Traveling India by Train
One cannot fully experience India without riding the world’s largest railway system in India. It is an experience like no other! Having recently returned from a 7 week journey and taking the train on a number of occasions, I thought I would pass on a few India Train Travel Tips to help make your train adventure a little easier and more enjoyable.
New Delhi Train Station
Our first experience riding the rails in India was departing from the New Delhi train station, making an overnight journey to Varanasi on the;
Swatantrta S Exp 12562 New Delhi → Varanasi 20:35 — 08:30
Words simply cannot describe what you will experience at this train station. It’s literally like being caught in a stampede of cattle! Imagine being stuck in a crowded elevator with no – where to escape, it is that busy!
Check out my short 20 second video that my son captured while we were trying to make our way onto the train! 🙂
Tips for Travel on Indian Railways
Tip # 1 – Trains Are Frequently Delayed
Trains in India a notoriously late, so bring your patience along with you and be prepared to wait for hours at times. For example our train from Delhi to Varanasi left the station 3 hours late, but trains stop on the tracks frequently waiting for other trains. Our total train ride arrived 7 hours late into Varanasi! Instead of arriving at 08:30 in the morning, we didn’t get arrive until 3:30 in the afternoon which wasted almost the entire next day. 🙁
Tip # 2 – Confirm Your Train with the Station Master
Don’t expect your train to be displayed on the boards at the train stations. On a few occasions our train was not listed at all when we arrived for departure. As well, in smaller cities, the boards aren’t always showing English as well. At one train station, we asked 2 attendants for information about our train departure platform number and both gave us a different answer.
I finally walked back to the main station which was quite a distance from the platform we were on, to find the Station Managers Office. When I got there, he looked at my reservation and said your train is arriving in 5 minutes on a completely different platform.
The moral of the story is when in doubt, go to the train masters office and ask!
Tip # 3 – Don’t Get Scammed by Food Train Vendors
Beware of non – railway employees coming on the trains at various stops selling food. On our first trip from Delhi to Varanasi and without having any train experience, at about 6 am at a stop, a fellow who I presumed was a train employee came around with breakfast. It was still dark, people were still sleeping and I simply gave him a large bill assuming this was breakfast being served in the morning.
The fellow took my money, looked at me, gave me (white tourist) and gave me a small amount of change. As it turned out, he ripped me off big time! A lesson well learned for the future.
Always ask how much first before you hand over your rupees, or at very least, hand over a small amount of money and make them tell you it’s not enough. Actual train food is very cheap and real train employees come around regularly taking your order or with food items for sale. On one trip, we were lucky enough to be on a train with an actual kitchen and the food was excellent!
Tip # 4 – India Train Reservations
Making advance train reservations are a must to avoid disappointment and to save time and added stress. Without going into great detail, I have listed a valuable website below showing everything there is to know about train travel in India. From step by step guides on how to register with India Railways in order to reserve train tickets in advance, the different classes of service and so much more.
I even emailed the author a few times and he was always very helpful and quick to respond. I have listed the link to his website below for your convenience.
For the most detailed and helpful information on train travel in India and many other destinations, be sure to visit the official website for the Man in Seat Sixty-One. I used this website extensively prior to our travels to India.
We made all our train reservations using Cleartrip.com and even booked a domestic airline flight with them as well. They are very reputable, easy to use and even have a downloadable app for your device.
You must be first set up your account with IRCTC before you can register with Cleartrip. It’s not a difficult process just follow the instructions on the Seat61 website.
“Reservations for most long distance trains open 120 days before departure.”
Tip # 5 – India Train Classes of Service
AC Executive Chair Class
From what I learned, there are 8 different Classes of rail car service to choose from. Depending on the train and its destination, you may have a choice of 1st Class all the way down to 2nd Class which are open plan cars with wooden or padded plastic seats. On all our journeys, this class is jammed packed with people and certainly not one that I would recommend for a tourist traveler.
It was recommended to us by many seasoned travelers to book either 2AC or 3AC class, especially for longer trips. These are air conditioned cars with either 2 sleeping bunk levels or 3 sleeping bunk levels. They are very comfortable and well worth the little extra they may cost. Attendants will bring clean sheets, blankets and a pillow for each passenger.
At night it can be quite cold from the air conditioning, so be sure to dress accordingly!
We did make one 5 hour trip in AC Executive Chair Class which was very comfortable and included meals, non-alcoholic drinks (chia tea and water) and snacks!
Tip # 6 – Train Travel Extras
I highly recommend bringing along snacks and something to drink with you. We were actually on one train for several hours where our car was closed off from the rest of the cars. There were no attendants available to come by with food or beverages for the entire journey.
Take some food and beverages with you on every trip just in case!
A couple of other things worth mentioning are the toilets and keeping your valuables safe. Bring toilet paper with you, not just on train trips but I suggest carrying some with you wherever you go in India. Believe me it TP was great to have many times when out and about. Some trains had western toilets and others did not, depending on the age of the train, so be prepared to squat! 🙂
Depending on the class of service you choose, it was strongly recommended to bring along a cable lock for your backpack or luggage. This was never a problem for us in selected classes but we did lock our packs to the under our seats just to be safe.
Don’t ever leave your valuables unguarded at any time on or off trains!
There you have it, just a few tips on taking the train in India. It was an experience to say the least. A few trips were quite enjoyable others were very frustrating due to the many delays. Try to take the train at least once for the experience. We met a number of very friendly locals on the train who passed on some excellent travel tips as well.
Safe travels and All Aboard!
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Depending on your destination, distance to travel and so on, check out the airlines and taxi fares as well. I took an air conditioned cab from Kochi to Coimbatore in southern India which was at least 5 hours for under $30usd, very cheap! Domestic flights with the major airlines throughout India are also very inexpensive. We took 3 flights to different parts of India saving an incredible amount of valuable time!
Train travel in India like any form of travel, does come with risks associated. There have been some recent and devastating train crashes resulting in serious injury and death most recently, one serious crash while we were traveling in India and another in early 2017. The Prime Minister has announced that the declining rail system will be upgraded which is long overdue in the Country.
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