When it comes to train travel, there are very few destinations, which are as diverse as India. Around 23 million Indians use the train services every day. And within a year, the overall distance travelled by the trains in India is equal to ¾th of the distance between Moon and Earth.
However, it is not easy to travel in trains in India, if you do not know the knack of handling it.
1. Be Prepared for the Crowd
May it be a Wednesday or Sunday, lean tourism month or peak festival time, the stations and trains will be booked to the brim. It is very unusual for train stations to look deserted in India. So, be prepared for the crowd. India is a safe country but, no one could vouch for every single person in India. You need to beware of your belongings.
2. Book Ahead
As mentioned before millions of people use the trains every day. Thus, the demand for the train tickets is very high, especially in the inter-state trains. It is always best to book the tickets at least 60 days in prior to the travel. In case of intra-state trains, be sure to book it as soon as possible.
3. Register in IRCTC
Foreigners have a different registration process. One has to scan the passport, valid visa, and others and email it to the concern department to be able to booking via IRCTC. IRCTC is the online platform for booking train tickets. It is best to book tickets via IRCTC or, choose any reliable tour agents for booking.
Once you are inside the train, privacy is a questionable factor. Eight passengers share one section in a compartment. Each one will have a separate berth and some trains even have curtains dividing the berths. If you wish more privacy, you ought to choose the first class AC coaches or, luxury trains like Palace on Wheels.
5. Foreign Tourist Quota (FTQ)
Foreigners can avail Foreign Tourist Quota Ticket, which provide you a flexible travel option, especially during lean tourism season. Not all trains provide FTQ. Surf and learn specific trains and stations, which provide such tickets.
6. Alternative Route
If the trains to your destination are booked up, you can choose to book tickets to the nearby stations. In India, most stations are located just an hours journey away. Instead of choosing any other costlier travel option to your destination, book train tickets to the railway station closer to your destination. For instance, say, you are booking tickets to Varanasi from Delhi and you find that the tickets are completed booked up. You can alternatively, choose to book for train travel from Delhi to Mughalsarai station. From Mughalsarai, you can travel to Varanasi in just 45 minutes, on road.
7. Bring your Own Entertainment
Unless you are traveling in a luxury train like Palace on Wheels, you should learn to keep yourself occupied. Train journeys could be boring, and in some cases, you would be struck at the station for several hours waiting for the train to arrive. So, pack a book or load your music player with songs. Also, pack your bag with snacks. You can find snacks of all kinds in the station but if your train is stuck in any crossing, you will have no options. If you want a train travel with complete entertainment facilities, you ought to choose luxury trains like Palace on Wheels.
8. Know Your Station
Especially when you are on an over-night train and your destination is not the final one, there are numerous chances for you to miss your station. To avoid this, it is very important to pay attention to each station the train is currently at or, you can find apps, which provides you an alarm right in time, when the train reaches closer to the station you are about to de-board.
You can order meals from the authorized caterer who would walk from one compartment to the next, taking orders. You can also choose to buy from the stalls on the station. However, the quality is questionable in both cases. Thus, most travelers pack their food from home or buy a parcel from any reputed hotel near the station. Some trains provide on-board meal as a part of the ticket. If you choose luxury trains like Palace on Wheels or other high-end trains, the food quality will be good.
10. Punctuality is Hard to Maintain
It is true that it most cases the trains are a little late. Sometimes, they will run on time but, the traffic on the road would be jammed up to every inch. Thus, always plan to be in the station at least 30 minutes prior to the time of your train departure, even if you are certain that the train will be 30 minutes delayed. It is impossible to predict anything with Indian schedule.
One could safely assure that the sanitation of the train, especially the toilets is tremendously increased in this decade. However, you cannot expect a spot-less star hotel level sanitation, unless you are travelling in luxury trains like Palace on Wheels. Also, trains do not usually provide toilet papers. Pack toilet papers, wet wipes and hand sanitizers.
12. ID Proof
You would need to have your physical train ticket. In case of online booking, have the booking receipt in phone/ printed copy and also have an ID proof. It is also safer to have a copy of your passport with visa.
13. Air-Conditioned Coaches
The train journey is not always pleasing. In the peak summer, the train might welcome gushes of hot breeze into the compartment, increasing the humidity. Each compartment is fitted with several fans but, the effect can be almost negligible. Thus, if you are traveling in peak summer or, if you believe that you cannot withstand heat, mosquitoes and other problems, book tickets in AC cars.
14. Friendlier People
Unless you lock yourself in the first class AC coop, you will be surrounded by people. When Indians see a foreigner amongst them, they get curious. You will always have a couple of eyes watching and judging you. Some might even have a million questions for you and they wouldn’t hesitate to ask. Some would request to take a picture with you to boast to their friends that they have met a foreigner. In most cases, these are harmless curiosities of normal people. However, be alert always.
15. Electric Outlet
You can charge your devices through the outlets provided closer to your berth. However, those outlets are for Indian devices and you need to carry an adaptor.
You will find porters who would help you get your things from the taxi to the train and vice versa. Always bargain the price before you accept their service.
17. Sleeping in the Train
The train’s frequency is kept in coherent with heart rate and thus, people usually sleep sound in train. However, there can be numerous noises starting from snoring to a child throwing tantrum at mid-night, which could spoil your sleep. So, pack ear plugs and eye masks.
It is not practically possible to prepare 100% for an Indian train journey. Be alert, pre-book tickets, and pack everything you would need and, give it a try. If you want to play it safe and enjoy a vacation with a train journey, the Palace on Wheels is a good option.