Full Steam Ahead !
Deemed obsolete and consigned to railroad museums, the steam locomotive is back in fashion. Between the star power of the Hogwarts Express and our newfound fascination with the railway, the steam travel renaissance was a long time coming.
For David Shepherd, who was one of the greatest pioneers of railway preservation and a wildlife conservationist, saving the locomotives from the scrapyard was as important as saving rhinos from poachers. An acclaimed painter, he dedicated his life to raising awareness for both causes through his art practice. In fact, it was David Shepherd’s commitment to renovating Locomotive 10th Class 156 that has given the storied vehicle a new lease on life.
Donated to Zambia National Heritage in 1971, it is now part of the Royal Livingstone Express pulling five lovingly restored Pullman-style coaches: two Dining Cars, a Kitchen Car, Lounge Car and Observation Car. The beautiful Wembley Dining Car was built by the Birmingham Railway Carriages and went on display in London at the British Empire Exhibition held at Wembley in 1924. The rest of the carriages are no less impressive and together offer a classic steam expedition experience.
The Royal Livingstone Express is as much about delighting your taste buds as it’s about celebrating the romance of the railroad. Expect a sophisticated selection of gourmet treats from Anantara chefs to be served alongside hand-shaken cocktails and sparkling wine as the train departs in the late afternoon and heads towards the Victoria Falls Bridge.
Connecting Zambia and Zimbabwe, the Victoria Falls Bridge is one of the world’s most spectacular border posts. The structure was the brainchild of Cecil Rhodes, who served as Prime Minister of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896, part of his grand and unfulfilled Cape to Cairo railway scheme. Rhodes is recorded as instructing the engineers to "build the bridge across the Zambezi where the trains, as they pass, will catch the spray of the Falls".
As you disembark the train at a vantage point directly above the Zambezi River, the scope of Rhodes’ ambition becomes all the more apparent. Throwing a bridge over a precipitous crevice roaring with the tumbling waters of the world’s largest waterfall AND requesting special effects in the form of a refreshing spray – now, that’s what we call thinking big.
The choice of the site was governed not by the prettiest sunset views or proximity to the spray, however, but rather by the natural formation of the rock walls of the gorge, advantage being taken of the minimum distance to be spanned. The bridge is a true fit of engineering and deserves as much of your attention as the natural wonder that gave the structure its name.
Depending on which way the wind blows, your experience on the Victoria Falls Bridge might leave you high and dry. That is to say that the sprinkler effect is not guaranteed. But where we have no control over the wind, it’s reassuring to know that the sun will most definitely be setting, rain or shine.
With the deafening roar of the star attraction all around, it’s easy to forget about the handsome locomotive that brought you here, now sitting quietly waiting to claim back the limelight. Yet it’s in this setting, the evening sun reflecting off its rich sheen, that even the staunchest fans of Tesla, bullet trains and the newest technology will be moved by the elemental, hulking beauty of its lines.
Perhaps you will be moved enough to do like David Shepherd and capture the moment in a quick sketch. On your smart phone, naturally.