From Bombay to Calcutta, the history of modern India travels aboard the legendary Train 12322

GEO France commissioned the story and published it in two parts

From the colonial empire to the "largest democracy in the world", the thread of Indian history runs in the form of railway lines. 65,000 km, to be precise, largely designed by the British administration for connecting the metropolises of a giant empire. Victorian railway stations, timetables, standardized rails, hierarchical administration ... The colonial imprint extends to some trains which have become legendary such as the "Imperial Mail ', Known as the most luxurious line in the world, which also since 1926 connects the two economic poles in the subcontinent: Bombay in the West and Calcutta in the East.

Today, 70 years after independence, the line is still active. The number 12322 is registered on the locomotive of the "Kolkata Mail", which connects Mumbai to Kolkata, under the new name of the cities supported by the Hindu nationalist party in power. But this trip is no longer that of the VIP 'Raj'; it is a lifeline, serving 48 stations, each telling a piece of the history of an ever changing nation. A cheap train that is both popular and overloaded, step by step, it is an India torn between past and future, tradition and modernity, scrolling screens and speeds of 55 km/h journeys. Along the historic route people take breaks: in Mughal Sarai, Asia's largest marshalling yard, every week tens of thousands of pilgrims are hosted at the ghats of Varanasi;  and then on to Dhanbad, the black lung of Indian growth, where coal fills the air like a smoke screen...

Party Chhatrapati station (former Victoria station), is a historical monument in Mumbai. The Kolkata Mail marks its terminus at Howrah station, the oldest station in the country (opened in 1905) and the beating heart of Calcutta. The end of the trip draws a unique testimony to India's Railway systems; it is one of the largest employers in the world with 1.6 million employees and its users. A look at the depth of about 70 years of independence, over the rails, rituals of life on board and steps marked throughout this country-continent.

This report is the discovery of India, from West to East, aboard the Kolkata Mail, the most historic railway on the occasion of 70 years of independence.

Text © Thomas Saintouren

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