After writing about taxis, tuk-tuks, scooters, and busses, let me introduce you to, certainly, the most popular method of transportation in India, the trains. First of all, India owns the fourth largest railway system in the world, after the United States, China and Russia, so you can expect traveling India by train to be quite an experience.
To be honest, even after traveling India for 3 months, I was still a bit confused when I had to purchase a ticket because there are so many options.
Above all, the first aspect that confuses a tourist is choosing the most suitable class for your journey.
If you are like me, you’re probably used to traveling in 1st, 2nd or 3rd class. Well, in India there are 7 classes. I will try to make it a bit easier for you and separate them into classes for long-distance and for short-distance rides.
AC1 (1A) – Air conditioned first class
AC1 is the most expensive class and it’s not always available. However, the price of a ticket can be the same as the price for a plane ticket so it’s not the most budget-friendly option.
AC2 (2A) – Air conditioned second class
Most middle-class families prefer this way to travel, but if you want to travel budget-friendly, it’s quite expensive, even if it’s two times cheaper than AC1. AC2 has only 2 tiers of beds, therefore makes it more spacious. Also, there are as well curtains for each berth to give you some privacy.
AC3 (3A) – Air conditioned third class
AC3 and AC2 are very similar, but one has three tiers of beds instead of two and is cheaper. Also, in AC3 you don’t have too much privacy because there are no doors or curtains.
SL – Sleeper class
This is the cheapest option you can book, but you have to know what to expect. Being so cheap, most Indians travel on this class. There is no air conditioning, only fans hanging from the ceiling and the train windows are open for the air to come in. The carriage is very crowded and also, usually dirty.
From my point of view, AC3 is the best option to travel. We used it once when we went from Margao to Thiruvananthapuram and the ride was decent. You can even order food or buy it from the vendors that are selling in the carriages all day and night long.
AC Chair Class and AC Executive Chair Class
These two options are very comfortable, with air-conditioned and moreover, sometimes with water and food included in the price of the ticket. Further, most of the trains that have these classes are faster than regular ones. Also, the price is quite high compared to the other class.
2S – Second Sitting Class
Firstly, in 2S you don’t have AC and it can get very crowded and messy. It also has a lot of stops and the ride is usually longer. Therefore, choose wisely when and where you want to take it.
To clarify and give you a better understanding of the price difference I’ll tell you the next example:
For instance, we paid 3,480 Rs (44,50€) for 4 people from New Delhi to Agra with AC Class. In contrast, when we came back I only found tickets for 2S class. We were amazed by the price difference as we only paid 420 Rs (5,30€) for 4 people.
Keep in mind that almost always the trains have delays. We waited for two hours when we went from Agra to New Delhi and after that for four hours when we went from Margao to Thiruvananthapuram.
Even more, here comes the tricky part: buying a train ticket in India.
How to buy a train ticket in India
Indian Railways (IRCTC)
First of all, let me tell you, you have to have a lot of patience to book a ticket through their official website. It works very slow and it’s really not making it easier for foreigners. The only reason why I insisted on learning how to use it was that I wanted to avoid agency fees.
Above all, to make an account you have to have an Indian phone number. Secondly, you will need to fill in all required information and finally, you will receive a confirmation text message.
Most important tips of them all:
Almost all cities have different names or codes for the train station. What I always did first was use the app rome2rio because it tells you the name of the station. Afterward, you can make your search.
Most of the times you have to book in advance because the sale of the tickets starts 3 months in advance. We booked online three weeks in advance and didn’t really find the options we were looking for. Therefore, it’s great if you could plan ahead your journey. However, if you’re traveling like we did, meaning booking last minute, you can also search the section of foreigner quota where they keep a few tickets for tourists.
I found this website when I almost gave up on trying to book with IRCTC. However, I didn’t use it because I worked it out, but I recommended it to other friends and they all said it worked out perfectly.
At the train station
On our last journey by train, we went straight to the train station because I couldn’t find tickets online. The procedure was quite easy and we were also able to pay by card. But again, you have to have patience.
First of all, you have to fill in a paper and then you go and queue (in our case, for ages) with other Indians that don’t know the meaning of “personal space”. Finally, when your turn comes, you find out if they have availability on your selected route and make the payment.
On the other hand, the biggest disadvantage of this method is that you lose a lot of time. You have to be at the train station with at least 4 hours in advance to make sure you get a ticket.
To sum it up, I would recommend you to use a night sleeper bus rather than a train because sometimes it’s cheaper, faster, easier to book and certainly more comfortable. However, if you have time, it is, indeed, a must-have experience to travel by train in India. You can meet other travelers or local people. One thing is for sure, if you travel by train, you will have with at least one person a conversation about: Where are you from? When did you arrive? When are you leaving? What do you think about India? Are you married? No? Why not?
Keep in touch,
Do you want to know how to travel in India in a different way?