Transportation in India: Getting on the Trains
Traveling by train is the best method of transportation in India and an experience in itself. From arriving at the platform, finding your train and then your carriage, delays here and there and you’ve guessed it you haven’t even started your journey. Rail journeys always provide maximum entertainment for the tourist in India. There is always someone who wants to chat with you, people who offer you their home-cooked food, plenty of interesting stops on the way and endless scenery that you would never get to enjoy if you traveled by air. The rail network is extensive and you can quite easily travel all the corners of India by train. Don’t forget that over 17 million passengers travel by Indian rail daily. There are a few tips and tricks that you ought to know before booking a ticket. These tips are based on my experiences having traveled all over India on trains. So good luck and get booking:
A reservation is required for traveling by train. Bookings for long-distance journeys open 90 days in advance. There are several ways you can book tickets but buy online is pretty easy. If you have a route planned then it is a good idea to book in advance because certain routes do get busy. The following sites allow you to purchase online with credit card:
However, no need to worry if you do not have train tickets for your next destination you can always buy tickets at train stations around India and many of the busy train lines have a tourist quota. This means that trains that are often fully booked have some seats reserved for tourists which are often available a day or two before the journey.
Large train stations such as those in Delhi, Mumbai, Agra, Jaipur, Kolkata and Varanasi all have an internal international tourist bureau where you can go to book your tickets. Often touts will stand outside the station telling you the bureau is closed. Ignore them and make your way to the desk and if you cannot find it ask someone who is an office working in the train station.
THE SEVEN CLASSES ON INDIAN TRAINS
Seven classes sound a lot but there is an option for everyone’s budget (not all the following classes can be found on every train journey). So here goes:
Air-conditioned 1st Class (1AC)
2 and 4 berth compartments with bedding, carpeting, locking doors and meals. Only found on some long-distance journeys and costs twice as much as 2AC
Air-conditioned 2 tier (2AC)
Open plan berths of 2 tiers arranged in groups of 4 and 2. Curtains separate the compartments and bedding is provided. 2AC is found on most long-distance train journeys
Air-conditioned 3 tier (3AC)
The open plan of 3 tiers arranged in groups of 6. Has less privacy and more crowded than 2AC
AC executive chair
Comfortable, reclining chairs found only on certain journeys such as the Shatabdi Express trains
Like the AC executive chair carriage but with less fancy seating. A good option when traveling in the daytime
The most popular long-distance carriage option for the Indian population. The open plan made up of 3 tiers arranged in groups of 6. There is no AC just fans and windows that open. Bedding is not provided and can get quite noisy, is basic and crowded
Unreserved 2nd class
Made up of wooden or plastic seats if you are lucky enough to grab one. Carriages are overcrowded and are not recommended for long-distance journeys.
THE HOLIDAY SEASON
When traveling over holiday seasons such as Diwali and Holi, general transportation in India can be very problematic and trains can get fully booked pretty quickly. As already mentioned there is the tourist quota but even during the holiday season, these can be sold out. So if you want to take a major train journey during festival times make sure that you have a ticket in advance.
FOOD ON TRAINS
On long-distance journeys meals (biryani and thali) are often provided. Personnel from the catering department go around the carriages at the beginning of the journey to take orders. There is no buffet carriage on Indian trains but attendants walk through the carriages during the journey selling drinks and snacks. The snacks usually consist of the Indian staple – Chai (a milky tea with spices), soft drinks, crisps, and biscuits. You can also pick up food when the train stops at stations but you never know how long it will stop for so it is always a good idea to bring snacks with you to eat throughout the journey.
Toilets are provided at the ends of each carriage, one western-style toilet, and one squat. There is usually very little difference between toilets in the AC carriages and those in sleeper class but what sets them apart is the condition that they are kept in throughout the journey. In the sleeper class, the toilets are usually very dirty by the time you arrive at your destination. Also bear in mind that the busiest times during long-distance journeys are in the mornings when there are usually queues for the toilets and washbasins. Also, don’t forget to bring toilet paper with you.
Train journeys can be a very relaxing time between sites and is often a good time to catch up on sleep. Some carriages can be noisier than others such as the sleeper class because windows are left open overnight and there are generally more people than in the AC carriages. It is worthwhile to bring earplugs or listen to music to block out noise from other passengers. However, if you are in an AC carriage the windows do not open and in 2AC and 1AC it is much quieter.
To prevent your baggage from being stolen always store your luggage as close to your seat as possible. You will need to bring with you a padlock and chain to secure your luggage throughout the journey. Under the bottom seats, there are luggage loops that you can secure your bags too. Any valuables you have on you it is recommended that you sleep with them next to you in a separate bag.
Checklist of what to bring with you on a long train journey
- Snacks and also change to buy drinks and snacks
- Hand wipes
- Washbag on hand
- Toilet paper
- Earplugs for light sleepers
- A sense of humor
So happy train traveling… Also, check out this funny clip about transportation in India
If you need any further information on train times, quickest routes, most modern trains, and booking tickets just contact us