Except for the rattling of the pedestrian overbridge, the British-built Delhi Kishenganj railway station in Central Delhi remains lifeless. The noisy non-stop express train has just left but the dogs on the platform haven’t raised their heads, the fakir on the stairs hasn’t woken up, and the young man standing at the railings hasn’t stopped staring at the space where the train passed just a moment before.
In a city with 2,500 bus stops and more than 80 Metro stations, Delhi Kishenganj is not among its four main railways stations — (Old) Delhi, New Delhi, Hazrat Nizamuddin and Sarai Rohilla. At this station, the benches are empty at noon. No coolies are around. An off-duty guard is sleeping in the rest room. A super-fast train is standing empty on the middle track, waiting for a turn at the wash yard ahead.
The train secrets
Although Delhi has 22 railway stations connected by a system of local trains called Electrical Multiple Units (EMUs), the impression is that that the Capital’s public transport relies only on buses and Metro trains. Not true.
“I go to my office in the EMU. It takes less time,” says Ravi Kumar, an electrical engineer who is waiting at Delhi Kishenganj for an Okhla-bound train. “There’re no crowds, so there’s no pushing and shoving like what you have to suffer in buses and the Metro. Besides, local trains are the cheapest.” The minimum fare in buses is Rs 5; in the Metro, Rs 8. In the EMU, it is Rs 2. A journey from Sahibabad in UP to the New Delhi railway station costs just Rs 5. “The number of people using EMUs has increased over the years and we have ticket sales worth Rs 1 lakh daily,” says Chander Prakash, the Delhi Kishenganj’s chief train clerk, who has been working here for 20 years. His office is a free-for-all. Passengers continually check in to ask for the train timings. “This station was built round 1890,” Prakash says. “It hasn’t changed much since I first joined.”
You do not have to be a commuter to come to Delhi Kishenganj. Snuggled in a quiet zone, though close to the bustling bazaars of Karol Bagh and Subzi Mandi, it is a city getaway. Walk in with a book and read on the bench. The colonial building, the sound of trains, and the platform scenes will be pleasant distractions.
Despite its antiquity and desolation, Delhi Kishenganj is not a ruin. It is a functional station with stoppage for 10 long-distance expresses and 20 EMUs and passenger trains. It has one fast-food stall, one waiting hall, two platforms, four ticket counters, and four urinals. Its pedestrian overbridge has a separate track for bicycles. It has hawkers selling combs, wallets, leather files, bananas and Bollywood postcards. It even has beggars. What it doesn’t have is a presence in most Delhiites’ minds.