The ultimate gateway to India: A train window

CNN  — 

For Mumbai photographer Shanu Babar, the train window seat is the gateway to India.

“The variety of cultures, cuisines, landscapes and smallest of activities that you get to explore from this single magnificent vantage point, is insightful and almost magical,” he tells CNN Travel.

Babar hosts the Instagram account @windowseatproject that features photographs of India taken from the train window.

“The sheer size and diversity of India, make it a perfect subject for the Window Seat Project,” says Babar.

The photographs on Babar’s account showcase India’s stunning and varied destinations, scenery, traditions and culture – and also capture small, everyday moments between people he spies on trains and platforms.

People and stories

Babar began his project when he was at university. Pictured here: Kangra Valley.

The Window Seat Project began when Babar was working on his university thesis and he went on a journey to the southernmost part of India with his classmates.

Vast India – with its varied landscape and spectacular scenery – lends itself well to being explored by train.

“Ever since I was kid, I have been fascinated by the window seat. I would gasp when I saw big towns pass me by,” Babar says.

“From here I could see different people, interesting people, different stories. It was like watching movies.”

Babar’s snaps include mountains peaking over the top of a train rushing through the Kangra Valley in the Western Himalayas and the view of Katra, a small town in Jammu and Kashmir.

Each photo on Babar's Instagram comes with a story evoking the feeling of the location. Pictured here: Katra, Jammu and Kashmir.

But he complements these spectacular landscapes with more personal, candid photographs of people and passengers.

“Generally, every face with a little context or background is a story,” says Babar. “And I want to tell stories from all over India.”

He also photographs others looking out of the window seat, capturing their curious expressions.

Babar takes photographs inside the train too. Pictured here: Daund.

He photographs families enjoying rich food inside a train carriage and passengers sitting on the roof.

All his photographs are accompanied by detailed captions written by Babar – sometimes telling the story behind the photograph, other times simply evoking a certain mood.

“All I need is for a picture to tell a story, create a reality in your mind, express a conflict, a dilemma, an emotion, anything that resonates,” says Babar.

Global community

Babar takes photographs of people and places. Pictured here: Merrut.

The Window Seat Project now has more than 27,000 followers on Instagram – and Babar also coordinates contributors who send in photographs.

“People use the hashtag “#windowseatproject,” and that’s how the pictures come to my notice,” he explains. “I scan through close to 100 pictures a day, to pick the right ones.”

Babar picks his favorites to appear on the account – but he says it’s less about the standard of photography and more about the sentiment behind the snapshot.

Babar says the view of the Window Seat Project is like an "exhibition." Pictured here: Luni Junction, Rajasthan, India.

“The right picture is not the one which is the best looking, but the one that captures the right emotion of train travel,” he says.

Babar has photographed iconic Indian railways including the Shimla Kalka Express, a narrow-gauge railway built in 1898. “Weed and moss cover its wrinkles,” writes Babar in his accompanying caption. “100 years and still on duty.”

Sabar also photographs India's commuter railways. Pictured here: the Luggage Room, Mumbai Local, Central Railways.

But he also captures commuter travel in his home of Mumbai.

Babar is a great admirer of India’s rail system. “The British built the railways here long back, but managing such an ever growing giant network is surely a far more intimidating task, I am sure,” he says.

Travel inspiration

Babar now has contributors send in photographs. Pictured here: Gwalior.

The account is growing in prestige and followers – and Babar is thrilled at its success and emotional impact.

“If the pictures can convey, through the social media, the eccentricities, the cultures, the personalities of a variety of people and places, the account has achieved exactly what it intended to,” he says.

He is also considering expanding his window seat views beyond India:

Babar hopes his account will inspire others to take to the railways.

“In the future, I would surely want to go international and seek to explore more scenes that I have never experienced before,” he says. “I am sure the emotion of train travel is a global one.”

But the photographer’s main goal is offline – he wants to inspire budding travelers to take to the train tracks and explore.

“Lastly, if I can inspire people to stop Instagramming and actually travel, that would be real success,” he says. “It’s a funny paradox.”