Travelling by train in India is almost compulsory if you want to truly say you have had a real Indian experience. An experience it is! We have spent five months travelling all around India and travelling by train is our preferred mode of transport.
It’s fairly comfortable, super fun, really social & easy on the pocket. However navigating Indian trains can be a bit daunting if you are a first timer, so we have compiled this list of travel tips for understanding and mastering the Indian train system!
Keeping your Belongings Safe on Indian Trains:
We would keep our valuables like money, phone, camera etc right next to us or on our person when sleeping. Our large packs we would store under the bottom bunk and using a simple chain and padlock system we would lock them to the bottom bunk. This system worked well for us and we never had any issues with things going missing.
Food on Indian Trains:
Water and snacks are readily available on the trains, salesmen will walk past selling various foods & drinks. Also at long stops(15mins) you can often jump off and buy snacks and meals at various train stations. The food is hygienic and we have never had any issues with the food sold on the trains or at the stations.
The Must Have Train App:
Download the ‘Where is my Train’ app on your smartphone to track your trains status and location in real time. This is great for checking if your train is delayed and also for knowing when you are at your stop!
Indian Train Classes Explained:
General Class: The cheapest class and good for short 1-2 hour journeys. No allocated seating and it can get very crowded with people seated on the floor and in luggage compartments.
Worth a try for the real budget, adventure traveller, it can be really fun! We travelled this class between Virudhunagar & Madurai a few times which was about a 1.5hour long journey each way. You cannot book online, grab your ticket at the station.
S2 – Second Sitting: Non AC allocated seat, great for shorter journeys for budget travellers.
SL – Sleeper: Our favourite class!! Travelling sleeper has it’s pro’s and cons, but for us the pros outweigh the cons. You get your own allocated bed, but no blankets are provided.
It’s open air so there is no AC and it can get a bit smelly, noisy and dusty on this class. However it is soooo social and fun. You can meet so many lovely and interesting people travelling on sleeper class and it’s super cheap! A long distance train will only costs you around 150 rupees ($3NZD).
It’s always best to book the upper bunks as you can sleep anytime you wish, the lower two bunks are used for seating during the day and only convert to beds after 9-10pm. We would take our own sleeping bags as it does get cold at nights, even a silk liner would work!
Another tip is to use a jumper, jacket or towel as a pillow & take ear plugs and an eye mask! We filmed our first sleeper class Indian train ride which was 28hours long in our Hyderabad vlog:
3A – AC 3 Tier: Comfortable AC carriages with three tiers of beds. Clean sheets, blankets and pillows are provided.
This class is very quiet so a good night’s rest can be had. But you won’t get the social element such as in sleeper class. We got lucky and scored a free upgrade to this class once!
2A – AC 2 Tier: Almost the same as A3, however only 2 tiers of beds, so less crowded & privacy curtains are often available.
1A – AC First Class: Most expensive class, with fares that can be at par with airline fares in some cases. Private compartments with 4 beds or 2 beds (I don’t think you can choose when booking).
So if you’re travelling solo or as a couple, you might not get full privacy. Blankets, sheets and pillows are also provided. We travelled A1 when my parents came to visit and personally A2 & A3 are a lot cheaper and just as nice.
How to Book Train Tickets in India from Abroad:
If your travelling for more than 2weeks throughout India, then we recommend getting setup with online bookings. Trains usually book out weeks sometimes months in advance.
There are tourist quotas but we heard it can be a real hassle to get these tickets and they are only available on certain train lines. Being setup to buy your tickets online might take a bit of time and effort, but will really make your life easier in the long run!
Step 1: First you need to get set-up on the official Indian railway web portal – https://www.irctc.co.in/.
When setting up your account it will ask for an Indian phone number. We did not have access to an Indian phone number so IRCTC told us to enter in a dummy 10digit number and continue with setting up our account.
Once you account is set up, you will need an ISD code to activate your account. They usually send this to your mobile, since your number was fake you won’t receive it.
The next step is to email them with a scanned copy of your passport attached. Mention you are a foreign tourist and that you don’t have ISD code and can they please activate your account. It might take anywhere for a couple of days to a couple of weeks for them to respond, but it worked for us!
Step 2: Now that your IRCTC account is active you can now proceed to set up an account with Cleartrip.
When you go to purchase your train tickets on Cleartrip it will prompt instructions to link to your IRCTC account. Follow the clear instructions and all will be sorted! Now you can book train tickets online freely!
Well there you have it fellow travellers, Indian Trains Explained! We hope this article was helpful and inspired you to travel by train during your next trip to beautiful India!
Cheers, Native Travellers
INTREPID & OFF THE BEATEN PATH TRAVEL STORIES, GUIDES, TIPS & HACKS
9 thoughts on “Train Travel in India Explained”
Kia ora guys! Thanks for the helpful post! Just looked up the train app but there are several and Im not sure what one it is! What is the exact name of the one you use?
Its called ‘where is my train’ its got a little blue logo with a train 🙂
There is some correction needed in your blog. A1,A2,A3 are not types of AC compartments in trains they are used to denote serial number of 2nd AC (Two Tier AC) coaches. Please correct it to avoid confusion.
Hey Aman, thanks for your comment…but I don’t quite understand? I believe these are codes for types of train tickets/classes. When I book online train tickets these are the options I get and it clearly states on the online booking sites thats these are the different classes. https://blog.cleartrip.com/2008/10/01/indian-railways-fare-classes-explained/ If I am wrong I will update as I don’t want to lead anyone astray 🙂
The options you get while booking online are 1A, 2A, 3A, SL. These mean 1st AC, 2-tier AC, 3-tier AC and non-AC sleeper accommodation.
In Indian trains, coaches for 1A are numbered H-1, H-2… etc. 2A coaches are numbered A-1, A-2, A-3… etc. 3A coaches are numbered B-1, B-2, B-3… etc. SL i.e. Sleeper coaches are numbered S-1, S-2, S-3 etc. You get to know your exact coach number only after your ticket is booked. This means you can’t really choose a particular coach before booking. You can only select a class and book a ticket in that class.
The very first category of coachec you mentioned requires correction. 2S is very well a sitting only category, but it is a reserved / allocated class. I.e. when you need to book a 2S ticket, you need to fill a form (either a piece of paper or online) mentioning your name, contact number, journey details etc. And you get a specific seat number, coach number etc. 2S is a non-Air conditioned, Sitting only reserved class. And it is not the cheapest (guess what, it is the second cheapest) The other one is GEN (General) class. It is also non-AC sitting only, but no allocated seats. It’s tickets generally are bought on the spot (few minutes before journey), from the starting railway station’s unreserved ticket counter, and they are the cheapest tickets.
For more information , please visit www.indiarailinfo.com . It is the apex website / community for all train related information for India.
Yes you are correct 🙂
Hey guys! The codes I have mentioned above above are correct for when booking on Cleartrip which is the site foreigners use. The codes above are different to coach identifier codes 🙂