New Delhi to Varanasi on the Swatantrata S Express (Train No. 12562)

Normally taking the Shiv Ganga Express to Varanasi from Delhi, I opted for the Swatantrata S Express last time in order to have a couple more hours of daylight on the train. It paid off. What follows is one morning shooting out the window from the 2nd Tier AC section of the Swantantrata Express. So kick back, get a cup of chai, and enjoy the journey.

Arriving at Varanasi Station.



343 thoughts on “New Delhi to Varanasi on the Swatantrata S Express (Train No. 12562)

  1. its like a bioscope out of a train window! really innoative and beautiful..i loved the pictures..what a great way to share stories of the indian village life!! 🙂 congrats on the freshly pressed

  2. Thank you for taking me back home through your pictures. That lonely boy on the tracks, the two women in colorful saris, the school children waiting to cross the rail tracks, the multitude of people waiting at the rail gate are scenes so familiar, so dear and I miss them so. Your photo blog made me happy. Thank you!

  3. This caught my eye in “freshly pressed.” Makes me miss India all the more, as I remember the long train ride from Bombay to Delhi. Can’t wait to go back and see it all again!

    • I gave a few head nods to passengers in other trains as we slowly rolled through various stations. Otherwise, I was simply trying to capture real life and stay low key. It was a fun project.

  4. This reminds me of my journey from Calcutta to Bubeneshwar! I love the way you have shown the people in their everyday activities. We stopped for 20 minutes above a village and I think everyone from the teacher to the field worker to the tax collector walked or cycled by. Wouldnt work in Britain very often because people are usually further away but recently a train I was on stpped by a small farmstead in Yorkshire. I took a few and got a wave! Keep up the brilliant picturing!

      • Thank you! From Mumbai to Daman one person tried to push me off the seat and two others cheered when I pushed back! Others offered me roll ups. When I returned to UK I got culture shock because it was so cold-hearted and no one talked to one another!

  5. You’ve brought back many good memories for me of train rides from Delhi to Kanpur (my mom’s hometown in the state of Uttar Pradesh.) Before I got married, I went to India every two to three years to visit extended family. Because of my husband’s job, I haven’t back to India in nine years and I feel a deep longing for my family and for the country. Thank you for the photo gallery!

  6. Wow. What a very interesting and repetitive set of images. Repetitive in a good way of course. It really ties the theme together and makes me feel like I am on the train watching the people of New Delhi myself.

  7. fantastic-the window works as a really interesting border, somehow making the photos look like glimpses into the everyday life of the people you pass on the train. Without the window, these photos would have only been good, rather than something really special. thank you.

    • thanks! i trust you are enjoying laos, it remains one of my favorite countries. i took a very remote and untraveled route out of phongsali and relaxed in luang prabang after traveling the mekong. what an amazing country!

  8. I was there 4 months ago and i can say that those pictures reminds me a lot the hours that i spent travelling between Delhi, Varanasi and other cities. I didn’t traveled by train but bus, so i haven’t experienced this magnificent view from this small window. You gave us an excellent feeling of your trip. If there were also some pictures from inside the train it could have been even better.

  9. what a great collection of photographs…I lived in mumbai for 1.5 years and we caught the agra-varanasi train…so much fun and the best piping hot chai in the morning!

  10. Those 2nd tier train journeys were always some of my favorites. I loved waking in the morning, making my way to joining section, and watching the sunrise through the open door with a few others who were so inclined. Maybe sometimes hang out the door too, if the conductor was nowhere to be seen…

  11. What a great way to capture pictures of India! I was only there for a few days and did the drive from Delhi to Agra which took six hours there and five hours back. I wish I would have taken photographs as the sights were unbelievable. I remember seeing the cows eating garbage too. It made me sad. Great collection of work!

  12. Thanks everyone. It was indeed the right window. Often the windows are larger and newer. I loved that this window had a crack in the corner, that it was a singular frame, and the tinting on the window gave the images a sepia-type tone. I’d taken many train journeys in India and on this one the right circumstances came together. There will be more to come…

  13. The simplicity with which the people you have captured appear to live by is utterly breathtaking. There is something so angelic and soothing about looking through your photos, thank you for posting! – Roisin.

    • I was referring to the way you ‘framed’ the image by using the window. This framing device allows you to focus our attention on a specific image, while at the same time limiting what the viewer can see. The dirty and broken glass also plays a part in limiting our vision. There is also a certain voyeuristic quality as we look out on the lives of complete strangers, which adds an interesting subtext to the image. As a result, we get a candid look into the lives of these people but from a detached distance.

      I have no idea how this makes me sycophantic. I was simply complimenting you on your skill as a photographer in terms of creating an interesting narrative.

  14. I have been on the same train and journey 2years ago…

    Your post reminds me of all those beautiful memories of my life…

    Great Work… Have a nice trip… 🙂

    • Thanks, I think the framing of the window brings to mind a roll of film and it feels as though you’re holding a roll of film up to the light and looking through it. The golden tint on the windows does seem to give them an aged quality. I’m glad you liked them.

  15. Incredibly beautiful. It reminds me of the life-changing trip I had to India at age 14. What a spectacular country – I can’t wait to go back!

  16. Beautiful glimpses of a place we hear about all the time, but rarely are able to see. Even pictures are usually of only the cities. Thanks for the pictures, they’re truly terrific.

  17. You really get the idea that they have less in a physical sense, but not emotionally. In fact, it appears that they may have more, simply because they cherish what little they do have and aren’t busy worried about what they don’t. Also, the countryside is just gorgeous. Thank you for the experience!

  18. What a great blog post! This reminded me of the “view master” where you could click with anticipation of the next picture to show up. I love how you framed all your photos with your window. Each new picture was a delightful surprise. Hope you’ll have a great week!

  19. All these years of train travelling in India, this idea never crossed my mind.. Unique & brilliant.. Instead of looking into the details of every pic, try scrolling down at a medium pace from the first to the last pic.. i liked the movie-like effect it creates..

    • It’s about a 12 hour journey. There are several night trains and it’s a great way to travel. The Shiv Ganga Express leaves around 6:45pm and arrives by around 7:30am. The Swantantrata Express leaves at 10:40pm and arrives at 8:35am. Of course the trains are often delayed due to rail traffic so if you add about 3 hours to the scheduled you’ll be about right.

  20. Pingback: New Delhi to Varanasi on the Swatantrata S Express (Train No. 12562) |

  21. Have just recently returned from 4 months in India. Did lots of train journeys and your pictures just brought it all back to me. They are fab.

  22. My first visit to your site….but sorry to say not a very good experience in terms of photograph quality and background selection. It would have been better, If you had decided to visit Varanasi through road.

    But thanks to your post with some images presenting life of Indian villages.

  23. Loved it! At first I thought it would have been better to click pictures from a sleeper coach than the AC coach. But you changed my perspective completely. Amazing how the window adds a different dimension to your pictures. It also reminded me of my journey to Varanasi from Pune.

  24. Beautiful photographs! Reminds me of the time I went to India. It was a rich, learning and amazing experience! Thanks for sharing and congrats on being freshly pressed!

  25. Agree with above – the trouble is trying to capture ‘real India’ when you are there, but you did it perfectly. And now I’m thinking of booking a flight and going back because your pictures made me miss it. Thank you for sharing – what a great start to my morning.

    • I saw your photographs….some are very good…however, it seems you have intruded into privacy of some individuals. Also, there is no 3rd class in Indian train now. It has been removed long back. The coach in which you traveled is actually 2nd class sleeper coach which transforms into seating during day time.

  26. I did that journey in 1980, in a beat-up old carriage hitched to the train as part of Ashley Butterfield’s Indian Railway Tour. I’ve never been back. What’s amazing to me is that the view from the train has not changed in 30 years, in spite of everything we read and hear about the transformation of India in that time. So, a timeless gem! Thanks for the memory. James Stewart, Cardiff, Wales.

  27. I am amazed that you got so many crystal-clear and sharp pictures from a moving train — and even through a dirty window. Great photography. My nephew just got back from spending 6 months in India doing some intense research on a Fulbright scholarship. He lived there with his wife and three very small children. I think the thing that touched them most was how so many of the people genuinely loved their little children.

  28. My country and my country men in your lens!! Good. Travel to every corner of our country. Let the whole world see the diversity and the varied culture, imbibed in this great land!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! of ours !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  29. ah, this makes me want to go back to India! Such a neat perspective, seeing the same cracks in the window in every frame, but a shifting view out the window. I loved this so much more than I can say!

  30. railway track are built on outskirts of any city and villages, so they are NOT as clean or tidy as other part of the the country…

    the old adage “see india through Indian railways” is a actually a different meaning, it says, if u travel india through trains.
    1. you can visit every village in india
    2. you can travel cheap, nice
    3. you can cover the whole india.

    the pictures from the india trains is not what the actual india is…..

    appreciate if you can allow to post my comment

    • i believe that it does reflect a part of the actual india. yes, there are large middle class sections in india, there are wealthy people with their drivers, and mixed among them are the beggars at their windows. there are those who are buried in safron robes and those who are buried beneath a simple white sheet. there is the affluence of those who stay in 5 star hotels with the poor living just a block away on the corner of a street. india is full of juxtaposition and therein lies its beauty to many. these images simply reflect how i saw and experienced india on one morning on a train to varanasi.

  31. Relived memories of traveling by train in India. Would go on 2-night long train trips with family…seems like a long long time ago. Thank you and great job!

  32. Great photos. India is a place I’ve always wanted to see (and being such a big and diverse country, so many places within it as well). The train is such an awesome way to travel, too. Loved this!

  33. Beautiful, I did the opposite journey, Varanasi to New Delhi and was amazed at the scenery every few minutes. It brings back some memories of my trip to India last year. Congratulations on being freshly pressed.

  34. I went from Mumbai to Daman thrid class and someone tried to push me off my seat. I gained great respect in the cariage by pushing them back off my seat!!
    These journeys are so important for people to capture even a small shimmer of what is there. I love the way you concentrate upon the people!!

  35. Cool idea, great photos. I spent years (!) riding Indian trains, some of the most entertaining visuals anywhere! Thank you for sharing, have fun on the next trip, and have some ‘train’ samosa for all of us who miss them terribly!

  36. you are right nomadruss,
    there are many good ppl in india, who give food to many poor, there are many good people in india, who give shelter to the poor,
    with 1billion population, its no way one single image of india is possible….

    thanks for the reply appreciate it….
    : – )

    what my experience personally after many years in India is…. if we change india now, there will be many families lives on the roads and get disturbed,
    the change must be slow and from within.

  37. Pingback: Top Post of 2012 | nomadruss in words and photos

  38. Really exceptional series, love it… it has unconventional point of view that doesn’t judge or dictate to the viewer… beautiful ride. Thanx 🙂
    All the best,

  39. I really love your photos. I got this same train and documented nothing. I also had a dead body on the bunk bellow me for the last 6 hours.. a crazy place.

    • Thanks, I really would like to exhibit these. I can picture people walking through the room taking in each frame. I believe I’ll have to do another Indian rail journey too, I miss incredible India.

  40. Great idea, really enjoyed this! It certainly helps re-create the feeling of true travel bliss as the world and it’s lives roll by… And that i need to get to india. Will you do more journey style posts?

    • I tried one other post in journey-style in the American south from a car window, but it didn’t have nearly the same impact. There was something about being seated next to just the right window for framing those shots that added to the collection, I think. Yes, I do plan to do more, and the next time I plan an Indian rail journey you’re welcome to join in.

  41. This is such a wonderful set of photographs, I recently took this trip and found myself getting really frustrated with the many photo-ops that sped by outside the window. India has such amazing, awkward, ugly, beautiful, fascinating, jaw-dropping moments and you have captured some beautifully here…

  42. Pingback: An Indian Rail Journey | nomadruss in words and photos

  43. Really brought back our first trip to Leh. We flew into Mumbai to meet with fellow workers then took an overnighter to Delhi. We wanted to experience India on the ground and we sure did. Just too bad most of the way was in the dark. Got a few shots at the start and end. Really enjoyed your work on these. Have a quality like in a box of some old prints from some grandpas trip long ago

  44. Wow! I am blown away! This is so different from typical travel photographs. Loved the brilliant use of the window frame…it give’s a glimpse of the everyday lives of the people along the train tracks, it so honest and intimate and yet the window reveals the distance between a different world out there. Much inspired by your work. Cheers.

    • I appreciate your kind words. This is definitely one of my most favorite posts for reasons you mentioned. I wanted to do something real to me, not typical travel photography, and I loved the glimpse into everyday life, people being observed without even realizing it, being very natural. Thanks again Kazi.

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