Every morning, people from various villages – most of them from Adivasi and Dalit communities – come to Manikpur railway junction in Chitrakoot district of Uttar Pradesh. They come by shared jeeps and auto-rickshaws, or by bicycles, from villages in a 100-kilometre radius. Carrying hundreds of bundles of firewood – each weighing between 20 and 50 kilos – from the Patha forests on border of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

Selling these in nearby markets is a stable source of income for the families. Though laws related to the preservation of trees debar tree-cutting, the local communities who depend on selling firewood have little or no productive land. Their only other regular source of income is daily wages at construction sites in nearby towns.

They take the bundles of wood – mainly of the tendu and palash tree –by passenger trains from Manikpur, from  Karwi (around 30 kilometres from Manikpur), or from Shankargarh, around 80 kilometres away, to various towns along the train route to Allahabad.

At the end of the day, they earn between Rs. 150-300, depending on the dryness and quality of the firewood, and the season's demand for fuel.

Cutting wood, which will later be taken to the Manikpur railway station and then to markets in towns along the train route
PHOTO • Akshay Gupta

Cutting wood, which will later be taken to the Manikpur railway junction and other stations, and then to markets in various towns along the train route

Women crossing the sluice gate of a dam, carrying their daily load of firewood
PHOTO • Akshay Gupta

Women crossing the sluice gate of a dam, carrying their daily load of firewood

Crossing a tributary of the Mandakini river after collecting wood from the nearby forest
PHOTO • Akshay Gupta

Crossing a tributary of the Mandakini river after collecting wood from the nearby forest    

Carrying the firewood across rivers, roads and railways
PHOTO • Akshay Gupta

Carrying the heavy loads of firewood across rivers, roads and railways    

Waiting to load the firewood on the train at Shankargarh station
PHOTO • Akshay Gupta

Waiting to load the firewood on the train at Shankargarh station    

Waiting for the train to reach the town of Chitrakoot Dham (Karwi) to sell the logs
PHOTO • Akshay Gupta

The train approaches the town of Chitrakoot Dham (Karwi), where some will get off to sell the logs

A woman unloads the firewood as the train stops at Jasra
PHOTO • Akshay Gupta

Unloading the huge bundles one by one when the train stops at Jasra    

Tired,  returning from the daily chaos of survival. Selling firewood barely brings Rs. 100-300 a day, depending on weather conditions, market demand, and the quality of wood
PHOTO • Akshay Gupta

Exhausted, returning from the daily chaos of survival. Selling firewood barely brings Rs. 100-300 a day, depending on quality, weather and demand

No names have been used in this story because the firewood-sellers didn’t want to be named.

Akshay Gupta

Akshay Gupta is a freelance photojournalist from Chitrakoot Dham (Karwi), now based in Delhi.

Other stories by Akshay Gupta