How to survive Indian trains
Now I tried to read up on this before I left for India. I used Hippie In Heels blog post as a guide which was really helpful. Really though you’ll discover how to navigate the trains once you are actually there and forced to use them.
To book our tickets we used tour agencies, they take commission but to be honest we’d rather pay them 50-100 rupees than have the hassle of queuing up ourselves. You’ll need your passport with you to purchase tickets as they use it as ID. We cannot book tickets online as we are foreigners so you’ll either have to use an agent or queue up yourself at the station.
Millions of Indians use the trains everyday in India. We had to book our tickets at least a week ahead as they get booked very quickly. Sometimes you’ll be put on the waiting list and given a number, you’ll most likely get a seat as they open up seats saved for government officials.
This is something of the old fashioned caste system which doesn’t really seem to be so vivid anymore. We’ve experienced 2AC, 3AC, sleeper and chair. Obviously you pay more higher the class. If you want a fairly good night’s sleep go for 3AC up as they give you sheets, pillow and a thick heavy blanket. You may think you won’t need a blanket but with air con blasting out even your toes will get cold. Sleeper was not so fun as Fran and I ended up covered in dust on our way to Jaisalmer and being woken up at 3am by the family leaving below.
To be honest my best journey was on chair class on our way from Agra to Delhi. At first I wasn’t feeling well and the limited space wasn’t great but soon we were talking to people and being entertained by the neighbouring baby. The best part was Lydia and I serenading the carriage with the Les Miserables soundtrack. There was much more of a camaraderie on board compared to the other classes.
Check out my Indian train station rules blog post.
It gets confusing. We ran up and down platforms trying to figure out which carriage we were supposed to be on. Sometimes the train is on a board like in Kolkata however, that was the first and last station we found that did that. We asked people and being foreign they wanted to help us. When you’re on the train there are no C2C announcements of which station is coming up next. We kept an eye on the time, asked fellow passengers or sometimes just looked out of the window until we saw a sign.
Get comfy – it’s a long ride
Now you have to remember India is a large country. To get across the other side of England it’ll take about 6 hours…in India times that by 4 or 5. The journeys can go surprisingly quickly if you talk to passengers, read, write in your journal and just enjoy the scenery outside. Be prepared for delays, breakdowns and cancelled trains. On our way from Kerala to Bangalore the engine stopped working and we were stuck for about 3 hours having no idea what to do. Be patient and just go with it, what else are you going to do? We found Indian children liked talking to us so they could practice their English. On our way to Hampi a kind Indian man gave us a book about an American yogi who travelled across Europe to get to India. He wrote a sweet message inside and wished us good travels.
Funny things will happen
In the Indian style toilet I accidentally pulled the flush tap off the wall causing water to rush out and fill the little room. I ran out bumping into a Japanese traveller who burst out laughing at the sight. I searched up and down the carriages (at midnight) for an attendant. Finally I found one playing cards with his friends, I waved my hands up and down trying to explain through our language barrier. Thankfully they managed to fix the problem.
Lydia found the beds too short for her long legs. Her feet hilariously stuck out, propping open the door. Indians are funny about feet and I had people tap me asking me to move her sleeping feet out of their way.
I only spotted one mouse (or was it a rat?) in a carriage and that was 2AC. Fran said she had seen a couple. There are two toilets each side of a carriage: one Indian style (squat) and the other Western style. Try not to touch too much as they aren’t the cleanest. Always carry hand sanitizer!
We made the mistake once not bringing food with us on a long train journey. We were starving and to our misfortune no sellers were on the train, usually there are loads! After a couple of hours we finally pulled into a station, Lydia flew out of the carriage and ran across the platform buying up lots of crisps and biscuits. Not the healthiest but much needed.
Help is at hand!
These guys were the best. They carried our super heavy luggage (on their heads?!) along the long Kolkata platform for a worthy 100 rupees.