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Vloggers rekindling the joys of India train journeys

todaySeptember 22, 2022 1

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By Cherylann Mollan

BBC News, Mumbai

Train vloggersImage source, Himanshu Yadav / BBC

Image caption,

Himanshu Yadav belongs to a growing community of vloggers who are documenting train travel in India

The video begins with the chugging sound of a train in motion.

A yellow board with Rameswaram written in black lets you know you’re departing the island town in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu.

Then you see bucolic landscapes, and then the sea, streaking past the train’s window. Vendors selling hot samosas (a popular Indian snack) file past you. You see families chatting; people dozing. You take a trip to the train’s washroom and watch an argument break out between two passengers over more luggage room.

Before you know it, you’ve reached your destination – Chennai in Tamil Nadu – a 10-hour-long journey condensed to a 13 minute video.

This is one of the many videos made by Himanshu Yadav, a 22-year-old who makes vlogs – or video blogs – on Indian trains.

Carrying more than a million passengers every year the Indian railways – Asia’s largest railway network and the world’s fourth largest – is one of the most popular and affordable modes of transport.

Train vloggers the BBC spoke to say that they are on a mission to generate more interest in railways. Their videos capture what makes train journeys enjoyable, while some are trying to make a difference by highlighting problems commuters face.

Image source, Akshay Malhotra

Image caption,

Akshay Malhotra shows his viewers a more luxurious side of Indian trains

Akshay Malhotra’s minute-long vlogs on Instagram show a more luxurious side of the trains.

The 25-year-old software engineer shoots his reels inside some of India’s premium long-distance trains. He uploads these videos on his Instagram account @JourneyswithAK, which has racked up about 135,000 followers in the six months since he started it. A longer version of these vlogs goes up on his YouTube channel.

In his videos, one gets to experience the new glass-sided railway carriages, plush dining cars and private air-conditioned coupes. He reviews the food, bathing and washroom facilities, seating and sleeping arrangements and offers tips for those travelling with pets.

Mr Malhotra says he travels on his own money, and that a one-way luxury train ticket to a destination in India can cost up to 8,000 rupees ($100; £87). But he doesn’t mind the expense.

“The thing about a train journey is that it gives you enough time to explore – whether that’s a person, a route or a place,” says Mr Malhotra.

Image source, VS Monu / YouTube

Image caption,

Vlogger VS Monu highlights problems commuters face

Vishwajeet Singh, 25, on the other hand, likes to document what train travel is like for the lower middle-class.

On his YouTube channel – V S Monu vlogs – which has about 885,000 subscribers, Mr Singh uploads videos shot in compartments where ticket fares are cheaper, but there are fewer facilities and a lot more passengers.

Hailing from a small town in Bihar, Mr Singh began making vlogs five years ago. Since then, he has earned a reputation among his subscribers for “showing reality” and for highlighting “scams taking place on trains”.

In his videos, he finds out whether the train is running on time; and whether the washrooms, berths and waiting rooms are clean. He checks out the quality and price of food and strikes up conversations with fellow passengers and railway staff.

Viewers thank him for highlighting the “appalling conditions” in some trains, while others ask him questions related to ticket prices or food or share details about bad experiences they’ve had during their journeys. He says he also gets requests from people asking him to visit and review trains they’ve had terrible experiences in.

The popularity of his videos has earned him several brand sponsorships and a YouTube silver play button – an award given to the most watched channels. But the vlogger says that this popularity is a double-edged sword. “Many railway staff recognise me now, so they’re extra careful when I’m in the train,” he says.

Image source, Himanshu Yadav / YouTube

Image caption,

Himanshu Yadav likes capturing scenic vistas seen from the train

Mr Yadav, who runs the YouTube channel Train Lovers HY and has about 165,000 subscribers, enjoys taking train journeys that are likely to result in “captivating” content.

Earlier this year, he went on a three-hour-long journey from Banihal to Baramulla in Kashmir in -5C (23F) cold. His 11-minute video – shot from inside the train – has been viewed over a million times and captures snow-covered landscapes and blue-grey skies.

Along with filming scenic vistas, Mr Yadav also shares information about the history of trains and other trivia – like which is India’s oldest sea bridge or longest train tunnel.

“I’ve started including drone shots of scenic locations trains pass through in my videos,” says Mr Yadav. “They give the videos a cinematic quality and viewers love it.”

He quit his job a year ago, and now earns up to 100,000 rupees a month through brand deals and YouTube ads.

“I have loved trains since I was a child,” says Mr Yadav.

“Train journeys are full of possibilities and I try to capture the wonder and excitement I feel about train journeys in my videos.”

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