Saturday, December 10, 2005

Travelling by train in India

Travelling by train is the safest way of travel in India. It is also economical, practical (overnight journeys are ideal when travelling on a tight schedule or budget) and gives you the opportunity to interact with locals while admiring sometimes breathtaking landscapes. If you have some sleep to catch up, ask for the upper seat (so you can keep sleeping when the other passengers are awake).

Tickets can be bought at the railway station or online. A couple of days before the departure date of a train, last minute tickets (Tatkal quota seats) are made available exclusively to tourists for an extra fee.

Food is available in long distance trains as well as at large stations where vendors will go up and down the train. Expect the familiar hawking sounds: "chai, chai, chai (tea)".

There are no fewer than seven classes of accommodation on Indian trains. Below are the classes in roughly descending order of cost. The first four are typically found in long distance night trains and the chair classes in short distance daytime trains.
-AC First (1A)
-AC 2 Tier (2A)
-AC 3 Tier (3A)
-Sleeper Class (SL)
-AC Chair Car (CC)
-Second Class Chair Car (2S)
-Unreserved / General compartments (GS)

I used to travel in Sleeper class which is cheaper and where I found people to be friendlier (even if playing cards in Hindi for 15 hours gets boring towards the end!). Beware that Sleeper compartments are sometimes over-booked and some passengers end up sleeping on the floor. In addition, if you travel in Sleeper class, make sure to bring a blanket (they are only provided in AC classes).


Check here for railway timetables.

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