When I was planning my trip to India I read loads of articles about the train travels in India. Some of them were good some not really… I was a bit nervous about that but now I can say one thing – train rides are amazing! And I will make this clear – no visit to India is complete without experiencing craziness in a railway stations and adventurous train rides.
I bet you have an image how trains in India look like – some people on the roof, a lot more standing wherever they find a spot, holding on the handles everywhere outside the vagon, very hot and stinky air all around… Haha I imagined that too. If you want to find out is it really true and you have to share your seat with another fifteen people read this till the end!
Some quick info about Indian Railway system:
- Indian Railway is one of the largest rail networks in the world, spreaded about 120 thousand kilometres all over the country.
- It has around 8000 stations across the country so it’s perfect for short and long distance travels.
- Longest train ride might be taken with Vivek Express which covers the route from northern Assam all the way to the southern tip of India to Kanyakumari. This train ride has 56 scheduled stops and the journey takes around 83 hours (3.5 days).
- Trains has 6 different classes with different prices that you could choose.
- Use 12Go app or official site here to book tickets.
WHERE TO BUY TICKETS
There is a few options where can you get your train tickets:
- Any railway station ticket counter.
- Official Indian Railway website.
- 12GO app.
- Other travel planning websites that I know nothing about (makemytrip.com, cleartrip.com)
Buying train tickets in a railway station ticket counter.
You have to know that this is not the easiest way to buy the train tickets. But if you go here are some tips:
- Ticket reservation opens 120 days before the journey date.
- Buy tickets as far in advance as possible. Traind do get fully-booked weeks or even months in advance.
- Be aware of touts and scammers – they might guide you to buy tickets from their friends basement which is called ‘Government travel agency’ after he tells you that ticket counter is closed due the fire or flood in the station (usual scams).
Buying tickets on official Indian Railway website (irctc.co.in)
I used this option most of the time even though I had some struggles with it I think it’s the best one (I like that you get it directly from the supplier). But sometimes I was combining it along with 12GO website/app. Some tips before using it:
- You have to create an account.
- Check available train tickets by choosing your departure and destination stations and time.
- Sometimes you can’t choose the class and you have to buy whatever is left.
- If there is nothing available the date you want to depart – you can try checking the tourist quota tickets (photo below where to find it). Tickets are more expensive but if they’re sold out on regular tickets you might be lucky to find ones special for tourists (they do reserve that on purpose).
- If you are not sure about the names of the stations (especially in a big cities) which would be better to depart from or arrive to – you can always check on 12Go website/app – you can see the stations when you enter your journey information.
- There is a limit of booking 6 journeys through calendar month, so keep that in mind if you plan to buy tickets for a series of trips.
- When buying ticket you always need to type in your passport information.
- Paying is a bit complicated. Sometimes I didn’t find option to use International Visa/Mastercard. I don’t know why was that, but sometimes it was difficult to buy tickets due to this hiccup.
Buying tickets on 12Go.asia website/app
The easiest and the quickest way to buy train tickets.
- Tickets slightly more expensive than official site, but I think that’s obvious as it’s not an official site.
- Accepts all international bank cards.
- Finds all possible ways to get from A to B all over Asia!
- Download the app, create an account and go!
There are 6 different train classes. All of them are so so different. Shortly about all of them:
First AC (1A) – most expensive class in Indian Railway. Fully AC 2 or 4 berth compartment separated with doors which can be locked from inside for privacy or security reasons. Compartments are spacious and comfortable for long distance travels. You will find pillows, sheets and blankets there and toilets are well kept!
Second AC (2A) – stands less than first class but also less expensive tickets. You will find 6 berths in each compartment, 2 berths on each side. It’s comfortable to travel and you will have enough space for yourself even on the upper berth. Pillows, sheets and blankets are provided, and also you will have curtains for more privacy. Staff is walking around with food and drinks that you can buy. Toilets are clean comparing to other classes.
Third AC (3A) – this is my most preferred class of all. Each compartment has 8 berths. Middle berths are usually bent down if it’s not night time and nobody wants to sleep. People are very kind and friendly, most of the time you will have who to talk to. It’s a bit more crowded and loud than 2AC and 1AC class. Toilets are in a good condition, pillows and blankets provided. Also you can purchase food and drinks if you want to.
Sleeper class (SL) – the sleeper class coaches are an adventure on its own. Every compartment has 8 berths but don’t be surprised if there will be more than 8 people on your trip. Sleeper class do not have an AC like other class, but there are windows that can be (and will be) opened during your trip. You should be aware that day time might get super hot inside and night time might be freezing on this type of coach. It might get very loud since there are more people travelling than it could fit. Safety is also questionable as there are no attendants around, people are walking all the time, selling some books, cards, sometimes food and drinks also. Toilets are horrible (sorry for this honesty) it’s dirty and smelly.
AC Chair Car (CC) – this is fully AC Chair Car which has 3 and 2 chair rows. You will have a seat number dedicated to you but keep in mind that somebody might be already sitting on it (some families if they have different seats sit together no matter what). You have a small table attached to the back of your front chair to have a meal or keep your stuff and some overhead space to keep your belonging. These coaches are very well kept and it’s nice to ride on it.
Second sitting (2S) – this class is the cheapest class to travel with. The seats might be reserved or not reserved for travelling on this coach which is good and easy way to buy a last minute ticket but also it makes the coach way too overcrowded. It might also be uncomfortable to travel because it’s a Non AC 3×3 rows of chairs or benches and they are pretty cramped to be honest. People do fight for the seat and you might be pushed to fit more people on it. Loads of noise, hot, uncomfortable – might not be the best option for long journey.
DO TRAINS RUN ON TIME?
Indian Railway system is very efficient, but trains do get delayed. And most of the time is not minutes, but hours! That is very common thing so don’t get panicked, frustrated or angry, it’s just the way it is, so take it as it comes. Better buy some more snacks and water in case you will get stuck on the train for longer than expected. And you can always check if your train is on time before you leave your hotel RailYatri app/website.
Quick story – I was on the train from Delhi to Agra. Distance between the cities is around 230 km and the journey supposed to be just 2 and a half hours. We boarded the train with excitement and 7 hours later we almost followed locals jumping on the rails to walk towards our destination. It was fun and no fun at the same time. So deep breath in and embrace the journey!
FOOD AND DRINK ON TRAINS
If you read the part about different train class you might find that I mentioned about the food and drinks there. Not all of the coaches are fortunate to have people who sells that but most of them do. You can buy hot meals, like curries, dal, samosas, and snacks like crisps or their local ones. Also you will see loads of men selling chai and other drinks.
Should you buy hot food and hot drinks? Honestly I don’t know. I was buying chai when I was super cold or early in the morning instead of a coffee. Also I was checking if any Indian people were buying it. I was a bit sceptic about hot food though… Use your gut feeling before buying it. Or better stick to the bottled drinks and packed snacks.
Another option is to order some food! Yes yes, there is an website railrestro.com/ where you can enter your train number, choose the station and the food will be delivered to you on board! I haven’t used it but I heard some good reviews about this thing. Let me know if you try it!
CLEANNESS AND TOILETS
This is the question that most of my female friends asked me about. And I can say that the toilets are pretty good. You do not expect it to be sparkling clean, with a nice smell of flowers and loads of toilet paper around. In sleeper class I had a very bad experience with the toilets. They were so stinky, so so so dirty, the flush wasn’t working and there was no bum spray around. But other than that it was always bearable. Take toilet paper, tissues or wet wipes with yourself, keep some hand sanitizer in a pocket and you will be fine. You don’t have to live there, visit and run.
CHARGING YOUR TECH
I think it’s quiet important thing to clear out before you go on a long distance or overnight journey. So in some trains you will find power sockets, sometimes there are a few of them in a compartment, but keep in mind that you won’t be the only one who wants to charge their phone. So to avoid this unnecessary hassle, I would recommend charging everything you need before your trip if it’s possible or taking along with you a good power bank/travel battery (or however you call it, there’s like million different names for those things now).
IS IT SAFE TO TRAVEL OVERNIGHT?
I believe everyone who travelled in India with trains has a different experience and can tell loads of stories about it (funny ones or horror). To be honest, on most of my journeys I felt safe, maybe the first one was a bit intimidating, but hey it was the first one!
I forgot to bring along with me any type of chain or that special travel luggage lock (which is actually a good idea) that would ease my mind on the road, but I managed to keep all my stuff till the end of my trip. What I did – I locked my rucksack (I always kept it covered with raincover) with padlock under the lower bunk (there is a lot of space for that), I kept my day backpack on my bunk under my head or hugging it under the blanket and my passport, travel bank card (I use Revolut which is amazing!) and some cash in a (not so) secret pouch were always attached to my body. I was always thinking positive, if someone would steal my big backpack – it’s ok, there were only clothes and toiletries and other stuff that I wouldn’t be sad about. It would be a bit harder if my day pack would be stolen (as there were tablet, books and most important – FOOD). But I believe that as long as I have my passport, a bank card and I’m healthy – I have more than enough!
Don’t get me wrong, of course during all the travels I kept an eye on my belongings, on people who are walking around and I tried to be as cautious as I can, so you should do the same as well. There are bad people all over the world and travelling on a train is no exception (no matter if it’s India or any other country).
For solo female travellers I would recommend to cover their body as much as possible as there is no need to show off and drag more attention, be smart, don’t leave valuables unattended and all will be good.
The first time might be uncomfortable in every sense of the word, but you will be ok, I promise. If you’re really scared, buy tickets for 1AC or 2AC class for more comfort, safety and privacy. I personally loved 3AC and felt very safe travelling there. I also tried sleeper class and it wasn’t the best train travel experience – one guy tried to get into my backpack (while I was standing not so far away from it), but he didn’t get a chance to take something out of it because I noticed quiet quickly and told him off. It was totally my mistake by leaving the bag unsupervised, but I learned a good lesson.
To sum up all of that story that I wrote:
- don’t worry, trains are safe to travel with.
- lock your stuff under the seat, keep your most valuable belongings next to you or on your body.
- talk with your compartment buddies, they might keep an eye on your stuff too.
- don’t leave your bag open or your valuable stuff unattended.
- if you travel solo and need to use toilet – take your daypack, wallet, camera, laptop/tablet and phone with you!
I actually could write much more about travelling with trains in India, but I will stop here. I think I touched all the important aspects of this part of your Indian experience and I hope it will be helpful on your journey. Especially for the first time travellers.
The last things that I would like to mention:
- train tickets can be bought in a train station or online (official website or 12Go.asia).
- delays are very likely to happen on your journey, so try to be flexible with that.
- toilet paper or wet wipes are a good thing to have on train journey.
- railway stations are a nest for pickpockets everywhere in the world, so keep your stuff close to you.
- when you arrive in your destination station you will be greeted by hundreds of touts offering cheap rides, but you should keep on going while you reach the main street or even further to catch yourself a ride. Or you can you Uber/Ola apps for that.
- train travels are safe and it’s very easy to travel from one city to another.
If you have any questions or need an advice comment below, send me an email or find me on instagram, I would be very happy to help!
See you on the road!