India’s Independence Railroads

In this episode of ‘Tough Trains’, Zay Harding takes on an epic journey across one of the world’s biggest railway networks. These railways built during the 19th century by the British to move troops and raw materials across the land, ultimately played a role in the independence of the country a century later. The railway tracks are some of the oldest and longest you’ll find anywhere in the world and train travel doesn’t get any tougher than this in a country with a population of over 1.2 billion. These are India’s ‘Tough Trains’

Indian Railways operations cover twenty-nine states and seven union territories. Connecting over 7,500 stations throughout India, it is the world’s 4th largest railway networks comprising 71,000 miles of track over a route of 40,000 miles.

We begin our journey in the town of Muzaffarpur in Bihar, which is in the eastern region of India. Bihar is the twelfth largest state in India and the third largest in population. Muzaffarpur railway station is amongst the top hundred booking stations of Indian railways. At this extremely busy station Zay learns how to navigate India’s complex rail networks where he struggles to purchase a ticket and find the right platform to catch a local branch train to Motihari.

The state of #Bihar has almost 104 Million people roaming it’s streets on any given day. Intersections are madness. Traffic slowly trudges along. I feel like #whereswaldo? #globetrekker #toughtrains #india

Along this route Zay experiences some of the toughest aspects of railway travels in India. He encounters carriages that are over crowded in hot temperatures exceeding 45 degrees Celsius. We get to learn some travel tips from Zay on coping with long journeys on Indian railways. During the British era Motihari flourished where the farmers of Champaran were forced to sow Opium in the 18th century and Indigo during the 19th century on their farm plots. As trade routes began to open up throughout India Motihari railway station became an important site for the transportation of Indigo dye.

At the Gandhi Memorial Museum Zay meets author and historian to find out about how in the struggle for India’s Independence Motihari became famous for being the first place where Mahatma Gandhi began his anti colonial campaign in India in 1917.

Zay continues his journey by train from Motihari in Bihar to Lucknow, the capital city of the state of Uttar Pradesh. During this leg of the journey Zay speaks to local fellow travellers and discovers the safety issues concerning the Indian Railways.  Locals tell Zay about the hazards, casualties and accidents that often occur due to negligence and faulty equipment.

Zay arrives at Charbagh Railway Station, Lucknow, which is an architectural masterpiece. Design inspirations are based on a chessboard, the Palace like building incorporates a mix of Rajput, Awadhi and Mughai architecture. In the 18th and 19th centuries Lucknow was famous for cultural and artistic achievements. Everything is well conserved here to make Lucknow “The city of many splendours”. It is a city of Newabs influenced by 18th and 19th architecture by Muslim rulers.

Zay arrives in Lucknow during the holy month of Ramdan, a period of prayers and fasting in the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. What better place than Lucknow to explore the great-shared heritage of Indian Islam. Refraining from consuming food and drink, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset, the bazaars at sundown and dusk are brilliant in their colour and celebrations. Zay mingles with local Muslims to discover the celebrations of Ramadan.

In Lucknow, one of the most well known uprisings during the British colonization of India was a mutiny of the native troops known as “sepoys”. In 1857 the Sepoy rebellion was a complete surprise to the British, many of who were blind to the unrest that had been created by the rapid imposition of direct British control over two-thirds of India. The rebellion is also known as India’s First War of Independence. Zay meets an expert to find out about the Sepoy’s mutiny at the ruins of the British Residency.

From the capital of Uttar Pardesh, our train adventure continues to the capital of India, Delhi. During this part of the train journey Zay discovers the ever-increasing demand by locals for ‘Women Only’ carriages on Indian railways. Zay speaks to fellow female travellers and finds out why they feel unsafe travelling in mixed sex carriages.

We arrive via the New Delhi railway station, which is the third busiest and one of the largest in India.  It handles over 300 trains and 500,000 passengers daily with 16 platforms.  India’s capital city, Delhi’s immense population of over 12 million is comprised of a diverse yet dominantly Hindu demographic. Zay visits the Presidential Palace, the residence of the President of the largest democracy in the world. The decision to build a residence in New Delhi for the British Viceroy was taken after it was decided in 1911 that the capital of India would be shifted from Calcutta to Delhi. It was constructed to affirm the permanence of British rule in India. Zay meets a journalist to find out what India was like under the British rule before independence in 1947.

Our story of India’s Independence Railroads continues from Delhi to the capital of Punjab, Amritsar. During this journey we tell the events that lead to the partition of India with Pakistan. Zay meets a history professor to learn about the end of the British rule and the horrific events of the partition. The partition was accompanied by the largest mass migration in human history of some 10 million people. As many as one million civilians died in the accompanying riots particularly in the western region of Punjab which was cut in two by the border. Zay arrives in Amritsar, which is known as the city of the Golden Temple and it’s the first stop for most visitors that come here.

A sweet moment I noticed on one of my train journeys — I looked down from my upper deck and saw everyone below was passed out. #globetrekker #toughtrains #india

In the final journey in the show Zay catches the Kangra Valley Railway up to the Himalaya Mountains. This narrow-gauge train is the youngest among the 5 mountain railways of British India. Built by the British in 1925 to carry freight, it turned into a passenger service train in 1929. The Kangra Valley Railway was used by the British to escape to hill stations to get away from the heat in summer.


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