Sinlung /
11 November 2014

19th Century Railway Section in Assam Hills Yearns For Heritage Status

assamhilltrain02 A 47-km portion encircling the picturesque hill station of Haflong has remained untouched, including its century-old buildings mostly made of stones and timber. (Source: Samudra Gupta Kashyap)

By Samudra Gupta Kashyap

Guwahati, Nov 11 : Even as the railways are currently engaged in replacing the 111-year old metre-gauge Lumding-Badarpur Hill Section into a broad-gauge track, a 47-km stretch of the historic line, literally forming a garland around Haflong, Assam’s only hill station, is waiting to be conferred heritage status. The Assam government meanwhile has written to the railways asking them not to dismantle it, so that it could be promoted as a tourist attraction.

While the 225-km Lumding-Badarpur Hill Section – often described as the “most spectacular mountain line of Indian Railways” –  is currently in its last phase of gauge conversion – to be completed by April 2015 – a 47-km portion encircling the picturesque hill station of Haflong has remained untouched, including its century-old buildings mostly made of stones and timber. The 47-km portion has nine stations – Mahur, Migrendisa, Lower Haflong, Bagetar, Haflong Hill, Jatinga, Longrangjao, Mailongdisa and Harangajao – each one a heritage in its own right.

As a group of citizens of Haflong, highly concerned about preserving that 47-km stretch has asked the government to declare it a heritage track and promote it as a tourist attraction, the state government on its part has written to the Railways saying it was serious about retaining and promoting this 47-km stretch as a heritage track. The Hill Section that was considered as a “magnificent engineering feat” of the 19th century, the world’s steepest section (Harangajao-Jatinga) with a minimum gradient of 1:37 will continue to live once a final decision to preserve it is inked.
Officials at the Northeast Frontier Railway headquarters in Guwahati said they were waiting for a “concrete proposal” from the Assam government on how it wants to utilize the 47-km stretch that will be otherwise abandoned and dismantled. “While the Railway Board had recommended dismantling of the Mahur-Haragajao portion because it is not on the new BG alignment, we at NF Railways decided to ask the state government whether it wants us to retain it. The chief secretary replied in the affirmative. Now we are waiting for a concrete proposal from the Assam government,” NF Railway CPRO Sugato Lahiri said.

“The government has already asked the railways not to dismantle the 47-km stretch and the stations on it. We are drawing up a plan to preserve, maintain and promote this portion as a heritage track complete with steam engines and vintage salons,” Dhrubajyoti Hazarika, secretary, tourism, government of Assam told The Indian Express today.

Hazarika said while Jatinga, the village where birds mysteriously flock to commit suicide, has been a global attraction, all the other places along the track including Haflong town together would be promoted as a new package soon. While Haflong has an elevation of about 1685 feet, Jatinga is the tallest station in the Northeast, standing at 2156 feet above sea level.

The NF Railway had in May 2001 made an attempt to introduce what it called the Jatinga Steam Safari from Lower Haflong to Maibong, but that did not continue for long. With the Assam government willing to take it up, a journey on a vintage mountain train will once again become a reality. “Given the beauty of the Barail mountain, an imaginative planning can attract thrill-seeking and nature-loving tourists to this railway, especially because of the mystique associated with places like Jatinga,” said well-known writer Arup Kumar Dutta, whose “Indian Railways:The Final Frontier” is considered an authorative history of railways in the Northeast.

“We are happy that the broad-guage conversion of the Lumding-Badarpur Hill Section is nearing completion. But since the conversion does not affect the 47-km Mahur-Harangajao portion of it that also encircles Haflong town, it will be only too wise for the government to declare it as a heritage and use it for promoting tourism as early as possible,” said a memorandum signed by representatives of 14 organizations of Dima Hasao district.

The signatories also pointed out that the construction of this hill section that was opened in 1903 is inseparable from the story of development of the tribal communities of the district. “Wherever the railway track traversed, development was inevitable. Several small hamlets turned into towns here, while tribal communities moved closer to the railway track and sustained themselves. Now that the broad-guage track is coming up away from this 47-km stretch, the best thing to do is to preserve it, declare it as a heritage track and use it as a tourist attraction. This way the backward district will see a lot of economic activity,” the memorandum said.


Sandeep Langthasa said...

I miss those journey on this tract since child, it will always cherish in my life.

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