Delhi Metro – Trainspotting, Around Town
The scenic tracks.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The Delhi Walla has found the most picturesque spot from where to watch the majesty of the Delhi Metro. It lies in the little-known Aastha Kunj, in south Delhi.
Visited by only a few solitude-seekers, the undulating Delhi Development Authority garden is landscaped near the Nehru Place business district. Every 2 minutes, one can see from here the silver-grey coaches of the Metro running past a backdrop of high-rises such as the International Trade Tower, InterContinental Eros hotel and Satyam Cineplex. The ground beneath the elevated tracks is a totally different world—carpeted with grass, dotted with trees and bushes. A magnificent sight.
The Delhi Metro Rail Corp. began operations almost 11 years ago. Today it ferries over 2 million passengers to over 100 stations in over 2,800 trips daily. In August 2013, it set a record of carrying more than 2.6 million people on a single day. Yet, we have heard of no trainspotters religiously tweeting updates on new Metro routes, sights, coaches and stations. Neither do we have committed rail enthusiasts regularly sharing photos, drawings and stories of the Metro network on blogs and online communities.
What began as a mass rapid transit system for the city is now becoming its defining feature. The Metro has transformed Delhi’s streetscape, especially in those parts where it runs on elevated tracks.
The Old Court Compound in north Delhi’s Kashmere Gate will mesmerize a heritage-loving trainspotter. The Metro’s Red Line is laid out next to the surviving fragments of the Purani Dilli wall. When the Tis Hazari-bound train rushes past, it appears to be running over these Mughal-era fortifications (if the Mughal ruler Shahjahan, who built the wall, were suddenly to appear, he might find this sight more fantastical than the Taj Mahal).
The nearby Nicholson Cemetery offers a sombre perspective of the same train. The colonial-era tombstones bear no relation to the fast-paced life of the commuters, but these graves, of course, are the end of all journeys.
A more forward-looking sight is seen at Lajpat Rai Marg — no room for the past here. The train exits the Lajpat Nagar station and before sloping down into the tunnel that will take it to central Delhi, it smoothly runs alongside the sluggish road traffic. This fraction of a minute speaks of speed and efficiency, making Delhi look confident and business-oriented.
A different feeling is aroused at the Ring Road traffic signal in west Delhi, next to the City Square mall in Rajouri Garden. The pillars that support the Blue Line’s elevated tracks are arranged in a crooked line, very much in harmony with the uneven cluster of surrounding buildings, which have the sort of organic growth and architecture that urban planners consider eyesores.
Each pillar is marked with a number that locals use for directions (“Royal Rasoi, Opposite Metro Pillar 428, Subzi Market, Najafgarh Road, Rajouri Garden”.) One column shelters a man who looks less like a beggar and more like an independent loner.
In her third-floor apartment in central Delhi’s Valmiki Sadan, Sajan, who uses only one name, has finished the morning chores. Her father-in-law and husband have left for work. An hour later, her two sons and a daughter will return from school. Lunch has to be prepared. But first, she waters the sacred tulsi (holy basil) plant on the balcony. Suddenly, the hiss of the Metro train fills the air. The tracks are so close to Sajan’s home that a keen-eyed commuter in the packed coaches can see even the sofa in her drawing room. The proximity might unsettle somebody else, but Sajan continues to have her private communion with the tulsi. The Metro has become a part of her daily life.
There goes the Metro