The Indian railways are a complex beast and it takes a while to understand its systems
and multiple differences. When you go to purchase a ticket you have multiple options
of the kind of seat you can avail of. Most long distant trains have Air condition
and Non Air condition options. But the following are the different options available
First Class (Air conditioned) (AC1 or First AC)
This has a old school train travel charm. A coupe with four beds, a lockable door
And all necessary bedding. The berths convert to seats for daytime use. AC1 is a
very comfortable way to travel, although it is found only on the most important
long-distance trains and costs about twice the price of AC2. It comes with a attendant,
who will make your beds and give you more personalized service. The windows are
slightly tinted and do hamper the view a bit, but you can see the scenery change
as . Each bed has a reading light and a power connection to charge your phones,
ipads, laptops etc. The Washrooms have western style WC, and are normally equipped
with Toilet paper.(But its always better to carry your own). They are normally very
clean well maintained.
AC 2 Tier (2 AC)
Not too different from the AC 1, the Ac 2 tier does not have a lockable door and
the additional space for luggage. But it is very peaceful way to travel across India.
It is very comfortable and the bedding (pillow, blanket and bed sheet) are provided.
The air conditioning can fluctuate and so the temperature can vary, but overall
it is a good experience. For people over the height of 6.2 ft your legs might stick
out of the sleeper. Even in the Ac 2 tier the seats can be pulled down and converted
into seats for daytime use. Each AC 2 tier also has a reading light and common power
connections for the four passengers. The washrooms have western style WC and Indian
Style , They are normally very clean but depending on how the other passengers use
them, their usability decreases.
AC 3 Tier (3 AC)
The AC 3 tier is the cheapest of the AC options, and the only discomfort is that
instead of being a 2x2 seating it is 3x2 seating. It has three tiers of bunks -
upper, middle and lower on one side and two (upper and lower) along the the other
side of the aisle. It's more crowded than AC 2-tier, and it lacks the privacy curtains
and individual berth lights found in AC2. You are still provided with bedding for
overnight trains. There are also plug points for charging, though they are unreliable
at times. The Washrooms have western style WC and Indian Style , They are normally
very clean but depending on how the other passengers use them, their usability decreases.
This is non Air condition and available in 3 tier seating format of 3x2, a replica
of the AC 3 tier. This is the way most Indians travel and every single train has
a sleeper class. Bedding is not provided, so bring along a blanket/sleeping bag
for long journeys. Sleeper class can be quite crowded (although in theory all berths
must be reserved, so it can't get overcrowded) because of locals using the sleeper
class for regular day to day travel. The sleeper class is very basic and the bathroom
hygiene can be below par. But saying this you get a great view of the countryside
compared to the AC coaches, where the windows are sealed, tinted, and sometimes
dirty. Summer journeys can get hot with the ceiling fan and breeze while the train
is in motion cooling things down. The monsoons are probably the best and worst time
to take this because as the windows have to be kept shut it can get quite stuffy,
but the views are most spectacular. Winter journeys on the other hand can be quite
cold so wrap yourself up at night and take a sleeping bag and fleece. Normally Sleeper
class is used by the more adventurous backpackers who are ready to experience India
with its masses.
Ac Chair Car (CC)
Normally shorter journey trains and certain frequently travelled business sectors
have Ac chair cars. These are similar to an airplane and have overhead space for
your luggage. They have common charging points, and normally have one charging point
for three travelers. This is fairly comfortable and can be used for a day journey.
The bathrooms are clean and basic. And have a western and Indian style
Non Ac Chair car (SS)
The Non AC chair car is a little more cramped than the AC one and does not have
power connections either. These are recommended for more daily travelers and tourists
often do not choose this class. But when tickets are hard to come by, a 2-4 hour
ride can easily be enjoyed. The bathrooms will not be perfectly hygienic and for
shorter trips we recommend you clear your bladder before starting out on the journey.
Now this is a experience only for the seasoned backpacker, who can handle crowds,
pushing shoving and enjoy being one of the masses. Wooden or padded plastic seats,
definitely not recommended for long journeys. Before the train starts you will see
a large group of Indians fighting to secure a space on this bogey, as it is the
most economical and does not require booking hassles. This scrum results in the
first few securing sitting space and the rest standing on their toes for hours.
You will be amazed as to how more and more people seem to enter that compartment
and like a harry potter film actually fit in.