Beyond the city: A visual journey of Delhi’s extended urbanisation

This blog emerged out of a field trip I carried out in February 2016, for a analysing the Extended urbanisation around Delhi, especially how daily circular migration is shaping this. For this purpose I took a local DEMU train from the centre of Delhi to Rewari some 80kms away from Delhi. In addition to the photographs that I took to document the rapidly changing landscape. I also engaged in interviewing passengers on the train, about the purpose of their travel, destination, socio-economic profile etc. Some of my observations were –

The overcrowded Palam station on the outskirts of Delhi.
Most of the railway stations such as this one Garhi Harsaru have retained their colonial era character an ode to how this has been appropriated for human resource transport instead of the earlier purpose of transport of capital commodities.

DSC_0510The train halts in Gurgaon: Many of the passengers like to get on board through the other side in order to get sitting space on board.


  • In addition to people commuting from work, the circular migrants are also comprised of people coming to the city to seek services such as medical facilities, education etc. I was surprised to see many students on the train who travel upto 80kms everyday to study in schools in Delhi. The reasons for this are mixed however, with some coming to access better standards of education while some coming purely for attaining domicile status in Delhi.
  • The working adults conducting this sort of migration can be broadly put into three categories – trades people who come to sell their wares in Delhi and take purchases from the city back, guards and security personnel who work at airports etc. on the edge of the city and service personnel mostly working in government clerical level jobs.
  • On being questioned about their choice for undertaking this daily migration most of them cited living costs and standards as the overriding factor. They cited the unsanitary and squalor conditions in which people form their class live in the cities, queuing up for water, inadequate sanitation etc. Also the family could afford a much better lifestyle in the earning than they would if they choose to move to the city. Thirdly they said this way they can also maintain and help on farm holdings back in the village in their spare time and supplement the jont earnings of their extended families.
LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01
Railways map of Colonial India, Courtesy – Wikipedia
Railway network of India overlapped with population density in red. Courtesy – Wikipedia
  • The colonial era railway system shown in the first map was majorly designed to transport resources from the hinterlands to the ports but this has been appropriated into a unique form of urbanisation that has been described by Echonave & Srivastava as ‘Cirulatory Urbanism‘. Describing the success of circulatory urbanism that Konkan Railways made possible around Mumbai, Echonave & Srivastava make a case for an antidote to the intensive new town urbanisation policies that have plagued urban governance.
  • As a further reading into it, I am reminded of Schmidt and Brenner’s Planetary Urbanisation language that allows us to look beyond the urban-rural boundaries and plan for a unified urban field.
  • As a consequence of the density of the railway network, major urban agglomeration have tended to spring alongside.
One of the many mobile vendors that travel on these trains to serve the daily passengers
  • These trains are like moving towns, complete with a commercial layer. A whole set of vendors operate on these trains supplying anywhere from parts for mobile phones, to vegetables, to snacks.


A new-town some 30kms outside Delhi coming up along with its own flyover
A dust-track next to a upcoming settlement.
A high tension electric line criss-crosses the train line with a new town in its backdrop


Another one of the fast-paced projects
Another housing development coming up some 60kms outside Delhi
  • New-towns are springing up fast, rather too fast, sometimes without one even noticing. A lot of the people I interviewed on the train that happened to live around these new majorly housing projects had a very cynical view about them. They said that the projects are depleting their agriculture productivity by blocking the natural drainage, that allows water to reach their fields. Depleting ground water rapidly, producing wastes to the amount that were never seen before. Most of these are bought by middle class people from Delhi as second homes for investment
Warehouses among fields has become a regular feature in the landscape


A mustard field ready for the winter harvest.
A dry port 60 kms from Delhi. This sits on the
Land being tilled for the short Spring crop
A wasterland some 20kms outside Delhi that has now become a big sportsfield
Small flower nurseries are a common sight on the outskirts of Delhi.
A typical medium village settlement, complete with communal spaces and statues
Cattle farms such as these are quiet present till about 40 kms from Delhi, with the dairy produce going mostly to the city while the dung get’s utilised as biomass for the villages.
Superimposed Ecologies : Can nature, city and settlement co-exist?
A densifying village 50 kms outside Delhi. Regularised services, car-ownership and changing socio-economic profiles
A new housing block coming up in the backdrop of a traditional settlement. The settlements that loose their agriculture land to these new developments often become marginalised landless peasents
Kitchen gaderns like these were a common scene along the densely populated settlements along the rail tracks, with the residents often occupying reserve railway land for producing vegetable crops.
  • Settlements and the built landscape is transforming rapidly. With services penetrating deeper, resulting in hybridised morphologies.
Smart-phone ownership is very common among the circular migrants, with many of them using it to watch movies and TV series on the go.
  • There is a very high smart phone usage among these migrants as they use it for entertainment and also to communicate with their families via internet messaging services like Whatsapp and Facebook.





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