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Sliding Down the Hill

Khambli Ghat – Phulad Jojawar in RAJASTHAN

 

The familiar whistle of the locomotive announces its slow approach to the impatient crowd waiting on the platform. The Khambli Ghat station master bustles around. Travellers walk in different directions to get to the right car, to the right seat. Despite the infinity of classes existing in the Indian railway system, they stride along with determination, visibly knowing where to go, not even allowing a quick look to read yellow capital letters solemnly inscribed on a burgundy background. But half the people gathered on the platform do not take the few steps separating them from the mysterious interior of the noisy machine.

They stare at her, come closer once they have picked a strategic spot, and then start shouting: ‘Chai! Chai!’ In their right hand, the boiling teapot moves from side to side. In the left, they hold a dozen of cups to serve potential clients. Most of these itinerant sellers, who hastily go along the train and shout loudly to lure the traveller, are smaller than 1m50 (4 feet 11 inches), hopefully coming to the station right after the morning’s government school, a place where they can truly be children. Men get off and come to meet them, take a break, and drink a cup of masala tea. Often, they light a cigarette, put their left hand on their hip, and smoke with pride. Responsible fathers rush to fill empty bottles with drinking water from the tap, while mothers wait with the youngest inside and curiously gaze through the bars of the windows.

 


 

The driver blows the whistle again, announcing this time the slow departure of the crowded locomotive. People have completely vanished from the platform. In the wagon, the excitement is palpable as travelers move around to appropriate their temporary home, only rigid parallel bars separate the outer landscape from the atmosphere inside. Boys sit at the door left open, their legs flying with any swerve, vulnerable to the machine’s rhythm. They value these few complete openings as the best spots to catch a view free of obstacles on the upcoming journey. On top of the train, their fearless elder brothers have taken place and enjoy every second of the unique sight around them. An old man with orange turban and tunic is seated between compartments, as if he has not decided to commit yet, or simply because he plans to leave the train at the next station and preferred to spare the steps. After a few minutes, people pass around bottles of water and spicy peanuts, lentils and all sorts of tasteful seeds, the local snacks.

 

 

Families are on their way to the Ramdevra temple, they speak about this long journey. As a man walks in and shouts a motto familiar to the assembly of pilgrims, they instinctively respond all together in a shared sentence. The train moves further away from the station, it goes deeper into the forest and progressively reveals the dazzling beauty of the Aravalli range. Trees flourish on all sides of the mountains where humans have not yet set foot. Only the noise of the machine on the tracks disturbs the peace of nature. A river flows rapidly but suddenly slows down as waterfalls approach. The locomotive similarly pauses in its journey before sharp descents in dark caves. Better check the brakes before going in. Passengers take advantage of the stop to throw banana skins and various leftovers at agitated monkeys, bouncing inhabitants of the forest, who fight among themselves for a bigger piece of the cake. Each and every one of the travelers open wide eyed and marvel at the magnificence of nature in its own territory. Beauty soon overwhelms them and people fall silent, to better gaze outside and willingly dive into a collective dream.

 

 

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