Train travel in India
The Indian railway system is very 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 manoeuver 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.
What different train classes exist in Indian trains and which one suit your needs?
AC First Class (1 AC)
This is a coupe with four or two beds, a lockable door and attendant. 1 AC 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 2 AC. The attendant will help make your beds and give you a more personalised service.
The windows are slightly tinted and do hamper the view a bit, but you can see the scenery change as it whooshes 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)
2 AC is not too different from the 1 AC.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 and it can get very cold, but overall it’s a great experience. For people over the height of 6.2 ft 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 air-conditioned 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 in the 2 AC, might turn less clean after many passengers used it along the trip. This is a great way to meet locals who speak considerable good English and to travel authentically.
This is non-air-conditioned and available in 3 tier seating style 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 locals use it for regular day to day travel.
The sleeper class is very basic and the bathroom hygiene can be below par. There might be or might be not plug points for charging. 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, songs and food to lighten the long journey.
AC Chair Car (CC)
Normally trains making shorter journeys and certain frequently travelled business sectors have AC 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 travellers. 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-AC Chair car (SS)
The Non-AC chair car is a little more cramped than the AC one and does not have any power connections. These are recommended for daily travellers and tourists often do not choose this class. But when tickets are hard to get, a 2-4 hour ride can easily be enjoyed in this coach. 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 to let us know whether you prefer the most comfortable but pricier or the cheapest but more authentic train travel. However, even the most expensive train classes are relatively cheap considering how far and long you will travel. But you don’t worry about the tickets, that’s our job!
What can you expect 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 train travels in India.
Indian railways transport close to 18 million people daily. So when travelling by train you have to book your tickets as early as possible. Else chances of getting reserved seats can be hard. You are allowed to book tickets only 120 days before your date of travel. Or in some trains even just 30 days prior. Unless you are backpacking and have lots of time on your hands to wait to get a confirmed ticket, booking well in advance is required.
Booking in First Class travel
Not every long distance train has a first class but if they do, there is only one 1 AC compartment in each train. That is approximately 24-32 seats. So it is very hard to get a reservation in this compartment. But you don’t need to worry because the other air-conditioned coaches, 2 AC & 3 AC are very nice and comfortable as well.
For the undecided foreign traveller, you can purchase a few tickets under a special quota which are reserved for foreign visa holders (not if you are registered in India). You can do this only once you reach in India at certain train stations and we are not able to book them for you. In season (October to March) even these reserved seats get sold out within a blink of a eye so you can’t expect to get one of those tickets last minute either.
Long distance trains
For example between Mumbai and 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, the probability of it being delayed is very 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 but 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 deodorant to spray in there before using it. The AC compartments mostly have western toilets and are not very dirty but still better to be prepared always, especially on long train journeys.
Now if you can’t wait to board the trains of India and travel across the country in a comfortable and authentic way, get in touch and plan your trip with us.