While most people his age are busy catching up with the dizzying pace of jetsetters, 26-year-old Shanu Babar likes to take it slow. Especially, when slow means taking six days by train to reach his destination. "That's my longest train journey, till date," he says. His fascination with the Indian Railways has culminated into an Instagram page titled The Window Seat, with 23,700 followers. What started as his own page, where he'd share glimpses from his train travels across the country, is today a crowd-sourced endeavour of finding picture stories in most unassuming scenes.
The cinematographer, based in Mumbai, says, "I'm sure a lot of people relate to the feeling of sitting on a window seat, savouring the world that whizzes past you. It's a theatre of expressions, emotions and cultures. Long train journeys are a platform to enter people's lives. You can never be sure of what you'll see. Every passenger is a story. And, equally interesting are the stories you see through the window." We pick five photographs from the page that bring back the romance of train travel. Maybe next time, you will be inspired to ditch the plane for a train ride, accompanied by your camera, of course.
When you look at this picture, on the one hand, you marvel at the perfect timing, but also cannot help but think of how risky it was. Sometimes, in our quest for the perfect frame, photographers go to any length to capture it. My advice to them would be to exercise caution, but I do understand how heady the impulse can be. This one was shot by a contributor called Dheeraj, somewhere in Kerala, en route Shornur-Nilambur.
This selfie was taken on the Gwalior-Sheopur narrow gauge train, by far my most interesting journey. This is the longest light train route in the world. The train is so full of passengers, that most of them travel on the roof. It had been my fantasy to do so and, finally, I managed to get on board. The driver reduces the speed when the train gets on the bridge, so that people can crouch further, to save their heads. In unison, thousands of passengers would stoop low, while on the bridge. Everyone from vendors to singers and regular passengers were there on the roof. It was like a double-decker train.
I was really taken aback to see this picture of a monkey taken in a train. I'm not sure how legal the profession of a monkey trainer, or madari, is. But, it's an acquired skill, an occupation and a livelihood. This picture, shot by Kumar RKS reminded me of my obsession with monkey shows, as a child. So much so, that when I wanted a pet monkey, my dad got me a battery-operated one that would do somersaults. This picture, sneakily taken from the side upper berth, perfectly captures the alert monkey's watchful eyes.
Sighting the Pamban Bridge has to be one of my most spectacular moments in train travel. I had heard stories about it, and I wanted a first-hand experience. This is from my first trip from Rameshwaram to Thiruvananthapuram. You see the vast expanse of clear blue water on both sides, and you know that, the image is going to stay with you forever. Everyone is as awestruck as you. This was taken from the bridge parallel to Pamban, and high enough to offer a vantage point you can only dream of.
Not many know this, but it is easy to take your pets on board, in trains. All you need is to fully reserve a first class coupe or cabin, submit your application two days before your journey to the railway's chief commercial officer, for allotment. Divya Dugar, a journalist by profession, follows this practice and this photo was shared by her. One can only imagine, looking at this picture, how serene it would be to have your pet as your co-passenger.
Travel like a boss
> Always carry an extra pair of slippers and casuals. You don't want to stay in your better clothes for long hours inside a train.
> If you have sensitive skin, a sleeping bag comes in handy.
> Ensure you always carry two bottles of water, you never know when they stop being available.
> Use the washroom either early morning or early evening, that is when they are most likely to be clean. Stock up on hand-sanitisers and toilet rolls.
> Be it for magazines or food, change is inevitable. Ensure you give away your bigger notes for enough 10, 20 and 50-rupee notes.
> Rail Yatri is a good app through which you can place an order for food, to be delivered to your seat.
> If you really want to have fun, socialise. Talk to people, know their stories, tell them your own.
> Carrying medicines is a must. Your body might not adapt easily to the constantly changing weather and food.
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