Australian academic campaigns for India’s heritage trains

November 14th, 2007 - 2:34 am ICT by admin  
Lee has already been responsible for two Indian railways winning World Heritage status. Now he is evaluating a third, a 104-year-old narrow-gauge line that climbs from Kalka to Shimla, a distance of 96 kilometres.

A consultant to the International Council on Monuments and Sites, Dr Lee admits his passion for Asian railways, especially the Kalka to Shimla line he inspected last month for his next UNESCO heritage report.

The diesel trains take five hours to rattle and shake “at a dazzling 20 kilometres an hour” from one end of the line to the other.

“The grade is very steep and there are 102 tunnels. The engineering is extravagant, with massive stone viaducts.” Some, “with four tiers of arches look like Roman aqueducts. It’s a masterpiece,” the Sydney Morning Herald website quotes Dr. Lee, as saying.

This 20th-century marvel was built to carry troops down to the plains, 2000 metres below Shimla. It also helped to protect colonial borders and quell nationalist uprisings.

The trains also carried leaders to conferences in Shimla.

“Gandhi famously travelled on it to see [the viceroy, Lord] Irwin in 1930. Nehru took it to see Mountbatten. Every viceroy travelled on it,” Lee said.

Dr Lee argues that along with the steamship, the telegraph and malaria-fighting quinine, the railway was one of the most important creations of the past 200 years.

At a conference in Britain in 1998 Dr Lee delivered a paper on the World Heritage potential of Asia-Pacific railways.

When India nominated its West Bengal Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in 1999, UNESCO appointed him to consider its merits. The railway won its listing.

In 2004 he was sought again to consider the case of a southern Indian railway. It, too, was listed.

He refuses to reveal his recommendation this time, but does not deny he has again fallen in love with an Indian railway.

Dr. Lee suspects he inherited his interest from his maternal grandfather, a tramways inspector. He still recalls how, aged four, he travelled over the Blue Mountains on the then new electric train.

If the Kalka to Shimla line wins World Heritage listing next year, its survival should be ensured. (ANI)

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