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Train Travel in India for Tourists (& Train Classes)

Updated: Jun 20


About Train Travel in India for Tourists


In this travel guide, we will go over everything you need to know to travel by train in India, which is a great way to get around the country and something you must experience at least once!



CONTENTS




 


About Train Travel in India for Tourists


In this travel guide for taking the train in India, I am not talking about the luxury Indian trains where tickets are upwards of £5K – I am talking about the good old public railways!


You've probably seen the photos of the dudes sitting on the train roof and hanging out the doors, or carriages being so full people have to climb out the window to get off the train?


These are real images, this does happen, but it is not as often a sight as it may seem! Train travel in India can be quite comfortable, or pure chaos - depending on which class you take (more on that later).


So first let me address the rumours about public transport in India...


''Trains book up well in advance in India!''

''Indian bus drivers are reckless!''

''You'll be much better off taking domestic flights or hiring a private driver.''


I have heard these statements time and time again. I am also a member of a bunch of travel forums for India, and when tourists ask about train travel, locals are quick to respond with the above.


I am not saying my knowledge of Indian trains surpasses that of locals, but it is true that many Indians do not travel out of their states, and those who do and offer travel advice are normally quite protective of tourists. In the same way, I have had a 'helpful local' tell me never to drink milk in India as it would make me sick. I have been to India 6 times and spent more than 2 years in the country, I drink milk every single day while I am there, and I am fine.


While you should listen to local advice in most cases, do take some things with a pinch of salt – including when people tell you train travel is difficult in India. It isn't – and here's how to take the train as a tourist in India, with information on the different train classes.



Train in India and camels


 


This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may get a commission if you make a purchase through this website, at no extra cost to you. I only link to products and services that I use and love.


How to Book a Train Ticket in India



Option 1: Book Online

Option 2: Book with a travel agent/your hotel

Option 3 (Best Option): Book at the train station



Option 1: Book your train ticket for India online


Since 2016 it has been possible for foreigners to book trains in India via the IRCTC (Indian Government) website, so they say.


To do this you will need to go through the painstakingly slow process of creating an account, and by the end of it all your international card may not work anyway (as happens with me every single time I try this method). Nowadays if I need to book a ticket ahead of time online, I just have my Indian friend book me the tickets through IRCTC. It may still be worth giving it a try... you might have more luck than me!


Most long-distance train tickets tend to go on sale here 120 days before departure, and they do sell out quickly. Train tickets are refundable, so even if a train is full some seats will clear eventually which is why they sell waitlist (WL) tickets.


Don't worry too much about this though, as some tickets are held back for tourists as a special quota - which I will talk about more later.


Third-party sites such as 12Go Asia also sell Indian train tickets, but they do charge quite a hefty commission. If the peace of mind of having your tickets all purchased and ready is important to you, then 12Go Asia is a good option.



Train in India
Indian trains have varying quality!

Option 2: Book a train ticket in India with a travel agent/your hotel


This is a great option if you don't know your exact travel plans 120 days before departure (like most people don't) and you want to take advantage of that tourist quota. (Or another last-minute quota of tickets known as 'Tatkal'.)


Indian towns and cities frequented by tourists are littered with tiny travel agents who can do the leg work for you in securing these tickets. They will need a copy of your passport to do so!


Make sure you check the train times and ticket prices on RailYatri - so you know how much the ticket is and therefore the commission they are taking is transparent. In my experience a commission of 100-300 rupees is fair, but if you go in blind don't be surprised if they take advantage and triple the train fare without you knowing!


Many guest house owners offer this type of service too, and it is an ideal option for buying a train ticket in India if you cannot personally make it to the train station the day before you intend to travel.



Option 3 (Best Option): Book at the train station


If it is an option for you, I strongly suggest heading to the train station THE DAY BEFORE YOU PLAN TO DEPART to buy your ticket in person - where you will likely be allocated a ticket from the special tourist quota (this is for long-distance trains, for shorter local trains, an hour before departure is fine).


The staff in the ticket booths always normally speak English, and are honest and clear with your options... no middle-man, no scam, no confusion. They will explain all of the classes available, just be sure to bring your passport! 


I have done this many times for local and interstate trains and have never been turned away, although there have been occasions where I have had to sit in a class that wouldn't be my first choice (these General Class journeys have also made the best stories.)


You can check times and routes on RailYatri so you know which train you would like to book.


Rail Yatri Homepage
RailYatri Homepage

 

To help you plan your trip to India, check out my article: A Pre-departure Checklist for India.


FOR TRAVEL INSURANCE for India I suggest browsing Travel Supermarket and choosing a cheap policy with a high Defaqto rating.


 


Different Train Classes in India


Not all trains have all of these classes, but these are options you'll likely come across when choosing your ticket:



1AC –


This class is only found on some popular interstate train routes. The cabins each have 4 beds, in the form of 2–tiered berths known as coupes. There is AC, curtains, charging points, bedding, and clean toilets, and it feels quite luxurious! For this reason, it is almost twice the price of 2AC, the class below, and an overnight train will set you back something like £25. This class sells out quickly.



2AC –


This is my preferred class, as it is not too different from 1AC, just a little less luxurious, but comfy enough. It's normally only around £12 for an overnight journey. With curtains drawn around each coupe, these carriages are just as quiet as 1AC with little interaction with other passengers.



2AC Train Class India
2AC

3AC – 


3AC is favoured by India's middle class, and it is a lively carriage with a similar set-up to 2AC except the berths are 3-tiered, and the middle berth is folded up during the day. This means that in daylight hours the middle berth passenger is expected to fold up their bed - and share the lower berth as a bench.



3AC train class India
3AC

Sleeper – 


While technically the same layout as 3AC, the sleeper carriage has no air-con so the windows are barred rather than having tinted glass. This means the cabins are louder and dustier. There is a lot of overflow from General Class, so the carriages are crowded and many passengers squish up and share the same bed An overnight train ticket in Sleeper Class may cost around £3.



Executive Chair (1A) –


These are normally on super fast trains between major cities, we took one from Delhi to Amritsar. They have cushioned armchairs with a table, much like trains in the UK, but with the added luxury of air-con and often a meal service.



Second Seating (2S) – 


2S is usually on daytime intercity trains, and absolutely fine for journeys up to 8 hours - I took them all over Mumbai and also from Mumbai to Aurangabad (7 hours).


The carriage is lively and interesting, and often gender separated. While the women aggressively shoved each other out of the way to get on the train, once aboard they were all friends again and took turns giving up their seats so everyone could have a time sitting down when the carriage was full.



2S Train Class India
2S

General Unreserved –


This was the only class available for my 4-hour train from Agra to Jaipur, the upside being the ticket cost 50p. Not that having a ticket mattered, because to be honest, the passengers were such a bowl of spaghetti there was no way a train conductor could get on board to check tickets.


General Unreserved is the class used by less wealthy people, so most of India, who squeeze into every nook and cranny of the carriage.


This was one of the craziest experiences of my life, with passengers, kids and luggage passed through windows as the carriages were so hectic and crammed. If you can cope with the chaos - this is an eye-opening experience for a journey no longer than a few hours!




This is a General Unreserved Class on a train from Agra to Jaipur!

 


Tips For Choosing Your Train Ticket in India


For sleeper trains, choose the upper berth! This means you can lay in your bed whenever you want, rather than having to fold up your bed and share the bench with other passengers. It also means as a lady passenger you are less exposed to roaming male passengers.


Clearance – If you have a (WL) Waitlist ticket, also known as RAC (reservation against cancellation) – don't worry, you can still board the train - you just may not get your preferred class. Head to the train station a little earlier and check with the ticket officer if a seat has cleared. If it has, whoop, if it hasn't do not worry, board on General Class and seek out the train conductor and let him know you'd like a berth as soon as one becomes available.



 

Not sure what to pack for your trip to India? Check out the I Dream of Mangoes article:


 


Arriving at the Station for your Train Journey in India



THE SCAM


Depending on where you are, a railway station in India can be a scamming hotspot. People may approach you and tell you a load of B.S. - like - ''Your train is cancelled – here, let me help you buy a new ticket''.


As you arrive at the railway station, ignore everyone who approaches you, and yes, it is perfectly fine for you to completely blank them - especially if you are female and they are male. Only take advice from someone in uniform – or better yet beeline straight for the ticket booth.


I would suggest arriving at the train station at least an hour before your departure time - as bigger stations can be confusing! Your train number should be on a screen, and once you reach your platform, your carriage number should also be indicated on screens so you know where to stand. Be sure to have your physical ticket and passport.


These days you can track the live location of Indian trains just by googling the train number - so do keep checking its status on the day of departure – as sometimes delays can be many hours and you can plan accordingly.



Mumbai train platform rush hour sunset
Mumbai at rush hour

 


What it is Like on the Train in India


  • On long-distance trains, runners come through with snacks like samosas and biscuits, and coffee and tea very often. They normally jump on and off at a station so be alert and have your money ready!


  • It is the same with water! They'll be shouting ''pani pani pani!''


  • For overnight trains, the train staff often take dinner orders from each passenger in the evenings, which will be something like a tub of veg or chicken biryani. You won't go hungry or thirsty on Indian trains!


  • It is normal etiquette to take off your shoes when climbing into your berth.


  • Store your big bags under the lower berth, but keep your valuables by your head – train theft is common but most trains have police/security and they are looking out for you.


  • Toilets are hit-and-miss. Some trains have Western loos, but most only have squat urinals. 1AC and 2AC toilets can seem to be cleaned regularly, but in all other classes towards the end of a long-distance journey, the toilets can be ankle-deep in piss. I would say take toilet roll and anti-bac gel and curb your liquid intake! Oh yeah, and your waste goes straight onto the tracks, so do not use the toilet when the train is stationary!


  • Overnight train travel is perfectly fine as a solo female for 3AC, 2AC, and 1AC. I would personally suggest avoiding sleeper class, but mainly because you'd probably be the only foreigner and therefore people will be curious and you will not get any privacy.


  • Make sure you have mobile data! This is to track the train so you know where to get off, this is especially important if you arrive at your destination in the middle of the night. There are no station announcements and arrival times are unreliable - often trains are very delayed and sometimes delayed trains make up the time.


 

For all of my advice for females travelling to India, check out my article: Is India Safe for Female Travellers?


 


Leaving the Train


It is helpful to have a small idea about what is awaiting you at your destination.

 

  • Does your arrival city have UBER?

  • What is the distance from the station to your accommodation?

  • Do you arrive at night, so is it best to arrange a pick-up from your guesthouse?


You may get swarmed as soon as you leave the platform by drivers and touts - as a foreigner you are a walking target for scammers – so knowing these things will help you from feeling overwhelmed.



 


So there you have it! A complete guide to taking the train in India! I hope this post has been helpful, and if you have any questions please hit the comments.


If you enjoyed the read, please consider subscribing to my blog where I post articles once per week filled with travel tips, inspiration, and stories from my adventures around the world.


Happy Travels

xx



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Disclosure:
I Dream of Mangoes is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. That being said, I only link to products I use and love.

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