While travelling India you will spend a lot of time in trains. For long distances and within the big cities trains are the most common type of transportation in this cpuntry. Depending on the class you are travelling in, they are pretty decent equipped, you will meet very much and nice people, spend hours on open train doors (love it!) and get a decent sleep as can travel to everywhere over night. On this way you even save money and time to explore. Me as someone who can sleep everywhere all the time, I had always a good night in the indian trains but also people with a lighter sleep will have it easy to get a decent rest. In India there are 4 different classes of sleeping trains, a chair class and a non chair class. As you most propably will travel with sleeping trains, I will go only into these details. I for myself have travelled in the sleeper class, the AC-3 and once the AC-2.
On all trains you can get food, water and chai tea. Just try out the street-food from the sellers coming into the train while waiting on the stations. The food is really good and you can try out variouse kind of street food while travelling. Also train attendants are going through the train regularly to sell water and chai tea to the passengers.
How to get a ticket
First of all I am going to explain how to get a ticket for indian trains. Actually as a foreigner you can’t buy a ticket for yourself online. There are several posts on the internet how you can trick the services and buy them online but it didn’t work for me. Maybe I am not skilled enough for this but you can give it a try. I for myself had the benefit that my indian friends purchased the tickets for me most of the times.
The other times I booked them via agencies, which worked very good, or the people working in the hostels help me out, which was always the best solution.
For sure you can always go to a ticket counter at a train station and purchase a ticket there. As trains are fast booked out you should do this a few days in advance if you can.
Travelling by train means waiting for the train
Trains in India can be booked out, delayed by a long time or get cancelled in the last minute. You should be flexible all the time while travelling through India by train. My longest delay was 12 hours, my shortest 4 hours. Just have a book with you, your music or if you are tired of yourself just communicate with the people on the platform while waiting.
There will be people sitting on the floor or having a picnic. Most of them are open for a chat with a foreigner. Make sure to have something to eat and drink with you as this journeys can get way longer as you expect in the beginning. Even if there is always someone selling food, it can happen especially in the nights that no one with food and water is around. Also the food which get sold on the platforms is definitely not the best to eat. Don’t make the mistake I made a few times and forget about provision.
While waiting for the train, it’s the best to get in contact with weather the station officer or to get in touch with other passengers. Trains can arrive or depart at others platforms as initially written on the boards and the speakers will tell this in Hindi. Just tell someone where you want to go to and which train you need to catch and to tell you if the platform is changing. Most of the people will be glad to show you your way.
To monitor your train and it’s time of arrival there are several apps available (called f.ex. Indian trains). To be honest I tried it and it never really was correct. It always took longer than in the app shown, but it can give you a slight hint how much longer you will have to wait or if the train is coming at all.
Before you go to the train station you can check how much the train will be delayed. So you can start later to the station in case. In the end I am still too german and I always got to the station in time and waited.
There are big differences between the prices of the several classes. But let me show you this on an example.
I will show you the current prices on a common train taken by a lot of travellers. These are the prices valid for the time I am writing this post and I don´t guarantee that they are still valid once you are reading this.
Train from Agra to Varanasi:
Duration: 10hrs to 16hrs depending on the train you take.
AC-1 Fist class: Not available on this train
AC-2: Second class: 1415 Rp = ca. 17,60 €
AC-3: Third class: 1000 Rp = ca. 12,45 €
Sleeper class: 300 Rp = ca 3,75 €
You can see there a big price difference between the classes. To make your decision easier if it’s worth it for you let’s go on into the details of the classes.
Sleeper class is the cheapest and most basic class. Tickets are available for just a few Euros, depends on the length of your journey. The coaches are not climated and the windows are open. One section it equipped with seats/beds for 6 people. In the night the seats will turn into beds. You will not be provided with a blanket and a pillow, so don’t forget to bring your own stuff as it can get very cold in the night.
Don’t expect anything from the toilets. If you are not very picky you will not have an issue using them. Otherwise you may consider a higher class for longer journeys.
In the coaches of the sleeper class are the most people and especially the not-so-rich Indian people are travelling in this class. Even if you need a reservation for the seats this coaches can be very full. Often Indian people who can not afford a ticket are jumping into this class while the train is leaving the station. As a result the sleeper coaches can be overcrowded. It can happen that the time you arrive at your reserved seat it is already taken by one of the jumpers. Normally a bit of discussing gives you your seat but you never know.
Travelling in this class is very entertaining as you will meet a lot of Indian people and they are happy to involve foreigners in their activities and invite them to eat with them. As the windows and doors are open you can enjoy a nice view on the beautiful passing scenery.
So if you are good with travelling basic and try to get the cheapest ticket you are good to go with the sleeper class.
Women in sleeper class
If you are a woman travelling alone you may consider for yourself how confident you are with travelling in the lowest class. If you are pretty confident and good with handling men even if they get a bit to close there will be no issue. I am not saying that things will happen for sure. I travelled in this class with no incidents at all, but it is very crowded and things can happen. If you are not so sure about how comfortable you will be with this than don’t risk to jeopardize your experience. Just with one of the higher classes.
AC-3: The third class
AC-3 is a already pretty comfortable class. You will have as well sections for 6 people but as these are closed coaches, it will remain with 6 people. There are no jumpers in this class. The coaches are climated and not overcrowded. They are clean and equipped with 2 electric plug-ins which normally work so you can recharge your smartphone during the ride. You will be provided with blankets and pillows so no need to bring your own. The provided once are clean and fresh normally.
The toilets are clean most of the times. During the ride they will get less clean but that depents all on the people using them. There will always be one toilet in western style and one in Indian style. Also running water to wash your hands and to take care of the basic hygiene will be available.
In this class the doors will get opened by some passengers, so you can enjoy your ride sitting on the open train door.
Women in AC-3-class
For female solo traveller this is quite a good choice if you are not comfortable travelling in the sleeper class. Here you will travel with less people and the people who can afford these tickets are normally well educated. This is no guarantee for sure but here you will and can feel pretty safe. The people are still very communicative and I had really nice and interesting chats travelling in this class. Also for long journeys it might be the better choice as you can at least take care of the basic hygiene.
AC-2: The second class
The second class is a comfortable class. You will be in sections with just 3 other persons. Each section is equipped with 2 electrical plug-ins and you will be provided with blankets and towels. For sure the coaches are climated. The toilets are like in the third class, but there will be a train attendant to take care of them, so they will remain clean also during a long ride.
In the second class you will be able to travel in a quiet and a little bit isolated atmosphere. Indian people travelling here are rich and they remain by themselves most of the times (my experience). I personally also don’t think it’s necessary to travel in this class. The tickets are way more expensive and the benefits over the AC-3 third class is not really that significant. As always it depends and your style of travelling and with what circumstances you feel comfortable.
Women in AC-2-class
Female solo travellers actual don’t need to worry a thing in this class. There are several train attendants checking the coaches and passengers several times. I just tried to sit on an open door once. After 1 minute the train attendant came to me and told me to go back to my place because he can’t guarantee for my safety when I am sitting on the door.
AC-1: The first class
I have never travelling this class so I can only tell you from what I heard and saw while passing through them. In the first class you also have sections with 4 beds but these can get closed by a door like real rooms. No questions that this coaches are climated. Every bed has it’s own electrical plug-in and lamp and you are provided with blankets and pillows. There are several train attendants checking for the passengers and everything is very clean. The toilets are all in the western style here. The tickets are very expensive so normally backpackers don’t travel in this class. Also just the really rich business people travel in this class normally. This class is not available on all trains just a few long distance trains offer this class.
If you are missing any information or if you need more details on the given information don’t hesitate to contact me. I am more than happy if I can help you to make your trip to India as awesome as possible.
Get lost, but don’t get hurt!