Gone are the days of those crazy pics we’ve all seen with a million and one Indians hanging off the side and top of suburban trains. You can now expect something somewhat more civilised, especially if travelling on a higher class ticket.
For some it is fun and for some, it is a “learning experience”, whichever it is for you trains are a major source of transportation in India and
To be honest, you can’t say you’ve experienced India unless you’ve had the hustle, bustle and excitement of finding your correct carriage or heard the melodic chant of the tea wallahs, calling of “chai, chai, garam chai”.
No doubt, the best way (and the most eco-friendly) to see India is not by plane, but at ground level on the incredible Indian Railway system. This gives you the opportunity to meet and mingle with other travellers, if that’s your thing, and to see the incredibly diverse landscapes along the way giving you a glimpse into the everyday lives of the locals.
Train travel in an AC1, AC2 sleeper or an AC chair is always reserved and ticketed and is a cheap, safe and pretty comfortable way to get around. It allows you to travel more time effectively too.
By travelling on long distance routes such as Delhi to Varanasi or Delhi to Bombay using overnight sleeper trains, you are able to arrive at your new destination having saved an overnight hotel tab.
The passenger rail network in India is the third largest in the world with over 63,000 kilometres or rail routes and 6,800 stations, is without a doubt the lifeline of India. And as the largest railway network under a single management, Indian Railways lays claim to being the biggest employer in the world with over 1.5 million staff. Wow, imagine that HR department!
To allow everyone to travel, the trains offer various travelling classes. For long distance trains, the travelling class are usually categorised as (from highest to lowest) AC First Class, AC II tier, AC III tier, Sleeper Class and general. For short distance or day trains, the travelling class could be categorized as AC Executive Class, AC Chair Car and general.
AC First Class is the highest travelling class in long-distance Indian trains. Depending upon the capacity of trains an the coach consists of coupes with the capacity of accommodating two or four people. Every coupe is lockable from inside. A four person coupe consists of four individual sleeping berths in two tier arrangements. The sleeping berths are wide & long enough to accommodate an average built person. Similarly, a two person coupe has two sleeping berths in two tier arrangement.
Every coupe has electric points to charge cell phones. In all of our train journeys, we have successfully charged our laptops and cameras through these electric points. They have sometimes a cupboard to keep passengers belongings and there is good space beneath the sleeping berths to store larger luggage like suitcases and bags.
A full AC coach has four bathrooms, one with western style toilet and three with Indian style toilets. The housekeeping is done by either Indian Railways personal staff or through contracted labour.
While toilets are usually clean by Indian standards, they may not be the standard you’re used to so best practice is to use these as early as possible on your journey.
The bed linen is provided by Indian Railways. Each berth is allotted two bed sheets, a blanket, a pillow and a hand towel. The windows within the coach are fixed and can’t usually be opened.
Every coach has two attendants to take care of the upkeep and the passengers requirements. For any assistance they can be contacted.
The long distance trains in India normally have food cars from where breakfast and major meals are provided to the passengers. However, the food could be of varying standards. In Rajdhani Express Trains food and mineral water remains included in the tour price.
AC II tier coach is the second highest travelling class in Indian Trains. AC II tier coach has 46 berths (sleeping units) all together. Each compartment has four sleeping berths which are wide enough for a person to sleep comfortably. After a general passage there remain two sleeping berths known as side upper and side lower. Each compartment is separated by the other compartments (on both sides) by walls in the side and curtains in the front. Each coach has four common toilets which are cleaned and managed by the railway staff or the contracted workers. Don’t assume there will be toilet paper, you must carry your own!
AC III tier coach is the third highest travelling class in long distance trains. It has 64 sleeping units all together. Each coach has 06 sleeping berths in III tier arrangement. After a general passage there remain 02 sleeping berths known as side upper and side lower. Each compartment has 04 common toilets which are cleaned and managed by the railway staff or the contracted workers. There is no screening between the sleeping berths.
Day trains are normally intercity trains. We suggest purchasing travelling class AC Executive Car. It has seating arrangement as in the business class in flights. The second highest travelling class is AC Chair Car with seating arrangements as in the economy class in flights.
The train booking could be done only 90 days in advance of the actual travelling dates however there are a few trains where the booking is allowed only within 30 days of the actual travelling date. The seat or berth allotment is on the complete discretion of Indian Railways and travel companies do not have any control over it. In case of AC 01st class travel, the berth and compartment allotment is usually not known until the date of travelling itself.
As for Indian standards, AC 1st class travel is quite comfortable and exclusive but it may be not of the same standards as it is in western countries. Train journeys are normally suggested to save time and money and to provide a better connection where the road journey is not possible.
Train travel should be taken more as an experience rather than a source of comfort and luxury. Always keep an open mind, remember where you are and remain in the state of mind of ‘going with the flow’.
For a more comprehensive breakdown on booking train travel in India visit Seat61
My last piece of advice is to simply enjoy India and all the magnificence it has to offer and if you’re inspired by India and are ready for her spectacular, her spirituality, her diversity and her crazy riot of colour, you must come join us on our Incredible India holiday!
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*Front feature and general class image credits: Buddha Mag