How to Use Trains for Travelling in India

How to Use Trains for Travelling in India

Tejas Express, Mumbai to Goa, Indian Railways
There comes a day in your life when waiting anymore feels like a waste of time. Euro Trip was just that for me. There came a time when I decided to take the plunge all by myself. Sounds like m talking about getting married or some bigger decision in my life? It was big to me. Introvert by birth, in this trip, I was like a panda trying to learn kungfu. But just like in the movie, I started to enjoy every minute of it.
 
Now that I had decided to fly solo, I decided to put myself in self created experiment by not only travelling alone but also making sure that I am surrounded by more and more strangers – instead of cozy hotels, I decided to crash at hostels sharing room with other travelers and I purposely did not carry any internet or phone with me when I was out on roads.
 
How did it feel? On the first day, it felt like I was a self torture trip but as days passed by, I became more comfortable with choosing my own path, deciding my own routes, and dealing with last minute gate changes at airport, finding my way around the cities while taking directions from strangers, and meeting some great people on the way. All in all, the trip changed my opinion about myself. I, quite literally, surprised myself.
This is one of the most frequently asked questions for travellers in India. Even though it is not that difficult, most travellers to India lack awareness about this topic and hence feel overwhelmed. They then prefer to use travel agents for booking their travel within the country. I want to burst that myth and let everyone know that it is super easy to book trains in India.
 
Go Online, that’s the best way to do it. Yes, don’t be surprised many bookings in India are online and are very easy to navigate. To be honest, I have never made a booking offline for trains, bus, or flights. Even foreign nationals can use their credit or debit cards to book tickets online. You can use your cards to book bus, train or flight without hassles.
 
www.irctc.co.in is the place to make your booking for any train you want to take in India. The website accepts international cards as well. There is a separate payment gateway at the time of payment for international cards. I have helped quite a few foreign guests at the hostels using their cards without any issues. It’s an easily navigable website with all information available online, no need to depend on travel agents who usually charge extra for making these bookings and might just trick you with wrong information. Again I am not saying that all agents cheat you but even if they won’t there is added unnecessary effort of looking for one. All you need is to create your account on IRCTC website and there you go! In case, its a one off booking that you need to make, then you can ask any Indian or an Indian friend book using their account and you can still use your credit/debit card to make the payment.
 
Foreign travellers can also book at main train stations through foreign office window. There are some tickets per train that have foreign travellers quota and these can be booked by travellers by showing their passports at the all major train stations train station. 

Which Trains to Book?

Toy Train Ooty, India
Generally book a train that’s taking least amount of time between your origin and destination. These are usually special fast trains that are almost always on time (few minutes here and there but generally on time). For example, if you are taking any train from Delhi, if there is a Rajdhani express to your destination, prefer that. These trains are known to be on time, in case of delays or traffic management of train tracks, Rajdhani and Shatabdi’s get preference over other trains. Its not a written rule, but observation from personal travel experiences in India.
 
Choose the train with your preferable departure and arrival time but if that train is taking more time than others then prefer to adjust with the time of faster trains.

Which Coach to Choose?

Tejas Express, Mumbai to Goa, Indian Railways

I prefer 3 Tier AC (3AC) Coaches for long distance journeys and AC Chair Car (AC CC) for short distance. You can go ahead and book 2 or 1 Tier AC coaches as well but then you can get flight tickets for that much amount if you plan in advance. Most foreign tourists book sleeper coaches, which I usually do not prefer as they are usually over-crowded and not as clean.

Inside the Trains

First of all, if you have a twitter account, you can use that for most issues you want solved while on-board. Tag Indian Railways and IRCTC on your tweets and you can actually see the immediate response while on train. Do not abuse this facility for things that you can get solved through train staff. I suggest that you first mention your concerns to the train staff and if they do not resolve it after 2-3 complaints then resort to Twitter. Tweets have been helping passengers on trains quite a bit these days.
 
Use chains and lock to safeguard your luggage when on board a train. There are hooks provided under each seat for this purpose only. Lock your luggage bags and sleep peacefully. This is most helpful when you are travelling solo. This is what I do when travelling solo on the train.
 
Befriend a family/mixed group on-board and ensure that you can trust them. I have always found someone like this. Once I had a bunch of school kids who helped me take care of my hand bag when I had to use the washroom.
 
Carry a sanitising spray and your own toilet paper with you when you want to use washrooms in trains. These are public toilets and are normally not very clean. Asking the train staff to clean is one way but perfect cleanliness is not something you can expect on trains.

Food on Trains

Food on Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains is decently good and is included in your ticket price. You can book tickets on these trains without food (prices are lower) and still can buy onboard. For other trains if it did not ask you for food preferences at the time of booking, then food will not be included as part of your ticket. In these cases, if the train has a Pantry, you will be able to buy food on-board. However, I do not prefer ordering food from pantry for hygiene reasons. May be my stomach is not able to take it now. I get food packed from home or restaurant. There are also all sorts of mobile apps to order food online at home – Zomato, Swiggy, Food Panda, ubereats, etc.
 
Now days you can order restaurant food on board the train. Yes, its super cool and you get good quality tasty food from good restaurants, Donimos Pizza included, by making online payment or cash on delivery. There are many websites and mobile apps that you can use for this purpose – IRCTC’s eCatering, Travelkhana, Comesum, Railrestro, etc. Google for it and you will get a long range to choose from.

At Train Stations

Almost all train stations in India, have Hindi and English sign boards which make it quite easy for all travellers to navigate. For checking platform details, look for display boards which are there on almost all main stations. If you cannot find these, ask for help from government registered porters. They wear a red colour shirt with a metal badge on their arm. They see all the trains come and go and are very helpful.
 
At destination stations, to reach your hostel/hotel, you have quite a few options, in order of their preference:
  1. Check if your hotel provides complimentary pickup or drop service
  2. Uber or Ola (online radio taxi booking service) cab, if available (they are available in most cities now) – there are quite a few car types in both these apps in India and you can choose the cheapest ones, if that is what you want
  3. Prepaid Taxi or Auto Rickshaw Service, usually available on all stations. There will be prepaid booths where you can get auto or taxi by telling the area you want to go to. Check for information on Tourist Information counters on almost all train stations
  4. Normal taxi or auto rickshaw – call your hostel/hotel in advance to check for fair price to pay – you might have to haggle in this situation
  5. Bus Service – ask your hostel/hotel in advance about availability and bus stops
These are some of the tips to use trains in India, if you have any specific questions regarding any anything in India, ask them on comments section below and I will help you out for sure.

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