We have come a long way since our first journey on India’s train system. India Rail can be a little complicated to navigate, but once you learn a few tips and tricks, you can actually navigate yourself around the country quite easily.

Here are some pointers that will make your train travel through India much easier.

Train in India Travel Tips

That first day we had no idea where to stand on the platform or how to find our seats, let alone our car and what the ticket even meant.  Some of our favorite experiences in India have taken place on the train. We have made new friends, enjoyed wonderful conversations and enjoyed mixing it up with the locals.  General Class on India Rail is always an adventure and a ton of fun.  People are a little shocked to see a tourist sitting on the seat, but they quickly embrace you and look after you.  Everyone is always willing lend a hand.

To find out the basics on how to book a train ticket online or at the window, how to find your seats and your carriage and how it all works check out our other posts below.

We are nearing the end of our trip in India and we wanted to share a few last pointers that we have learned about taking the train in India.

1. If you can’t reserve your seat what can you do? India’s trains are always overbooked. You have to reserve your seats weeks in advance and sometimes you just can’t get on a train.  It can be frustrating and difficult when you are number 2 and 3 on the wait list and your seats don’t confirm.  But there is hope. We have started doing this no a regularly basis and haven’t had a problem.

Go to the train station anyway.  Buy a general class ticket to the destination of your choice.  Find out where the AC Chair Class, 3 A or 2 A classes will be arriving on the platform, You can read how here and then find the train captain for that car.  We have hopped on 3A and Chair Class without a problem.  We just ask the train captain if there are any seats available and he sticks us in an empty one.

He has the chart and he can tell you where to go.  You will have to pay the upgrade, but this is all completely legitimate. You will receive a receipt and you can stay in your chair or bed for the duration of the train.

Beware however, sometimes men pose as India Rail employees and try to scam tourists out of money.  Make sure you are talking to the actual train captain. He will have a navy blue jacket, charts in his hand and a name tag.  He will also be assisting the local people Not just the tourists.

2. Know the number of the train you are booking your general class ticket for. For example, When buying a ticket to Delhi,  don’t just buy any ticket to Delhi.  You need to know the express train number that has the AC cars.  We have made the mistake of not having our tickets confirm after booking them online and going to the train station anyway. We have seen other trains going to our destination and hopped on the first one that arrived.  Sure, it was still going to the same destination, but it was a general class train that stopped at every single remote train station in the country.  If we would have stuck to the train that we tried to book online, we would have been on a more direct route and not spent hours on end trying to get to our destination.

3. If the entire train is a general seating train only, don’t get on. It is a train that once again will stop at every single station along the way.  Sometimes we have felt that we would be fine in the general seating compartment and got on the train because it was the first one to arrive at the station.  Big mistake.  Our 4 hour journeys have turned into 9 hour epic rides.  Normally trains that have AC classes and sleeper classes stop less and are more direct.

4.  Don’t be in a hurry when taking the train. India Rail is very slow.  The trains putter along and stop at stations for up to a half hour at a time.  Just take a deep breath (sometimes easier said than done) and know that you are going to be on the train for a long haul and there is nothing that you can do about it.

5. Most trains stations have a prepaid taxi booth.  Don’t let touts meet you on the platform to offer rickshaw rides.  They won’t give you a good deal normally.  First look for the prepaid taxi booth to get a fair price, most major train stations have them.  If they don’t have a prepaid booth, walk outside before getting your taxi. When there are several vying for your business you will get a better price.  The guys that meet you on the platform at your arrival always quote very high.

6. If you know your itinerary, book all your tickets in advance. You can book your India Rail Tickets up to two months in advance.  If you have a set itinerary and know when you will be leaving each place, it is wise to book your tickets online in advance at the IRCTC Online Passenger Reservation site.

It can become a little confusing on that site so read our post Figuring out India Rail on how to book your tickets online and where to go to look up the train number and codes that you need.

7. Get ready to body check someone. We have arrived at some very busy train stations and it can be crazy trying to get off the train.  Indians have a strange habit of piling on the train before letting anyone else off.  You will have to go through hoards of people to make your way off.  Just put your head down and push and shove your way through. Nobody will mind, they will be doing the same themselves.  We have even seen people pushing through open windows to try and get on the train.  Strange and surreal indeed.  But don’t stress yourself out, this doesn’t happen often during our entire three months of traveling on India Rail.  It only occurred a few times.

8. Don’t stand close to the door with your packs on. The doors remain open on the train,during the trip and people hang out them and stand by them all the time.  People even jump off while the train is still moving.  You would be wise to keep your distance.  Especially with your pack on, you don’t want to be nudged and sent flying out the door.  Just stay in or near your seat until the train stops and then make your way through the masses once you arrive at your destination.

9. Keep back from the tracks. People die on a regular basis in India by falling into the tracks when a train arrives.  For some reason everyone gets crazy. They don’t believe in queues so it is a free for all when the train comes.  If you have reserved seats, there is no reason to rush into the car. Stay back and wait for the train to arrive.  If you follow our advice in all of the posts above, you will know where to stand on the platform to be in front of the proper car.  After everyone is through with pushing and shoving each other, you will be able to walk in safely and comfortably.  Don’t fret about this too much, normally reserved seating is far more civilized anyway.

10. Eat the Food. Some of the best food we have had in India has been on the train.  India rail has guys walking the aisles selling chai, tomato soup, pakoras, chips…you get the idea.  They offer full meals of biryani, omelets, curries and sandwiches.  We even love ordering from the guys that come on at the stations with peanuts, spicy nut mixtures, oranges and  samosas.  We even call the guys with the carts out the window to grab some tasty deep fried goodies for a treat.  Everything costs only 5 to 20 rupees (10-50 cents) and they are safe and delicious.

There you have it.  Between all our previous posts and the tips mentioned above, you should have no problem navigating the India Train System.  Just remember to enjoy yourself.  India Rail can be intimidating, but it is also a wonderful experience.  The scenery is beautiful, the people are friendly and it is a moment that you will never forget.

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8 Comments

  1. Trisha Miller

    Excellent advice – it’s interesting how very different rail travel is outside of the US – I don’t imagine Amtrak would stay in business long if they routinely overbooked like this! I do love traveling by train though, so if I get a chance to visit India, I’ll re-read (or maybe even print) your posts :)
    .-= Trisha Miller´s last blog ..Virtual Assistance – Everything But The Coffee =-.

    1. davendeb

      Haha Trisha. So true. Could you imagine? We seemed to say that a lot in India about everything. Things run very differently there. We haven’t ever really traveled in luxury on a train before so we can’t say that we love train travel. But we would love to do one of those epic trips like the Trans Siberian or across Canada with our own sleeper compartment. That would be heavenly. No cockroaches would be good too. did I ever mention the cockroaches and rats? I dont’ think I did, but expect to see a lot of cockroaches and the odd mouse on the trains in India… you get used to it.

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    1. davendeb

      Cheers, Thanks John. We found that traveling by train in India was one of the most confusing things there. We wanted to share what we learned to help others out.

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