India Train Travel Backpacker’s Guide

India train travel. This guide is based on my experience in traveling a couple of thousand kilometres, mostly in Northern India. A good forum discussing just about all possible topics on India travel is India Mike. You can also get good up to date information on train travel anywhere in the world at seat61

india train travel
Getting on a train in Kolkata.

PRICES

Below I compare the prices of the same journey, Mumbai to Delhi on 18 July 2016 for each class found with the cleartrip website.

1384km Mumbai to Delhi

AC Tier 2 – Rs. 2,241      $33.41

AC Tier 3 – Rs. 1,556      $23.20

Sleeper –     Rs. 588        $8.77

A family sharing their food with me in AC third class cart. India train travel.
A family sharing their food with me in AC third class cart. India train travel.

AC TIER SECOND CLASS TICKETS

From friends and blogs I heard that AC second class is the way to go for safe and comfortable train travel in India. I found second and third class to be exactly the same, just 2 more beds in third class and the price off course.

AC TIER THIRD CLASS TICKETS

 I did one trip AC Third class. The trip on third class AC was nice and comfortable, but much more expensive than sleeper class. These tickets were also difficult to book last minute. I still had many long train rides ahead.

SLEEPER CLASS

My next down grade was to sleeper class and this was how I traveled most of the way. My longest trip was 35 hours, I never had any problems.

india train travel
Campbell reading in sleeper class. I spent many days in that exact position. India train travel.

The biggest difference for me was electricity in AC carts you have an outlet to plug your laptop or whatever into close to your bed. This is great for 2 day train rides to watch movies, in Sleeper no such luxury

Since there is no AC it gets hot in the day and cold at night, this was not a problem since I opened the window during the day and had a blanket for night times.

india train travel
Alya catching some sleep on her first night in India. It was very funny, it was quite dirty and she was sleeping with a cap on because she was worried something might climb into her hair. India train travel

The worst about sleeper is all the traffic through the carts, people keep on getting on and off and anybody can just walk through these carts, thus always noisy with 100’s of vendors walking through and people hitching free rides, jumping on, so keep an eye on your stuff! I have a bicycle lock in my backpack and locked my backpack to the bedpost.

There is a lot of food and chai tea to buy on the train. I drank liters of the stuff, just be careful with food for stomach problems – the toilets are not pretty! Usually I bought food from my favorite street vendor and took it with me on the train.

india train travel
Sometimes there are rubbish bags in the carts. When they are full one of the staff empties it out of the train to re-use the bag!

BUYING TICKETS

Tickets can either be bought directly on the Indian Rail website,  or you can use a very handy website/smartphone app called clear trip , which is a free app on the i-store.

For instructions how to register on the indian rail website and to do so without an indian mobile nr go to travelindiasmart . If you buy tickets with  relatively short notice (a couple of days) you will probably be wait listed, my wait list number was 18 and I was assured by blogs and friends with a 18 wait list number and 5 days my odds to get on the train is excellent. I kept checking the Indian rail website and 2 hours before departure I was  nr.1 on the list, I was as good as on so I left with a tuc tuc for the train station. You should check for your name on papers posted on the train or just ask at the ticket booth, unfortunately I was not confirmed, thus no seat and decided to take a night bus.

india train travel
Before getting on the train you should confirm that your name is on the passenger list. The list is placed on the cart shortly before departure, you can check if you are on the list on the internet using cleartrip.

TATKAL (MY PREFERED WAY)

Another option is Tatkal tickets, these tickets are emergency tickets set aside for booking journeys at very short notice. Tatkal tickets can only be bought directly at the departing train station and only on the day of departure. 10 AM the morning of departure is the booking starting time for AC seats and 11 AM for SLEEPER seats.

After trying all options I found this to be the easiest.

You can buy sleeper or AC tickets Tatkal. Sleeper tickets were always available when I went to buy, but you have to be early for AC Tier tatkal tickets for popular routes. Sometimes there is already a long line at the ticket office at 10am, so come early.

 Tatkal tickets are about 10% more expensive than normal tickets.

travel india by train
Typical train station in India. You can see the class of the cart written in white.

Check first at the normal booth if there are normal tickets available (not to pay 10% more) before going to the train ticket office for foreigners, if no normal tickets just ask where to buy tatkal, some cities have an office only for foreigner ticket sales where you can buy Tatkal tickets.

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