Traveling by train in India is an experience. It was something I did on a regular basis when I lived in India, but last week I got to take an overnight train in India after about twenty years. First point to note – nothing much has changed. I think the coach I was in was in use the last time I traveled too. Here are a few observations and tips for those uninitiated to Indian rail travel.
- Reserve your seats well in advance: Trains in India sell out, almost all of them. If you want to show up at the train station hoping to get a seat, you will most likely be spending your train ride squished in the ‘general’ coach carrying five times it’s capacity. Train reservations can be made easily on the web on the Indian Railways web site.
- ‘Tat-kal’ and ‘current’ reservations: If you do have to make a reservation a day or so before your trip, there is something called ‘tat-kal’ reservation. These are seats sold upto 24hours before a train trip. These are a block of seats set aside for people needing to make last minute travel. The last resort is called ‘current’ reservations. These are for seats that are available to sell after the trains online reservations have been closed.
- Take your soap: Trains in India don’t even have soap. Take your own. And of course, no toilet paper. Take your own. You do get freshly washed sheets and not so recently washed blankets on the train.
- Take care of your belongings: Goes without saying. This is nothing to do with India. You should do this in any train, especially in a developing country.
- Be ready to jump on and off: except for major stations, trains in India have very short stops. A two minute stop is not unheard off. Get to the door well before your stop and get off soon. For getting on, make sure you know where your coach will stop and get on fast. Trains are connected, so boarding a wrong coach is not that much of an issue.
- Know your train: Trains vary in their quality by extreme margins. Some high end trains like the ‘Shatabdi’ or ‘Rajdhani’ series of trains are excellent, with good food and service, where as some regional generic ‘express’ or ‘mail’ trains can be pretty bad. Don’t even try ‘passenger’ trains.
- Travel in air conditioned coaches: Not all coaches in every train are air-conditioned. Pick air conditioned coaches, if available, especially if you are not from the tropics.
Enjoy the trip and stay safe. If you have any additional tips for train travel in India, please share with all the readers by leaving a comment below.
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