As a kid, I have always been fascinated and excited about train journeys. So, when one of my blog friends, Dan Antion, who is equally passionate about trains mentioned about writing on trains for the National Train Day in the United States, I couldn’t say no. I was pretty excited to write about trains and railways in India after all, India moves on railways. Now, I’m sure many Indians must have had the experience of train travel and understand the do’s and don’ts, so this article is more related to those who are not much aware of the Indian Railways and how one can enjoy train journeys in India.
To make it simpler, let’s break the entire experience into three major parts:
Every journey starts with a plan. We decide where we want to go and when we want to go. So, the only question now remains is – how. Let’s say, we decide to pick Indian Railways and we are traveling from Mumbai to New Delhi. So, how do we get started? Number One – you can go the nearest railway station and check out the list of trains that run from Mumbai to New Delhi. Or you can check the list online. I believe the second option is more convenient, isn’t it?
In the above image, you see a list of trains that can take you from Mumbai to New Delhi.
To do so, visit IndiaRailInfo.com, you can type in the name of the cities and get complete information on the list of trains. You can narrow down your search, when you click on the train you’re interested in, you get further details including train timetable, route map and live status, seat availability, fare chart, and arrival and departure history. It also shows which stations train will halt and for how many minutes, so basically you have every possible detail of the train you want to travel in. I believe this allows you to take an informed decision.
Tip: Narrow down your search to 2-3 trains priority-wise. If the seats in the first train are unavailable on your travel dates, look for the second best option. If possible, pick weekdays for travel, as most people travel long distances on weekends.
Once we have singled out the train, it’s time to book the seats. Individuals can book or reserve seats 120 days in advance. So, basically, if you are good at planning, you can book your Christmas holiday tickets by June and put your feet up and relax. Now, there are multiple ways to book your tickets:
- Online Travel Websites (MakeMyTrip.com, ClearTrip.com, etc)
- Online Indian Railways Website (irctc.co.in)
- Offline Travel Agents
- Reservation Booking Office
If you’re good at handling things online, you can certainly try the first two options, but if you’re old, or if you don’t have enough time you can hire travel agents and they can book the tickets on your behalf, of course, do keep in mind their commission. I personally, go for the fourth option because I don’t want to take any chances and plus I plan well in advance.
Booking tickets at the reservation booking office is a bit tedious, but I prefer it that way for a reason. I usually pick a day when I am free. I already told you I plan my travel in advance. So, I go to the nearest railway station, walk into the booking office. Fill up reservation form which includes the details of the train, number of people traveling along with their name and age, my travel dates and the class I want to travel (I’ll come to that shortly) and my signature. Let me inform my readers when you want a round-trip ticket (in India we call it a return ticket), you’ll need to fill up another form for your return journey. Now, I submit two forms at the window and I have my tickets. The hardest part about booking tickets personally is that you might have to stand in the queue for 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 40 minutes, sometimes even an hour. The most convenient part about this is you have your ticket – In Your Hands.
Tip – Never go early morning to book your tickets. Most people visit booking offices early morning so the queue is longer. Pick a weekday afternoon time when people are busy with their work or eating meals. Also, you can book your tickets from any train station, so avoid booking offices at major railway stations where a lot of people board trains and book tickets.This way you don’t have to worry about long queues.
Now, above I mentioned about the class you want to travel. All long distance trains in India have multiple class options (just like in flights) so you can choose how you want to travel and how much money you want to spend on travel. Understanding the class code will allow you to travel with comfort and convenience and without stretching your budget.
In the above chart, you can get a rough idea of the facilities you get depending on the class you travel. AC First Class charges are almost on par with flight tickets but offers great comfort. I would like to add that food is available for all classes. In the first three classes, the food is included in the ticket price while for the remaining four classes passengers need to pay on order.
This is a rough train seat chart for your reference.
If you don’t get the tickets for your preferred train, you can look for an alternate train on another day, or book a Tatkal ticket (emergency ticket), or get a RAC (Reservation Against Cancellation) waitlist ticket where you still have a chance to get seats, when there are last moment cancellations.
Note: On an average, 50 to 100 passengers cancel their tickets, so if your waitlist number is not high, you still have chances to get a confirmed seat.
Trains are usually on time, but certain events like bad weather and unexpected train mishaps can delay your travel plans. So, always be on time at the station to board the train. Another reason why you must arrive on time is because it might take some time to find your coach. Most long distance trains have 20 to 24 coaches, and different coaches are assigned to different classes, so there are few 1AC, 2AC, 3AC, CC, and SS coaches. Each coach is approximately 23.54 meters long (77.23 feet) which means the train is approximately 470 meters long (1,544 feet).
If you’re early you can also take some time out to visit the book stalls that sell magazines, novels, newspapers and puzzle books which can help you spend some time while traveling.
Once you have found your coach, you can take a look at the passenger list pasted right next to the coach door – you can double-check if the list has your name. Look for your seat number and you’re ready to go. The ticket checker usually visits to check tickets after the train is in motion.
Tip: Just in case, if you’re late, don’t waste time looking for your coach. All coaches are connected internally, so just hop on the train first and then find your coach/seat.
If you’re in a personal coupe, there’s nothing to worry, but if you’re along with fellow passengers make sure you take care of your belongings. Put a padlock to secure the zippers for added protection. Always keep a waist pouch wherein you can carry your money, credit cards, passport, train tickets and identity documents. However, don’t be overly worried about security. There are many horror stories that you might hear about Indian Railways travel, but train travel in India is not as horrific as it might seem. Fellow passengers are generally helpful, accommodative and supportive. People might also want to have a small talk and share snacks and meals and that helps to pass some time as the train chugs through the heartland of the country.
If you’re in a non-AC compartment, you will find hawkers selling water, meals, fresh fruits, snacks and even accessories. If you’re skeptical to buy from them, you can look around for the railway canteen employees who take your meal order and get you meals straight from the railway kitchen (all long distances trains have one dedicated coach converted into a kitchen). If you have special dietary requirements, you may carry your own food.
Always carry some music along if you are a music lover, or you can turn on your laptop and do some creative and business work. You may also want to click some pictures of the landscape as you travel, so keep your camera ready for some photography action.
Bathrooms are busier during morning hours, so if cleanliness is your major concern, get in before other passengers wake up. I would also recommend carrying anti-bacterial hand wipes and toilet paper. You’ll find them handy when traveling in India. You may also want to carry your medicines for emergencies.
Traveling by train in India is more than a journey. It gives you a unique window to peek into the lives of Indian families as they travel alongside on your journey. It might seem chaotic, baffling and hectic, but as the experience unfolds, you will blend in, feel the warmth and inviting nature of fellow passengers, visualize the awe-inspiring and raw landscapes of Indian heartland and hear your heartbeat tuned to the sound of the Indian Railways train.