The Kangra Valley Railway - Extension to the Mountain Railways of India

Date of Submission: 28/01/2009
Criteria: (ii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
States of Punjab (Gurdaspur District) and Himachal Pradesh (Kangra and Mandi Districts)
Coordinates: N30 58 18 - 31 22 50 E77 07 25 - 77 43 20
Ref.: 5401
Word File

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


The Kangra Valley Railway (KVR005) is a linear Property 163.720 Kilometers long and 0.762 meter wide, which runs from Pathankot (located at an elevation of 383.820 m) to Joginder Nagar (located at an elevation of 1184.160 m), in the Kangra Valley, in the states of Punjab (Gurdaspur District) and Himachal Pradesh (Kangra & Mandi districts), India. The difficult mountain terrain involved the bridging of ravines through which flow the mountain torrents and some of these are noteworthy as engineering marvels. There are also two tunnels. Over its length of 163.720 Kilometers, the KVR005 ascends at a maximum gradient of 1 in 25, crosses over 993 bridges, runs through two tunnels and winds through 484 curves (sharpest being 300 equal to 58.33 m). This unique line has been constructed skillfully to present to the traveller, a chance to gaze on the ever present panorama of snow-clad ranges and the gold green fields.

The Kangra valley is the region between the Dhauladhar ranges of the Himalayas to the north (a low chain of ridges about 2500 metres high in front and peaks 5000 metres tall behind) and the foothills to the south, about 50 kilometres wide, ascending from West to East and the KVR005 runs through its entire length. It remains a well known tourist attraction in Northern India. The portion of the line in Gurdaspur and Kangra districts forms the lower section (smoother gradients and curves) and the portion in Mandi district forms the upper section (steepest gradients and curves). The route of the KVR005, developed as a cultural corridor and provided access to the Kangra Valley; linking important towns, very holy Hindu pilgrimage centers & settlements. It also, provides access to the Dalai Lama's abode at Mcleodganj.

The construction of KVR005 began in 1925 and it was opened on 1st December 1928 for freight traffic for the Uhl hydroelectric project due to which this Railway was constructed. In April 1929, it also, became a passenger Railway. It suffered a disruption during World War II (1941-42) when a portion of its track was dismantled for war material supply but it was restored twelve years later in April 1954. A short portion (about 25 kilometres) of KVR005 also had to be realigned in 1973 due to the construction of the Pong Dam resulting in a disruption for three years. Despite these disruptions, other natural / technical calamities in high mountainous areas and although the KVR005 has never been remunerative; it has survived as a cultural asset and the Indian Railways is committed to its conservation for posterity.

A trip on the KVR005 is a thrilling experience and the best way to savour the beauty of the Kangra Valley. Pathankot is the interchange station, of the broad-gauge main line in Northern India.  Broad Gauge trains are connected at Pathankot, and have about 7 pairs of connecting narrow gauge services. The KVR005 was opened with steam traction and it now being run with diesel locomotives based at Pathankot. However, one original steam locomotive has been restored for KVR005 and this is also based at Pathankot for heritage steam train service available for chartered train operation. Trains are run at a maximum speed of 45 kmph in the lower section and 20 kmph in the top section (steepest portion).

The railway can be divided into three sections as follows: -

  • i) The first section is 12 kilometers long from Pathankot (elevation 383.820 meters) to Chakki Bridge (elevation 398.780 meters); in Gurdaspur district, in the state of Punjab. Pathankot has the locomotive shed, carriage sub-depot of the KVR005. Starting from Pathankot, the narrow gauge line runs out of the town and crosses the Chakki river in a scenic manner. Significant locations and structures along this route include inter-alia the Pathankot station and Chakki bridge. The maximum gradient is 1 in 40 that is the maximum gradient in the lower section of KVR005.
  • ii) The second section is the pilgrim section, 130 kilometers long from Chakki Bridge (elevation 398.780 meters) to Baijnath Paprola (elevation 979.750 meters). Significant locations and structures along this route include inter-alia the railway stations, Reyond Khad bridge, Bathu Khad bridge, both the tunnels of KVR005 (Dhundi tunnel and Daulatpur tunnel) and the heritage bunglow at Palampur. Kangra is around midway along the KVR005. The KVR005 passes just away from Kangra town separated by a gigantic cleft in the hills at the bottom of which runs the picturesque Ban Ganga River and provides spectacular views of the ruins of the historic Rajput Fort. Onwards along KVR005, approaching Palampur, the ever present background of snowy peaks (about 5000m high and about 15 kilometres away) run parallel. The spectacularly beautiful area around Kangra & Palampur is famous for very significant Hindu pilgrimage temples (attracting millions of pilgrims each year), Tibetan monastery of Dalai Lama, Tea gardens and numerous popular locations. The best access to this beautiful area is provided by the KVR005.
  • iii) The third section is 22 kilometres long, from Baijnath Paprola (elevation 979.750 meters) to the end of the line i.e. Joginder Nagar station (elevation 1184.160 m). Ajhu station is about midway and is the highest point of the line (elevation 1290.230 m). Significant locations and structures along this route include inter-alia the railway stations and flume bridges. Here, the KVR005 threads its way among the pines of the Bhir gorge and the journey in wilderness in far superior to the journey by road.

Trains on KVR005 run efficiently offering an enchanting ride with the backdrop of the Dhauladhar Mountains on one side, lush green fields on the other side, tea gardens, and significant pilgrimage centers; for the benefit of the tourists as well as the local communities and offer a rich and scenic expanse of the spectacular Himalayan Mountains.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The KVR005 is an early, and still an outstanding, example of a hill passenger railway. Opened in 1926, it applied bold and ingenious engineering solutions, to the problem of establishing an effective rail link across a mountainous terrain of great beauty and also, it is still fully operational as a living example of the engineering enterprise of the 19th century.

As an example of an interchange of human values, the KVR005 is part of that stage of globalisation, which was characterized by colonial rule.  The KVR005 is a spectacular example of technology transfer (although not a unique one) of that stage. The coming of the KVR005 resulted in development of transport in that area which otherwise was used on foot or with animal transport (virtually no access).  Indeed, one of the interesting effects of the Railway has been the way it has contributed to the creation of a cultural corridor made by human intervention.  The technological and social interchange is also evident through the application of steam engine technology. It is an outstanding and possibly the longest surviving heritage railways in the world - over 100 miles long.

As an outstanding example of a technological ensemble illustrating a significant stage in human history, this Railway is a unique example of the construction genius employed by Railway engineers of the 19th century. Today, the KVR005 stands out as a heritage symbol of the region.  As an ensemble with its impeccably maintained track, its elegant original stations and its old rolling stock; it is genuinely outstanding and unique type of a 19th century development that is preserved over time.  Thus, it is clearly and spectacularly illustrative of a significant stage in human history that saw pioneering rail construction and its extension for socio-economic development in a mountainous region.

Also, the KVR005 has been constructed with great technical skill in harmony with the beauty, serenity and grandeur of the surroundings and also; led to the social, cultural and economic creation and development of the settlement of Kangra Valley. The KVR005 is one of the best preserved heritage Railways in the world and remains much as it was at the time of its completion in: stations, signals, rural environment. Such railways are rare and it deserves conservation and global recognition of its qualities.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

This railway is a surviving example of the engineering enterprise of the 19th century. The KVR005 retains its original features of 1926 when the line was opened. It is also noteworthy that this line besides being a tourist attraction is also a regular mode of transport for pilgrims and the neighbouring communities. Maintenance standards on the KVR005 are good, as the railway is used fairly intensively but no more intensely than it was designed to be used. The stations are being well maintained as in the original construction and are still in use. They are pretty structures constructed like cottages. They have thin walls, wooden trusses, decorated sloping roofs, large verandahs, wooden pillars, simple & elegant looking and with flowering trees / shrubs around.  These have been conserved in the same style. The locomotives and rolling stock are old and of heritage value. The signaling system is original of 1926. The KVR005 once used locomotives from the KSR003 and one steam locomotive (ZB-66) has been restored and is operational for chartered tourist train operation.

There is a lot of old equipment on the line for it to have much the same ambience as it did in the beginning. Rod operated switches for tracks, kerosene lamps, token instruments are still maintained on the KVR005.

The Ministry of Railways, Government of India and the Northern Railway administration, place great emphasis on the preservation of this entire railway system including the line, rolling stock and all associated buildings in their original shape to the extent possible. The countryside served by the Railway also retains the charm that over time. The natives look upon the Railway as a friendly symbol of the mountains rather than as a harbinger of change. Overall, the KVR005 is authentic and well preserved.  It has always been a working railway and as always, it plays an important economic and social role serving the people of the district through which it runs. It also has the necessary legal / management protection.

Comparison with other similar properties

Mountain Railways in India began with the DHR001 in 1881, NMR002 in 1899, KSR003 in 1903 and the MLR004 in 1907. KVR005 followed and its construction began in 1926. These railways are all living example of the engineering enterprise of the 19th century. These railways were constructed with significant engineering at a very early stage of railway development and overcame the challenges of the steep terrain in distinct innovative ways; to provide access and socio-economic development in the mountains. The DHR001 used zig-zags & spirals, the NMR002 used rack & pinion, the KSR003 used very heavy engineering with significant and numerous roman multi-arch aqueducts & tunnels, the MLR004 used floating axles (special design of articulated wheels and axles to negotiate the sharp curves and take misalignments) to negotiate the sharp curves and the KVR005 came last based upon the successes earlier to become the longest of the lot. They provide spectacular panoramic views to travellers. These are all outstanding examples of the earliest hill passenger railways constructed one after the other that are fully operational with most of their original features intact; as tourist attractions as well as a regular mode of transport for the local population. Following the inscription of the DHR001, inscription of the NMR002 and inscription of the KSR003; application already made for MLR004; KVR005 is proposed as a World Heritage Site as an extension to Mountain Railways of India.

Internationally too the KVR005 is unique and an immensely long heritage railway. The Narrow Gauge Heritage Railways of the world date back to 1850. These are of short lengths (average length is less than 10 kilometres as compared to about over 160 kilometres in KVR005). Most of the narrow gauge railways, were earlier used to transport freight and passengers but were later abandoned and restarted as heritage railways that have become tourist attractions. However, the KVR005 was built for transport of construction material and then patronised by passengers to create a new mountain settlement for tourism and has been in continuous service as such from its inception, now for over 80 years. Also, the closure and subsequent re-emergence of the old railways in Europe as heritage / tourist railways has resulted in loss of authenticity (railways have been converted to modern railways) whereas the KVR005 has remained almost original while continuing to remain in service with minimal change. Added to this, the KVR005 is not only a major tourist attraction, but is also one of the main means of transportation and pilgrimage.