore was, in effect, a British military garrison guarding approaches to the Khyber Pass and the North West Frontier. So, perhaps unsurprisingly, the railway station was built with warfare, and terrorism, in mind. Designed by William Brunton, Chief Engineer of the Amritsar and Multan Railway in the guise of what appeared to be a toy fort, great steel doors could be slid across the ends of the train shed over the platforms, turning Lahore Junction into a makeshift fortress. Slits in the deep, bombproof walls were designed for romantic effect, but also for Maxim guns to be fired through them.
Tragically, after decades of peaceful existence, the station was the scene of atrocious slaughter at the time of partition in 1947 when Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims massacred one another. Today, although political and religious tensions still run high in Lahore, the station remains for all its dark history a special place and a compelling building.
It is from here that the Samjhauta Express runs to Delhi, a rolling bridge over steel rails between Pakistan and India. The express rumbles out between Gothic columns, medieval-style iron screens, contemporary religious slogans, people washing clothes on well-worn platforms, signs for Coca-Cola and seemingly incongruous branches of Pizza Hut and McDonald’s. Adding, more innocently, to the international mix, a preserved ZB-class steam locomotive from 1932 and built in Germany serves as the station’s gate guardian. Here is the history of divided peoples coming together and diverging from a haunting railway junction. (Alamy)