How to Travel by Train in India? | Best railway tour guide 2021

How to Travel by Train in India: Train travel in India can be an exciting and fascinating experience, or it can be frustrating, hot and slow. But it is always memorable.

How to Travel by Train in India 2021

Travelling by train in India is also incredibly cheap. Fares are calculated based on distance and if you travel in the cheaper classes, you can get through half of South India for the price of a coffee in your local Starbucks.

Planning India Train Travel | Tour by train in india

Tickets are booked out days or sometimes weeks in advance, especially for long-distance overnight trains, so book your train tickets as early as you can. If you have to travel and don’t have a reservation, try the foreign tourist reservation offices you can find at most of the biggest railway stations including New Delhi, Agra, Varanasi, Chennai and Mumbai. Some trains (but not all) have a special quota for foreign tourists and you can sometimes get a ticket to an otherwise fully booked train.

tour by train in india, how to travel by train in India,
Indian railways

Another last-minute option is the Tatkal quota; to be honest I’m not quite sure how it works but it involves getting last minute tickets for a slightly higher price. I have managed to get a seat reservation to a fully booked train for the same day with the help of a friendly lady who booked me in using the Tatkal system, so do ask about the quota.

How to Book Train Tickets in India?

The reservation system is computerized, but you’ll still need to fill in a form to book your tickets. You’ll have to fill in the train’s name and its number, and details of all passengers. The Indian Railways website can be used to find timetables, fares and seat availability, but it gets confusing if you don’t know the name or number of the train; if you’re planning on doing a lot of train travel, buy the book Trains at a Glance (available from railway stations and some bookshops) that lists all the main trains in India. Train stations often have information offices with English-speaking staff.

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Railway station ticket counters can be orderly and organized, or they can be mosh pits and require some serious elbowing if you want to get a ticket. There is sometimes a special counter for women, senior citizens and “freedom fighters”. If there is a ladies’ queue, it can mean a counter that only serves ladies (although men will still try to squeeze in) or it may mean a counter where a woman can walk right up to the front of the queue and get served before men. The foreign tourist offices reserve tickets for tourists but you’ll need to bring your passport.

Different India Train Classes

There are several classes in Indian trains and you’ll need to know what you want when making a reservation.

  • 1st class air-conditioned (AC1) has cabins with 2 or 4 berths and is the most comfortable way to travel, but tickets can sometimes cost nearly as much as a flight.
  • 2-tier A/C (AC2) has air-conditioned compartments that have four berths each (an upper and lower bed on both sides of the compartment) and also two berths on the aisle. The compartment doesn’t have a door but it has a curtain for privacy.
  • 3-tier A/C (AC3) is similar to 2-tier A/C but has three berths on both sides (upper, middle and lower) and two beds along the aisle. In the A/C classes bedding is provided.
  • Sleeper Class is an incredibly cheap way to travel. The carriages are divided into sections that have six bunks each; upper, middle and lower on both sides, and also two bunks along the aisle. During the day the middle bunk is folded up against the wall and the lower bunk is used as a seat: if you’re smart you’ll book the upper berth so you can lie down whenever you wish. There are no curtains, no bedding is provided, air-conditioning is replaced by fans (which may or may not function) and although reservations are required for the berths, somehow you always end up having six people squeezed in a space meant for three. The sleeper class is noisy, crowded and mad; but if you need to save money, it is the way to go.
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If you travel short distances on a day train, you may come across the air-conditioned chair car (CC). Unreserved 2nd class is ok for short day journeys if you can’t get a reservation, and if you don’t mind seriously overcrowded carriages. Unreserved tickets are usually available from the train station up to the train’s departure time.

Understanding Your Ticket

The ticket will show the train’s name and number, your travelling date, the name of the station you’ll depart from and the name of your arrival station, the class you’ll be travelling in, the number of the carriage and your seat number. It might also say “RAC” or “WL”.

RAC means Reservation Against Cancellation: if the beds are fully booked, you will be sold an RAC ticket. If another passenger cancels a reservation (which does happen) you can get a confirmed berth in the train. With an RAC ticket you can board the train even without confirmed reservation: you will be given a seat, and if one of the passengers with reservation does not turn up, one of the RAC passengers will get that space. The Travelling Ticket Examiner (TTE) is the person to contact if you have an RAC ticket. WL means Waitlisted: once all the RAC places are full, you’ll be placed on a waiting list. 

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The Seat61 website has some excellent and very detailed information to help you understand the terminology. There’s also lots of pictures from the different classes in Indian trains. You can always save yourself the hassle of booking tickets by using a travel agent. However, many travel agents apply hefty charges on top of the ticket charge, and you might want to double check the ticket details to make sure you actually have got a reserved seat for the train.

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