Riding the Indian Railways



Dusty and monumental, India’s trains often seem as ancient as India itself. – Paul Theroux





Ever since the British built the railroads in India that stitched that vast subcontinent together, the trains have connected all of its disparate parts.




When I was on assignment shooting a story on the Indian Railways,  I would go to the station every day and wander around the platform each time a train would roll in, carefully stepping over bodies and around huge mountains of luggage, and would start to photograph the swirl of life that assaults and saturates the senses.




Anything and everything takes place in a station; there is nothing that the depot hasn’t observed. The train station is a theater and everything imaginable happens on its stage. People endlessly wait, they camp out in the stations, and many call it home.




Travelers must share it with the occasional cow or even monkeys foraging for scraps, tolerate ever-present shouts from vendors trying frantically to attract business, and demonstrate patience with the endless queues.



When the train pulls into the station there is a mad dash of humanity as though it is the last train out of hell. People push through the doors and climb through the windows to capture an elusive seat in order to avoid the punishment of having to stand for an entire trip that could take six hours or more. Often the trains are so crowded, the aisles so packed with bodies pressed up against each other, that you cannot even lift an arm to scratch the back of your head.




One day I came across a solitary figure eating lunch — not an unusual sight in many places, but in the bazaar that is an Indian railway station, something that captured my attention. He had carved out a quiet refuge in that chaotic universe and seemed to be lost in a quiet contemplation that was the perfect foil for the rowdy universe that surrounded him.



India is peculiarly visible from a railway train.  I have the idea that much of Indian life is lived within sight of the tracks or the station, and often next to the tracks, or inside the station.  It is not only part of Indian culture, but it is an ingredient in Indian life; it is dynamic, energetic, powerful. It is impossible to imagine India without the railway, or to think what could conceivably replace it.”  -Paul Theroux, The Imperial Way

51 Responses to “Riding the Indian Railways”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Please publish! Ian Lawson (with wonderful recall of train journeys in NE India, 1967& ’68).

  2. […] sure it has been done many times (just look at Steve McCurry’s India railway travel pictures), but it would be great to publish a book just on Indian railway […]

  3. Anonymous Says:

    I just want to say Thank You! for showcasing my country.

  4. Those are some stunning and poignant photos. I went to India recently and I love the top photos of the train with the Taj and the Jama Masjid – it shows those places in an unusual way.

  5. wow loved your work. Especially that pic of train with Taj Mahal in background.. Very Nice Clicks

  6. Awesome..captures d essence.. love them

  7. Anonymous Says:

    great pictures..

  8. Stunning photographs especially the one with the Taj Mahal in the background.

  9. Sometimes all it takes to appreciate what you already have with you is someone elses vision attached to it. I speak for more than half of Indians how unnerving boarding-the-rail experience can be at times but for once the pictures made me feel the antiquity it has in a certain bizarre way.

  10. You’re correct: search phrases with out impressive articles welcoming design, suggests almost nothing. I’m at the beginning in Inbound Marketing and find your article really brief and concise. Thanks!

  11. […] Riding the Indian Railways « Steve McCurry’s Blog. […]

  12. […] some awesome still photographs of trains in India, then stve mccurry's blog is great: http://stevemccurry.wordpress.co…Subhra Ghatak • 6:06amView All 2 CommentsCannot add comment at this time.  Fred […]

  13. The photographs are awesome. These photographs show the old culture of indian railways.

  14. This is incredible. Thank you for sharing your pictures Steve. I just wrote a paper on my journey to Kerala from Dehli on the 54 hour train ride.

    These pictures reminded me of that time.


  15. Para Crypto Says:

    Amazing piece of work!

  16. sridhanush Says:

    A wonderful article and a great set of photos. Thanks for sharing Steve!

  17. Green Goblin Says:

    Excellent shots! Are you going to visit South India? I did not see any pictures from there. It is a fantastic place to be.

  18. Hi Steve,

    Good to see the amazing images on Indian Railway and peoples life and livelihood assoicated with it. Kindly let me know in which book I’ll get those images, as being an fan of your I had collected most of your books.



  19. Thanks for the nice post!

  20. […] tweeted a link a few days ago, but perhaps you didn’t catch it. If not, this post by photographer Steve McCurry offers some incredibly gorgeous images of India, including this one, […]

  21. Well, I’ve seen these pictures before and I love that book. It’s easy to see from these images why you are the inspiration for me and for thousands of other aspiring travel photograpers.

  22. […] Theroux, trains, depot, station, vendor. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. via […]

  23. Your work is absolutely amazing…everytime I look at your images I am moved beyond words! As a photographer, I have always looked to you as an inspiration. Thanks!

  24. aswirly Says:

    Simply Fascinating

  25. Respected Steve,

    You are one of the most respected photographer of the world. I express my respect to your work. Your Indian railway photos are great ! As you was capturing India form very past you have the opportunity to capture some great old Indian mood. All the photos are great !

    With regards,

    Apratim Saha.

  26. fantastic fantastic fantastic

  27. This is a really fantastic job… Now I really want to go to India !

  28. One word – WOW

  29. Hi Steve, just amazing photos!! as allways!
    Hugs from Brazil!

    • These are seriously amazing photos. I hope the recent disaster there doesn’t put people off riding Indian railways. I think I will do a post linking to this soon if that’s ok with you? Mine’s all about rail travel.


  30. […] Dica do RA: Veja outras fotos incríveis dos trens indianos no blog do grande Steve McCurry. É só clicar aqui. […]

  31. You photograph India so beautifully, love your work.

  32. I have the book The Imperial Way so it was nice to these photographs again!

  33. Harsha Says:

    this is truly amazing work….
    Thank you

  34. Hi Steve,

    yes, the Indian railway system is a universe in itself. Not too long ago I did a series on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, which is about as small as it gets in terms of both track width and passenger numbers. On the opposite you have the overcrowded long-distance trains, the atmospehere of which your fourth photograph here conveys so well. Truly fascinating.


  35. Sharanya Says:

    Hi Steve,

    I was wondering if you could label each photograph with the location of the station/train? Especially the second photograph? I am extremely interested in knowing which stations you have photographed. Trains in India are one of my biggest passion and it thrills me to tears that you have thought and actually done a feature on this. Thank you so much.

    • Hi,
      That picture was taken at the station in Agra, Uttar Pradesh.Thanks
      for looking at the blog.

      • Sharanya Says:

        Hi Steve,

        Thank you so much. I had something else to ask you, regarding another of your photographs: this one appears on the cover on Paul Theroux’s The Elephanta Suite. It is a photograph of a city scene, I think. The link to the photograph is here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mahendrap/1400360273/sizes/o/, in case you want to know which one I am referring to. I love> this photograph but have been unable to find any information on it. I am currently combing through your website in the hopes of finding details. Could you tell me where it was clicked, and in which year? It looks like Mohammad Ali Road in Bombay to me, before the flyover was built, but I’m not sure. I’d be very grateful for anything that you’re willing to share about this photo.

        Thanks again,

    • Hi Sharanya,

      The link picture you want to know is Mumaby.

  36. Wow, stunning pictures truly!

  37. Amazing photos! India is somewhere I would love to go someday…

  38. From my point of view, the sleeping man with de dog’s photo is intimate; the photo with the child on the floor is very impressive; and the photo of Taj Mahal with locomotive is very extrange for me, because I don’t get to divine from where it’s taken it…

  39. very good note, Steve!!

  40. Parthait Says:

    Hi Steve,

    Not sure whether you know/noticed… the third photo from top is in Indian railways front page. http://www.indianrail.gov.in/

    All your photos are excellent..

    I would love to see you visit “North East” part of India.


  41. Beautiful photo essay. The contrast of emotions and energy within each frames. Really enjoyed it.

  42. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for sharing these “true” photographs, I saw the last one at your exhibition in Singapore. I debated one of my friend on how you manage to expose the face of gentleman, we were clueless on this.

    Being Indian I have lived the train life too… from general compartment to first class… have more memories of general class travel than other classes:) Its a party all the way, most happening place in the world …. Trust me it was an amazing experience…


  43. All the photos are terrific, but the last, is stellar. Truly, India and its trains conjure the imagination like nowhere else.

  44. Adriana Rodolfina Perez Bautista Says:

    I like this photos, and I’ll like you send me information about this works.

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