Train travel in India
Different classes of Train travel in India
The Indian railway system is complex and demanding, It takes a while to understand its procedures. When you go to purchase a ticket you have several options like type of seat (Chair car, sleeper etc), Coach (2AC, 3AC) , air-conditioned or non air-conditioned. The procedure for booking is also complicated with confirmed seats, wait lists and other categories to maneuver through. As a India Someday client, your only hassle with train travel in India is knowing the different classes available. The rest, you can leave to us.
First Class, Air-conditioned (AC1 or First AC)
This is a coupe with four or two beds, a lockable door and attendant. AC1 is a very comfortable way to travel. The berths convert to seats for daytime use. It is found only on the most important long-distance trains and costs about twice the price of AC2. The attendant will help make your beds and give you a more personalized service.
The windows are slightly tinted and do hamper the view a bit, but you can see the scenery change as it wooshes by. Each bed has a reading light and a power connection to charge your electronic devices. The washrooms have a western style WC, and are normally equipped with toilet paper (but it’s always better to carry your own, just in case). They are usually very clean and well maintained.
AC 2 Tier (2 AC)
2AC is not too different from the AC 1.It does not have a lockable door and the additional space for luggage. It is very comfortable and the bedding (pillow, blanket and bed sheet) is provided. The air conditioning can fluctuate and so the temperature may vary, but overall it’s a great experience. For people over the height of 6.2ft your legs might stick out of the berth. Even in the AC 2 tier, the berths 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 all four passengers. The washrooms have Western and Indian style toilets, 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. The only discomfort is that instead of being a 2×2 seating it is 3×2 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, and to be shared with the other passengers. The washrooms have Western and Indian style toilets, and just like with the 2 Tier, are as clean as the other passengers that use them. This is a great way to meet locals and ones that would speak considerable English.
This is non air-conditioned and available in 3 tier seating format of 3×2, a replica of the AC 3 tier. This is the way most Indians travel and every single train has multiple sleeper class compartments. 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 are strictly for reserved ticket holders, 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, but with the ceiling fan and breeze while the train is in motion things tend to cool 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 the 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. It’s always a chance for adventures with fellow passengers being incredibly friendly and wanting to share stories to lighten the long journey.
A/C Chair Car (CC)
Normally trains making shorter journey and certain frequently travelled business sectors have A/C chair cars. These have a similar layout 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, with Western and Indian style toilets.
Non-A/C Chair car (SS)
The Non-A/C chair car is a little more cramped than the A/C 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 an experience only for the seasoned backpacker, who can handle crowds, pushing, shoving and being one among the masses. this form of train travel in india has only seating with 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 any 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 in a Harry Potter scene, actually fit in.
Of course, the ideal thing to do would just be to pick out all the destinations you want to visit, and send us a list of your train class preferences. You don’t worry about the tickets, that’s our job!
Expectations of Train Travel in India
We cannot tell you enough about the Indian railways, it is a big vast confusing system. But we have tried to tell you a few simple facts to set your expectations and understanding for the Indian train ride
Indian railways transports close to 18 million people daily. So while travelling by train you have to book your tickets as early as possible. Else chances of getting reserved seats is hard. You are allowed to book tickets only 60 days before your date of travel. Or in some trains just 30 days prior. Basically unless you are backpacking and have lots of time on your hands to wait to get a confirmed ticket, booking well in advance is the best option.
Booking in First Class travel
There is only One First class compartment in each train. That is approximately 24-32 seats. So it is very hard to get a reservation in this compartment. But you need not worry because the other Air Conditioned coaches, 2 tier/3 tier are very nice and comfortable as well.
For the undecided foreign traveller, you can purchase a few tickets under a special quota (reserved for foreigners or international passport holders). You can do this only once you reach in India. This does not guarantee you your ticket just helps you improve your chances. In season (October to March) even these reserved seats get sold out within a blink of a eye.
Long distance trains
If you were to check say a trip from Mumbai to Delhi there will be lots of train options but you should choose trains that start in Mumbai and end in Delhi. If a train is coming from Cochin and just halting in Mumbai taking that train is risky as the probability of it being delayed is high. We ourselves have waited for nearly 6-10 hours at railway stations because of delayed trains. For some of our best train routes you can see the following blog
Food on Trains
Carry your own food during your trips unless you are open to eating a little questionable food at railway stations or from the train pantry. The food here is delicious at times 😛 but we would not advice eating too much of it if you do not have a well trained stomach. So carry some sandwiches, chips, biscuits to keep you full during your train ride. If you have to eat a meal on the train try and get something freshly made at the station (Don’t miss your train if it starts moving, and tooting its horn).
The loos in the train can get a little dirty after continuous use from other patrons. Carry toilet paper, soap and maybe a can of deo to spray in their before using it. The Ac compartments mostly have western toilets and are not very dirty but still better to be prepared always.