Photographer Parth Jha plans regular ‘railfanning’ trips to travel back in time with narrow-gauge trains
I was born 40 years too late.
Had I been born in the 1950s, I’d have got to see the glorious era of steam engines. I could have watched them chugging their way through the beautiful rural Indian landscape. What’s so special about trains, I’m often asked. It’s difficult to explain. Simply put, trains take me back to the time I used to visit my grandfather during the summer vacations, when all I ever wanted was to have the butter toast at Allahabad station. But, more than that, it’s that every train is like a living organism, with its own personality.
Among all kinds of trains, narrow-gauge trains are the most interesting. These narrow-gauge sections are over a hundred years old, have rusty old engines, have manual signalling and token exchange, and they go deep into India’s rural areas, where life is simple and slow.
Whenever I feel like going back in time to the 1950s, I plan a narrow-gauge ‘railfanning’ trip! Planning a railfanning trip involves identifying potentially beautiful spots in the section on maps, managing permissions, finding a driver who can chase trains by road without getting you killed, preparing for long treks and trying to gorge on every local cuisine. These trips have taken me to places I would not otherwise visit in a thousand years.
But, like with every good story, there is a bitter-sweet ending in sight. These sections are now being converted to broad-gauge, which means that these networks will be lost forever. This means better connectivity for these far-off places, but it also means that a part of our heritage will be lost forever. Before that happens, I’m going to plan a whole lot of railfanning trips. You should, too.