It was Friday night when Zahrah, a 24-year-old filmmaker based in Karachi, realized she had lost a pen drive with all her footage from a trip to Makli. Those are just a few specific drone shots that will take a few minutes in total to retake. However, the shortest trip to Thatta means ordering a car, covering 93 kilometers of the road and paying the private taxi driver thousands of fees, if anyone agrees to take him in such short time.
“I fret over a way to get the cheapest ride for myself. I even asked my friends if they wanted to come and take a road trip. It would be much safer than traveling alone and I could share the fare too, I thought, ”said the filmmaker.
“My apparent sadness fortunately caught the attention of my aunt, who recently brought her children to Makli. He told me about a local train that runs daily from Cantt Karachi Station to Dhabeji Station in Thatta district, and it costs thirty rupees. I have never been on a local train before so I was a little doubtful about how the experience was going to be but again, what other options do I have? ”He added.
According to the itinerary given by Zahrah’s aunt, she had to take a train called Dhabeji Express from platform number two, bright and early in the morning at 7 a.m. from Cantt Station. It will then take him through several stops in the city, before pulling the chain at Dhabeji Station, from which is about 40 minutes by car to Makli. The next train from Dhabeji, which runs at 4pm, will take him back to Cantt Station. These are only two roundtrip train timings in a day, so punctuality will be at the core during this trip.
But ironically, the train was several minutes late. Luckily for Zahrah and her friends, who had just arrived at the station before 7 a.m., they now have enough time to fetch tea and biscuits from a nearby grocery store to soothe their growling stomachs.
When the train finally rumbled on platform number 2, it wasn’t anything close to what the filmmakers imagined, sparkling white and not a single loose bolt or broken window. “It looks too good for Rs 30, or maybe as Karachi people we are just not used to seeing well-maintained public transportation,” exclaimed, Aisha Ahmed, a friend of Zahrah.
Surprisingly, the train’s interior also looks pristine as the outside of the metal-framed seats are lined with several bogies, fan sheds circulate cool air in each compartment and the large LCD and display panels emit relevant information such as the time and the approaching station.
“What was most surprising however, was that it seemed like we were the only passengers on the plane, discounting some policemen who I wasn’t sure were traveling or on duty, a few boys and a family. It was a strangely peaceful journey, something we never associated with taking a train, ”recalls Zahrah.
At some point during the trip, the girls asked the ticket collector if this was what the usual carriage royals looked like.
“It looks a lot fuller today, with you and your friends in it. Otherwise, only a handful of people, ”he replied pleasantly.
What the young filmmaker and friends pay attention to has been a long-standing problem for Dhabeji Express, which has struggled to stay in business amid a lack of passengers over the past decade. Hence, budget trains targeted at daily commuters, have also been suspended several times in the past, only to be relaunched and continue to suffer losses.
Speaking of the train’s lack of popularity, Zahrah was puzzled that not many people know about this train or see it as a means of getting around the most historic corner of Sindh. “Much more budget-friendly and comfortable than driving to these places or renting a car. It took us less than 1.5 hours to get to Dhabeji Station, from where we were able to book a local tour van for just Rs2,000, which came down to Rs400 each for the five of us. We took us to Makli – where I quickly recorded my footage – then, Haleji Lake, Shahjehan Mosque, and Banbhore Archaeological Site, before dropping us back to the station at 4:00 pm for our train back home, which cost Rs30 again and ended our trip. day trip, “he said, telling his experience.
“More young people should get on this train and consider exploring Sindh. If the railway authorities promote this as a tourism opportunity, I believe Dhabeji Express will start collecting the passengers it needs. All my friends are excited and want to go on another trip soon, ”he added.
The sleek metal-framed seats, cool air fan, and the carriage’s large LCD took the filmmaker and his friends by surprise. They thought the Dhabeji Express was too good to be true with its pristine interior – not a single loose bolt or a broken window. PHOTO: EXPRESS