In Hanoi, people cook and clean on a railway track
In Hanoi, people cook and clean on a railway track

In Hanoi, people cook and clean on a railway track

In the heart of Hanoi, people cook, read and wash vessels on a railway track, till a train toots its appearance. A look at life on the line
A lady stirs a simmering pot of broth. Nothing unusual about it, except that she then chooses to sit on a railway track and help herself to a bowlful. A five-year-old pores through a picture book crouched on an orange chair that’s perched unsteadily on the pebbles in the track. Other residents of the locality go about their daily chores — washing bikes, cleaning vessels, sitting around chatting, all in and around the said track. For them, it’s like the railway line doesn’t exist.
And then just a few minutes before 3 pm, there’s a sudden flurry of activity. A fat rat scurries past. Like a crumbling movie set the whole scene changes.
The little girl carefully grabs her chair and walks away, everybody clears off. An official springs into action — blowing her whistle, she pulls a metal barrier between the road and the tracks.

A red train dramatically swerves into view, grandly sounding its loud horn. The whole street and surrounding houses quake in its wake. It trundles past like a celebrity, as tourists feverishly click pictures.
This is a regular scene at Hanoi’s famous Train Street: A narrow strip flanked by houses overlooking this railway track that was established by the French in 1902.
The uniqueness of this street is that the houses are dangerously close to the trains passing by. “Within touching distance. It’s about 1.5 to five metres away,” says Tran Lien of ICS Travel company in Vietnam. But that hardly unnerves local residents. They are immune to the sound of the train. They don’t need the railway representative’s whistle to clear off. Like clockwork, they know when to make way for the express running through.
“Since the railway passes through the city centre, the houses were already there when it was built. And with the increase in population in Hanoi, more houses came up by the train line. Some people choose to stay on here as they may not find a better place in other parts of Hanoi,” says Lien, whose company has been organising a tour to this bizarre yet captivating street since 2015.
A French tourist who just missed the train by a few minutes looks dejected. “I left my egg coffee halfway and took a cycle rickshaw to get here. Do you know when the next train is scheduled to pass through?” While it is not clear how many trains pass through, it’s a safe bet to be present by 2.55 in the afternoon. There are different trains that go from Hanoi to other provinces in the North of Vietnam. They connect Hanoi to Yen Bai, Lao Cai, Dong Dang, Hai Phong and Hai Duong.
Meanwhile, the train chugs past, providing enough photo ops for awestruck tourists. Residents slowly start trickling out of their houses and return to their places. A little girl is getting her hair tied, the other kids play a game of hopscotch and a group of elders just settle down to chat. They look like they’ve emerged from a siesta, the train’s blaring horn probably serving as their alarm.

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