Nothing like it: Traveling India by Train

Last updated: August 20th, 2014 | in Beyond Thailand

India by Train 1There are train journeys, and there are train journeys in India. Besides all the impressive places and great things I have done in India, traveling around from city to city on India’s famous railway system has been a memorable experience in itself. The train is by far the best mean of transport to get around in India, especially on long distance journeys. During my travels through the subcontinent, I have done four different train journeys, all of them happened to be night trains:

  • Mumbai – Jaipur (18 hours)
  • Jaipur – Jaisalmer (11.5 hours)
  • Jaisalmer – New Delhi (17.5 hours)
  • Agra – Varanasi (8.5 hours)

Not included in these times are the delays – non of the trains I took in India arrived in time. It wasn’t that bad though, maybe half an hour delay is the average if you take a train that takes say 10 hours. The biggest delay I had on my trip from Jaisalmer to Delhi, where the train just stopped in the suburbs of Delhi for around 1.5 hours. No one made an announcement what happened or how long the break would last. After half an hour or so, many Indian passengers just jumped out of the train and walked off in all different directions. I just kept waiting and eventually the train continued its journey to the New Delhi Railway Station.

 India by Train 6  India by Train 3

This is a typical situation while traveling in Asia in general and India in particular: Sometimes you are stuck somewhere and no one can tell you what is the problem and when the journey continues. Normally it’s just a matter of time though and you need to be patient – you don’t have another choice anyway except leaving the train and look for some bus that takes you to your destination – which is likely to take much more time than waiting for the train to continue its journey.

If you have not been traveling in India before, here are some tips I have for planing your trip:

How to book Indian Train Tickets?

There are two ways to buy train tickets: You can either buy them online or just by showing up at the train station, hoping there are still tickets available for the date and class you are requesting for. Note that train tickets in India are sold out week in advance, especially for the higher classes. That’s why I booked most of my tickets online. To do so, go on the official website of Indian Railway. In order to register and buy tickets you will need to provide a Indian phone number. If you don’t have one, you will need to ask an Indian friend provide one (if you have one) or just come up with some number. The only time I tried to buy a ticket right at the train station was in Agra (traveling to Varanasi by night train) and the tickets for the air conditioned sleeper cars (that most tourists normally take) were already sold out. So I had to take the 3rd class cabin with fan only and no foreigners except of me. Still quite an experience as you can see in the pictures below.

 India by Train 4  India by Train 5

 Why is the train the best mean of transport in India?

The train is simply the most reliable and usually also the quickest way get to get from city to another in India, especially on long distance trips like Mumbai to Jaipur or Delhi to Jaisalmer. Even though there are often delays involved with train traveling – it is not different when taking a bus. And it’s just a must do on every travel through India to take the train at least once, experiencing the bustle of Indian railways stations and the tea sellers’ welcome cry “Chai, chai, garam chai” while walking down the aisles. You will also meet a lot of different people on your journey, especially (but not only) if you are traveling by yourself and share a cabin with three other people.

What are the different kind of classes of train travel in India?

Believe it or not, but there are 8 different classes of train travel in India:

  • Air-conditioned first class (AC1): spacious and carpeted 4-berth and 2-berth compartments with washbasin. Berth can be converted to seats during the day (like all berths in Indian trains). Bedding: included
  • Air-conditioned 2-tier (AC2): same as AC1, but not divided into separate compartments. I used this class on most of my train journeys and found it the best value option of all the available classes. Bedding: included.
  • Air-conditioned 3-tier (AC3): very similar to AC2, but this class has three tiers of bunks: upper, middle and lower. Bedding: included
  • First class: Non-air-conditioned coaches with 4-berth and 2-berth compartments. Bedding: not included
  • AC Executive chair class: Only available in the “Satabdi Express” trains, i.e. from Delhi to Agra. And only available to holders of an AC1  IndRail pass. Bedding: included
  • AC Chair class: Comfortable and air-conditioned seating coaches; that’s a great choice for day time travel. Bedding: not included
  • Sleeper class: Most Indian’s use this class, especially for long-distance overnight trips. The cars consist of open plan berths with upper, middle and lower bunks. I took this class on my trip from Agra to Varanasi as berths in the upper classes were already sold out. Bedding: not included
  • Unreserved 2nd class: Open plan coaches with padded plastic or wooden seats. Bedding: not included
 India by Train 7  India by Train 2

Is train travel in India safe?

It’s quite hard to answer this question with yes or no, but I would say traveling in India by train is relatively safe. Everyone always seems to be scared to take a train in India, especially when traveling alone and especially when traveling overnight. I took four different night trains and I never had any incidents, I haven’t heard of other travelers talking about incidents and I wasn’t even too concerned. Of course make sure you put your valuables in a handbag that is close to your body, instead of leaving it in your suitcase or backpack. There are also curtains for each berth (NOT in the sleeper class) that give you more privacy and safety.

Have you ever been traveling India by train – how was your experience? Or if you are planning so, do you have any another questions regarding train travel in India?

About Stefan


Stefan lives his dream by living and traveling in Thailand. On Thailand Redcat he shares his experiences and advice to all aspects of (night)life in Thailand. Stefan is also fluent in Thai both spoken and written and is author of the books Thai Beginner’s Course and Thai Love Course.

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