If you’ve ever been to India, chances are, you’ve experienced cabin life even for a few hours like we did. But to ride the Dibrugarh-Kanyakumari Vivek Express is another world on its own.
Earlier this year, Ed Hanley, Canadian multi-dimensional artist (the man basically does it all: creator, performer, producer, cinematographer, recording engineer, video editor, photographer) captured his journey on India’s longest train in the country in both distance and time. Afterwards, the artist created an impressive timelapse video to share with the world what his experience was like.
No, it wasn’t grimey. It was, however, quite whimsical.
The Dibrugarh – Kanyakumari Vivek Express is a weekly express train of the Indian Railways that traverses from Dibrugarh in India’s north eastern state Assam to Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu the southernmost state of India. With 57 halts across its route, the train covers 2,630 miles (4,233 kilometers) in 82.30 hours and passes through India’s seven states.
In his photo essay called “The Longest Train in India,” Hanley describes his trip which kickstarted in Dibrugarh then ended in Kanyakumari. The entire voyage lasted three days and four nights. As it turned out, he was the only traveler who rode the train in its entirety.
In his essay, Hanley vividly writes:
The train itself is 21 cars long, and fully loaded, carries over 1800 people, 3 or 4 times the capacity of a modern jetliner, or perhaps equal to the population of a small town. There are 4 classes of accommodation on the train: 2 and 3 tier AC (two or three levels of bunks), sleeper (also 3 tier, but no air conditioning) and unreserved (floor to ad hoc hammock… anything goes). There is also a pantry car with a kitchen, and various luggage and specialty cars, plus an electric locomotive.
Though the entire experience wasn’t glamour at its best, Hanley does remind fellow travelers that wipes and sanitizers are necessary to include in packing lists. In addition, when you spend 85 hours on a train, there’s a lot of shopping opportunities:
The train is plied by vendors and vagabonds of all kinds, at all hours. You can buy bracelets, batteries, or donate to a beggar, procure wristwatches, wicker-ware, a new wallet or mouthwash, invest in a cellphone, a bedsheet, a comb or a set of headphones, and purchase food ranging from bananas to biryani, eggs hardboiled or omelette-ized, idli, vada, tomato soup, water or chocolate, soft drinks (but no booze) and one hundred varieties of chaat…a cornucopia of snacks. The train is a rolling street market, complete with the odd acrobatic act tumbling deftly down the aisle, and occasionally punctuated by the two sharp claps of a hijra making her way through the coaches collecting alms.
What caught our eye to his piece was the emphasis on romanticism behind such profound train travel:
The romance of train travel is legendary, and while I think 85 hours might possibly be a tad long for a first date, the experience of Indian railways train #15906 definitely has its moments. I watched the three sunsets from the train door (where I spent an inordinate amount of time drinking tea and taking photos), and none failed to impress. Deep sleep eluded me for the duration in the cacophony of doppler horns, rattles and snores, so I was unfailingly at the door waiting for the sun to make her appearance each morning (the train travels so far south that the 3rd sunrise is 42 minutes later than the first).
To read the rest of Hanley’s photo essay, visit his website.
Have you ever rode on a train in India? Let us know in the comments.