Beneath the relentless churn of steel, wood, and dust, the Indian railway is made entirely of stories. For more than a century, it has witnessed the infinite expression of the human condition, borne the incalculable weight of separations, and gently rocked the world-weary into oblivion.
“It’s fresh and beautiful and repulsive at the same time,” says National Geographic photographer Matthieu Paley, who spent five days and four nights aboard the Vivek Express documenting its ever-unfolding story. Starting at the southernmost tip of India, the route stretches 2,637 miles northward from Kanniyakumari to Dibrugarh under the heavy gaze of the equatorial sun. It is the longest train ride in the Indian subcontinent.
“People want time,” Paley says. “We live in a world that wants to compress time and make things faster and faster, and I love the train because it’s an environment where you have to slow down.”