India Train Travel – What You Need To Know

Catching a train in India is an affordable way to get around and can be a lot of fun.  India train travel is a wonderful opportunity to meet the locals and make new friends.

We have caught a few trains in India, both first and second class, sleeping and seated. The longest train we have been on so far was from Jaisalmeer to Delhi which took just over 18 hours. We have missed our fair share of trains too, including the train for our second trip to Varanasi after being stranded in the Kerala floods. Eventually we had to book a flight from Trivandrum airport to reach Varanasi. We glad we didn’t skip the ancient city as we learnt so much  and captured the some stunning pictures of Varanasi.

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  The journey offers unique experiences like sharing a berth, (a fixed bunk on a train) and chat to locals for hours on end about life, travel experiences and even share a meal or family photos with each other.  By the time your stop comes you leave having made friends for life.


If you are travelling long distances on a train in India or if it is holiday season it is advisable to book a ticket in advance.  Most trains need to be booked 60 days in advance but shorter distance trains can be booked 30 days in advance.   Booking a train trip in India can be a little tricky if you are not an Indian resident and if you don’t have an Indian mobile number but there is a way.

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(NOTE: You can get tickets at the station but these are very limit especially since trains are the primary source of travel in India.)

  • First things first: You need to send a scanned copy of your passport to [email protected] (This scanned copy must be sent as an attachment only) The attachment needs to be less than 1MB.  In your email, ask them to please send you your mobile verification code through email ID.  A response may take a few days so a little patience is required.
  • To use the online train reservation system you need to register on and select the sign up link.
  • The registration form will appear when you click the sign up link. The form is straight forward until you get to where you have to fill in a India mobile number but you can fill in your mobile number even though it is not a local one, it will still accept it.
  • Another snag is when you get to the Pin/Zip entry, this box is designed to accept numbers so select any numbers and it will work.
  • After you click the  submit button you will get a message saying your email ID and mobile number will be validated. You can just click ok for now the next screen will confirm your registration.
  • Since you don’t have a Indian mobile number keep checking your email.  You should get a message form the IRCTC with a link where you are required to log in and enter the mobile verification code. Wait until you get your email back from IRCTC where you asked to send this code via email.
  • Once you got your code go back to the email they sent you where you registered, there will be a  link to log in and put the verification code in and your registration will be complete.
  • If you have any other queries email them on [email protected] they usually very helpful.

Once you are ready to book, log into the IRCTC website by using your code and email address.  Click on the Plan Travel tab and a booking form will appear.  Complete the form with which station you want to leave and which you want to arrive at, which berth you want and weather you want to be seated or sleep if it is an overnight trip.

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Passage view of a coach

I advise to always try and book a AC chair for a day journey. Overnight trips start at 1st class AC, 2 Tier or 3 Tier depending on how many travellers there are. (Tier refers to beds, these beds fold up like chairs so you can sleep or sit.) If 1st class is sold out you need to work your way down to 2nd class and so on. Select an E-ticket and pay with your credit card, your ticket will be sent via email.  Print your E-ticket and once you board the train the conductor will collect your printed ticket.


Its really important to book exactly 60 days in advance as soon as the lines open (1st and 2nd class sell quickly and you want to be comfortable.) Keep going online to get the booking date right and even try to get the times right. (I remember waking up at 3am in the morning to book tickets.)

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Ladies please remember you cannot choose who you bunk with so if there are two of you travelling and you get a four berth the other two bunks can be booked by men.  There is usually a curtain which goes across your bunk for some privacy. When you are not sleeping make sure that you are dressed appropriately, you want to be comfortable especially if it is a long journey.  I have personally never had a bad experience in fact you are more likely to end up making friends with the locals.



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1AC – Air conditioned, private room with locking

2AC – Air conditioned, two tiered beds, 4 people to a berth (room)

3AC – Air conditioned, three tiered beds, 6 people to a berth (room)

CL – Chair Class, padded reclining seats with air conditioning

SL – Sleeper Class, non air-conditioned tiered berths (beds that fold up as chairs)

2nd class – Unreserved seating, free for all


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2AC 4 berth (4 beds), blankets, sheet, towel and sheet provided

1AC (first class)  AC (aircon) 4 berths individual block (4 beds in a cubicle) with lockable door but shared toilets – best option

2AC (second class)  AC (aircon) 4 berths (4 beds in a cubicle) – comfortable

3AC (third class)  AC (aircon) 6 berths (6 beds in a cubicle) – the ok option, very affordable

You will receive a “bed roll’which consists of bed sheets, a blanket, a towel and a small pillow, these are provided in all overnight trains in AC coaches only (1AC, 2AC, 3AC ) they are given around 8-9PM and collected back at 6AM.


Executive Chair Car – Available only in Shatabdi Expresss Trains

AC Chair Car – Recommended

Second sitting – Non AC basic seats – Not recommended


I once missed a quarter of my booked holiday in Kerela because a train in Hampi was late and there were no other trains available. Unfortunately I learnt the hard way –  don’t book connecting trains too close together.  Rather catch a later train even if it means you have to spend a few hours waiting at the station.

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If you have a first or second class ticket there is usually a lounge allocated to female travellers while waiting for a train. There are seats and a toilet provided in the lounge, take full advantage of this!


When boarding a train you do not have a lot of time and it can get quiet crowded.  Check your ticket and make sure you on the right platform before the train arrives.  The side of the trains are marked what class the carriages are. The seats are usually in the front and the berths are towards the back of the train.  Ask for help, from tourist office, or you can see men in uniforms walking up and down the platforms, even the locals are helpful.


Once you are on the correct coach, place your luggage under your seat or berth that is allocated to you.  I have never had a problem with stuff going missing but you never know if you fall asleep and people get off at stations before you, your stuff could easily disappear.


There are no announcements when your station is coming up.  Ask the conductor when he comes to get your ticket to let you know when you are close to your stop or ask one of the locals if they willing to help.  You can also set an alarm just in case, especially if your stop is early in the morning. (You don’t want to over sleep!)

Ideally know the names of a couple of stops before yours and keep an eye on the time, you should know more or less the time you should arrive at your destination.  Gather your belongings ahead of time and be prepared, the stops are quick and you need time to get to the door with your bags.

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Hospet train station (Hampi)


When booking your ticket there is an option of receiving a meal.  I personally did not go for this option not knowing what the hygiene standards were.  Hot water is available on most overnight trains so you can buy a cup of noodles or soup before you get on the train.  Snacks and water is always a good option too, which you can buy from the train station kiosks. Alternatively there is a constant flow of sellers walking up and down selling cool drinks, chai, popcorn and hot snacks.

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Popcorn on the Train

On a 16 hour train ride from Goa to Varanasi we made friends with one of the locals who was sharing a 4 berth with us.

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The local who shared a 4 berth with us

Thankfully he knew when the train would stop for a few minutes so we jumped off with him and he took me to a local who was selling a tray of food for just a few rupees.

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Toilets are not a real problem but the longer the distance the worse they get.  Always travel with a roll of toilet paper and hand sanitizer.


Don’t be scared to chat to the locals, I have made wonderful friends on a train.  An ideal ice breaker is a pack of cards, this is a must have in any back pack and is the perfect way to pass time while travelling in between places.  You can play games or listen to music on your phone, there are charging facilities so make sure you have a universal charger.  A  long train trip is the perfect opportunity to finish that book you have been reading.  There are opportunities to stretch your legs and take a short walk on the train.  A train ride in India would not be fully complete unless you get to open a door that is usually unlocked between two carriages.  Just hold on tight, the view and fresh air is worth it!

If you visiting India, then make sure you check out Bengaluru (the main city in the Karnataka state) Read more about the interesting accents in the city here

Have you ever travelled on a train in India? What tips would you offer to someone catching a train for the first time?

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Liza Williams

Born in South Africa, fascinated with culture and loves wood fire pizza. “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away” Follow me on twitter: @soul_drifters

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