In my opinion, there is no better way to see a country than by train. Rather than flying over huge sections of a country, train travel lets you see every inch glide by as you relax, enjoying the journey. And when it comes to train travel, there are few countries that can rival India. With over 60,000 kilometers of track and around 7500 different stations, the rail system in India connects not only all the major cities but plenty of small towns and even tiny villages. If you are looking to really explore India, to see all of its beauty, and to meet some friendly locals in the process, traveling India by rail is by far your best option.
That being said, this is India and while the train system is relatively efficient, navigating the thousands of different routes and train options can be daunting. From luxury overnight long distance trains to local overcrowded city trains, your train options in India really are endless. To help you plan out your journey, here are our India train travel tips.
Understand the Various Trains & Classes
Almost any itinerary you can dream up is possible using the extensive Indian rail network. If you want your trip to be enjoyable though, it is important to understand the different trains that run between cities and the classes they offer. The last thing you want is to end up on a 36 hour train trip with nothing but a bus-style seat.
On one end you have trains like the Rajdhani Express which is an all AC, all sleeper, superfast overnight train that runs from Delhi to each of India’s state capitals. On the other end you have basic passenger trains that have no AC and only unreserved, open compartment seating. Between these two you have trains that offer a variety of travel options, split into up to 5 or 6 different classes. For long distance trips the main differences between the classes are if they have AC or not and how many beds are in each compartment. If you want the most privacy, opt for AC First Class where you will have a lockable compartment but if you want to meet the most locals, go with the basic Sleeper Class which is also the cheapest option for overnight trains.
Buying Tickets or Using a Indrail Pass
Even once you figure out what train and class you want, booking your ticket can be another headache. Train travel around India is popular and many of the routes will book up months in advance, especially for the higher classes. They have a pretty great waitlist program to help travelers get on the train they want in the case of no-shows and cancellations but you still have to plan a bit ahead. Thankfully, the whole system is computerized now and you can both book your ticket online and check your waitlist status before heading to the train station.
To make train travel for foreign visitors even easier, the government has created the Indrail Pass which for a set price gives you unlimited train travel for the duration of your trip, up to 90 days. Using the pass you can make reservations months in advance to make sure you get your ideal train or for more spontaneous travel, try your luck with the Foreign Tourist Quota. On many trains, even if it appears booked out, there are a certain number of berths reserved for foreign travelers and those using the Indrail Pass. In some cases, even if a train sold out months in advance, you can show up at the train station the day before and use your Indrail Pass to make a last minute reservation.
Above we have discussed the options on India’s public train system but to really feel like Indian royalty, you can also book travel on one of India’s luxury trains. These are not for the average traveler though and can run as high as $800/night on the most popular routes with all the 5 star luxury you’d imagine.