This is the second post on helping tourists/travellers to use the Indian railways system. In my first post I detailed Indian Train Classes, how to identify them and pick the one your want to use. In this post, it guides you on buying train tickets and using the Tatkal system for buying emergency or last minute train rides.
When buying a train ticket in India it can be a real hassle. Especially if you buy directly from the train station. Most of the time the people serving, are either not in the least bit interested in helping or they just cannot understand you and half the time there is a ridiculously long cue of annoyed or moaning Indian people just itching to push you out of the way so they can get their tickets.
The easiest thing to do is ask your guesthouse or hotel to book it for you and most of them will normally have no problem doing this for you for a nominal fee of 200 – 300 Rs. It saves you the bother of paying for a Tuk Tuk to the station and back as well as dealing with the person at the counter and it would probably cost you the same money or more to go and do it yourself!
Cleartrip.com is like the Holy Grail of train travel for western tourists in India. This website is the online information service for booking tickets via the internet. It has a list of all the trains available for certain dates and the route for that journey including which stops are on each train line. If you really are not happy about going to the train station or having someone else booking your ticket, you can book it online and print off your ticket which makes things alot easier and leaves you without the worry of actually obtaining the ticket although you will pay a little more for the privelege. This was a lifesaver sometimes for me as it also allows you to check what station the train ends at and how much time you have to get off the train when it stops at each station. Be warned sometimes trains stop for ages and sometimes you have a matter of a couple of minutes so be careful or you might end up some place in the middle of nowhere!
Another useful tip is to look at for the train station signs. There should always be a sign in English with a few having Hindi on them. Usually station stops anouncements were in Hindi and when they were in English it was very hard to understand so make sure you look out for your stop if it isnt at the end of the line!
The Tatkal System
When deciding which places to visit you should consider trains and buses beforehand and how easy it is to get from one place to the next. If you can pre-book your travel it will save alot of hassle but if you are like me and dont like having too many plans there is a way to book emergency tickets. The Indian Railways has a quota for tourists. Tatkal is a system introduced by Indian Railways for obtaining emergency tickets or people requiring to make a journey at short notice. Usually Tatkal Booking starts one day in advance but they sell out very fast. Tatkal can be seen on Cleartrip.com as well so take a look on here if you need to do this but even if it says there is no space dont worry! There is one Golden rule (pun intended) in India that will almost always get you a ticket and that is money! If it says there is no ticket, go and speak to someone in a travel agency (Always usually an Indian name followed by “Travels” on the street e.g. Ganesh Travels) and ask. If they say no, go and ask another one. Usually they will be able to get a Tatkal ticket from someone they know who knows somebody else if you are willing to pay more. You might have to wait until 3 hours before your journey but more often than not you will get your ticket!
So there you have it! I hope that this guide was helpful and if you have any further questions just drop me an email!
Have you had any hassle get train tickets? Any tips you would like to share? Please leave a comment and help would be travellers around India…
Indian Train Travel – Train Classes
Many tourists travel to India to experience its diverse culture, taste its spicy and flavoursome curried cuisine and see some of the many beautiful places it has to offer. One thing I have noticed from my travels in India is that tourists seem to have trouble understanding the Indian railways system, what class they should use and just having general difficulties with Indian train travel.
Indian Railways, by number of employees, is the world’s second largest commercial or utility employer, with more than 1.36 million employees to boot. Covering 7,500 stations and 114,500 Kms of total track over a route of 65,000 Kms, it has the fourth largest railway network in the world and be aware it is not the cleanest of ways to travel but it is an experience!
This is a short guide to understanding Indian Railway classes. There will also be an article on booking train tickets and the Indian Tatkal system as a follow up.
Always look for the name and/or code on the side of the trains as shown below when on the platform to work out which carriage you need as they are separated. There are always more Sleeper Class carriages than the rest.
There are many classes in the Indian Railway system and here is a breakdown of what to expect:
Chair (Seated) Classes:
Many journeys in India take a long time (usually longer than 5 hours which usually require a sleeper) but not always and for shorter journeys (e.g. Delhi to Jaipur – 3 – 4 hours) seated classes are fine.
AC Chair Car (AC CC): An air-conditioned seater coach with a total of five seats in a row. Mainly for confortable travel for city workers, AC Chair Car is generally the best (rarely there is Executive) and the seats have reclining chairs if you wish to have a a little sleep. If you happen to be on the train for breakfast usually a tasty Omlelette and bread is brought around or on some trains you can order Idli Vada which is the typical South Indian breakfast (Idli are little rice pancakes with Sambar dipping curry and Vada are doughnut rings with a little onion deep fried).
Seater Class or Second Seating (2S): This class has bench style seats and without the air-conditioning. Not uncomfortable but not the best either and you dont generally get breakfast served to you. Cockroaches are also common.
Unreserved (UR): The cheapest way to travel seated, the seats usually made up of wood and sometimes cushioned seats. Although entry into the compartment is guaranteed, a sitting seat is not guaranteed. Tickets are issued in advance for a minimum journey of more than 24 hours. Tickets issued are valid on any train on the same route if boarded within 24 hours of buying the ticket. These coaches are usually very crowded, noisy and smelly. People will push anyone out the way to try and get a seat so be WARNED!
Rooftop Class: This is not really a class but just a joke. When you travel on trains in India you will sometimes notice people just walk on the tracks and throw things on to the top of the trains. Well people actually jump and sit on the top of the trains. This is not uncommon for the poorest of people or those catching a quick ride as it is totally FREE. It is also a regular thing to here running as many people will jump from one carriage to the next on the roof.
First Class AC (1AC): This is the most expensive class but pure luxury in terms of train travel in India. The coach is separated from the other classes so that noone apart from the attendants and conductor can enter and you are inside your own compartment with closing door. In 1AC, you are either in a compartment with one other person or thre other people. Attendants come around with food (Typically a vegetale curry and also Spicy Tomato soup as a snack) and every so often Indian Chai (Tea).The compartments are very spacious, bedding is included and the sleeper berths are extremely wide with plenty of space for luggage. There are usually reading lights and charging ports for phones and other electrical acessories. Toilets are also the best you will find including toilet paper and soap – a rarity in India.
AC Two Tier or Second Class AC (2AC): The next class down, AC-Two Tier is still comfortable. it is similar to 1AC in that if you share with three other people there are two sleeper berths each side (very rarely one each side) with bedding included but also two by thr gangway. There is no door, only a curtain and people can walk in and out as they like. Passengers are served food including the regular Chai being brought around. As in 1AC there are reading lights and charging ports but space for luggage is more resricted. Toilets start to go down hill from this class.
AC Three Tier or Third Class AC (3AC): Berths are arranged as in 2AC but with three tiers across the width and two longways meaning there are eight partitions of eight berths. There are usually no reading lights, charging ports or curtained off gangways but bedding is included with fare. It is not really possible to sit up in your bert and read as in the previous classes and is less comfortable. Food starts to turn into more streetesque with attendants or generally young boys hoping on the train when it stops to sell drinks, crisps or things like Samosa’s. This is also the class where little friends started to inhabit the same sleeping area – yes there are Cockroaches on the trains (more so at stations). My first experience on a train was in 3AC from Madgoa to Ernakalum in Kerala and i found two dead cockroaches lying on my berth and a couple more crawling inbetween mirrors. Best advice bring a sleeping bag liner and get in it straight away and try to sleep.
Sleeper Class (SL): The sleeper class is the most common coach on Indian Railways. These are the same shape as 3AC with 3 berths stacked each side and then two stacked on the gangway totalling eight per partition (not that there are really any partitions as it is all open). This is the lowest of the low for sleeping classes and is not very comfortable. There is no AC only windows and it gets very cold at night. The berths are not particularly clean and you do not get any bedding at all. During the day the middle berth is down and it is supposed to only be down between the hours of 22:00 and 06:00 so sleeping can be tough amd if you on the bottom people can just sit on your berth which gets irritating. Toilets are pretty grim although every train has an Indian squater toilet and also a western toilet. Again Cockroaches can be a problem. The worst thing about sleeper class and the Indian Railways system is that if somebody has an unconfirmed ticket, they can still get on the train. All they have to do is pay the conductor some extra rupees and it gets stamp to confirmed. This leads to sleeper class becoming crowded and compact and very noisy. I did travelled in lots of sleeper class and not because I wanted to but because of the only real reason to use it and that is the price – Its so cheap! (200 Rs.)
So there you have it! Indian train classes! I hope this gives you an idea of what to expect and what class you might like to use. All I would say is sleeper class is an experience and I recommend you do it at least once but once may be enough! Happy train travels in India!
Look out for the next post about the Tatkal System and booking train tickets in India…
#TTOT is THE travel event on Twitter… Let’s make it THE social travel hashtag now!
In January 2011, Melvin of @Traveldudes started The Travel Talk on Twitter.
It was about time to have a travel event on Twitter, by topics that don’t get dominated by sponsors who pay for it. So a mixed crowd of travellers and companies out of the travel industry started #TTOT = Travel Talk on Twitter.
From the first session it was and still is the most successful travel event on Twitter. Each Tuesday at 9:30 am and at 9:30 pm GMT, hundreds of travellers meet up online and tweet about topics and questions, which were submitted by them on Facebook.
But the #TTOT hashtag is much more!
It’s THE travel talk hashtag!
Whenever you need any travel related help…
whenever you have a question for your travels…
whenever you tweet about travel…
Just add it to your tweet!
It’s short & a very well known hashtag!
Travellers worldwide will look out for it and will use it as well to tweet about their passion… Travel!
It’s not a hashtag of a single company… It’s YOURS… It’s OUR Social Travel Hashtag!