The Everest of train journeys

THE HANS INDIA |   Apr 02,2016 , 11:29 PM IST

Ed Hanley from Toronto, Canada, photo essayed the longest train journey in India, the ‘Dibrugarh-Kanyakumari Vivek Express’ and his video of the same is going viral on social media. He speaks about the experience of travelling in an Indian train for three days and four nights

As Kurt Vonnegut said, “Bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God”; it was indeed the search of a new dance that made Canada-based Ed Hanley purchase a one-way ticket on the longest train in India. Indian Railways train #15906, the Dibrugarh-Kanyakumari Vivek Express, as it winds its way through 4,273km from the north-eastern corner of Assam to the southernmost tip of mainland India, an 85-hour journey, which gives it the prestigious title of the longest train in India, in terms of both time and distance. It departs Dibrugarh at 10:45 pm on Saturday and arrives in Kanyakumari at around 11 am Wednesday, three days and four nights later. The train itself is 21-cars-long and fully loaded, and carries over 1,800 people.

Ed wanted to take the longest train in India and photograph the journey and share it with the world. He did some research on trains before choosing Vivek Express. “India is a vast, beautiful, and diverse country. I love the culture, people, landscape and especially art and music,” he shares. “Train #15906 is the Mount Everest of trains! Travelling 4,273 km in 85 hours is a real challenge and a crazy once-in-a-lifetime adventure! I specifically took the train to document the trip in as many ways as I could; words, photos, video and sound,” he adds. 

Ed is a full-time professional tabla player, and he recently started working as a photographer and videographer. He has played tabla for 25 years and has been trained in Canada, California and across India with master drummers such as Swapan Chaudhuri, Anindo Chatterjee, Trichy Sankaran and Suresh Talwalkar. This was his 10th trip to India, but the first as a photographer. He captured the whole trip on his camera, which is going viral on social working sites. He also made a time lapse video of the journey and has rendered background score to it. He says that his previous trips have been for music study or to tour with his band ‘Autorickshaw’. 

He relates the various memorable moments, “It was great. Sure, it's not totally comfortable, and you can't really shower, and I found it hard to sleep, but all in all, it was fascinating and memorable. It was great to see the vast beauty of India rolling by at every moment. I would do it again, actually! I really enjoyed the mornings. I would get up before dawn, and sit near the door waiting for the sun (and the chai-wallah!). 

The sounds of the vendors at Vijayawada Junction was really many vendors with unique calls, selling so many kinds of food, drinks and snacks. I was fascinated by all of it and other people who plied the train...including a pair of young circus performers, who did a tumbling routine down the aisle to live dholak drumming. It was also interesting to see small groups of hijras seeking baksheesh on the train with their signature double-clap,” he adds.

“I'd actually like to do a project on train vendors, and the vast array of things they sell,” he says. For a living he performs, composes and records music; he shoots photographs, often for musicians; and shoots, edits and produces videos. He is interested in producing more multimedia works like ‘The Longest Train in India’, using words, photos, video, music and sound to tell stories and make art. 

As Ed is a professional musician, he tries to make original music for all his projects. And evidently he chose tabla for the time lapse video because it captures the relentless forward motion of the train so well. “I was trying to capture the power and energy of such a massive machine driving down the tracks, ever southward to a distant destination,” he explains. 

Talking about his future projects he says, “I'd like to travel with an Indian circus and do a big piece on the life of circus performers. I'm working in Bhopal, photo essaying the victims of Bhopal Gas Tragedy. I'm working on a couple of albums at the moment, one with my electronic/tabla duo Phrase Velocity, another with Justin Gray, who plays a hybrid instrument called Bass Veena, and an upcoming album with my band ‘Autorickshaw’. I have a couple of video projects on the go...a music video from a Toronto band called ‘Drumhand’ and a video for the World Health Organization for their 2016-2020 Global Leprosy Strategy launch in a few weeks.”

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