The Indian Railways are a massive operation & they’ve got to be to service the second most populous nation in the world. It is said that the Indian Railways are not just a means of transport but a way of life. 18 million people travel daily in more than 9000 scheduled trains. Not only is travelling in India by rail one of the cheaper ways to travel long distance, there is no better way to really experience a journey rather than a destination. Many of the railway lines pass some very stunning landscapes that you might not have gotten the chance to see otherwise.

I’ve been travelling with Indian Railway ever since I was in primary school & although most trips at that time were on Konkan Railways (Mumbai – Goa) route, I’ve since explored more of the country through rail. I’ve even blogged about the landscapes on way to Mangalore & shared a few pictures from my journey to Delhi. Today I thought I’d share a few general tips for travelling with Indian Railways. If you’ve never journeyed by train before, it’s definitely a travel bucket list item that you must cross out soon!

Getting a Reservation

There are 1.13 Billion Citizens in India & hence the Indian Railways are always full, no matter when you’re travelling. While there are ‘general’ compartments where you can go if you don’t have a reserved seat, I definitely wouldn’t recommend it. That’s why booking your ticket in advance becomes very important! Back in the day it used to be very complicated to book a ticket. You had to go early in the morning, fill in a complicated form, queue for a couple of hours & finally make your booking when you get to the counter.

Now thankfully the process is much smoother & you can even book online via the irctc login page. While there are some seat based trains, most long distance ones have ‘berths’. They are like little bunk beds in a cabin, quite comfortable if you’re going to be spending 24 hours or more in a train! Second class is usually non air conditioned with three beds per side (or three tier). This is where all the activity is! You can also choose to travel air conditioned, by three or the more luxurious two tier. Air conditioned will be cleaner & quieter but there will also be less vendors & it can get really cold, so make your choice accordingly.

Navigating the Platform

On the day of your journey, make sure you set out well in advance to account for traffic or any other delays you might have. Just a couple of years ago, we almost missed our train because it was a religious festival & lot of the South Bombay roads were jammed! Indian Railways are almost always on time. Once you reach the station you need to find out on which platform the train is going to be & be there, it also helps to find out which coach number you are going to be in (it’ll be on your ticket, obviously) & wait at the right spot on the platform as sometimes trains halt for a short period of time at any given station. If you need help with your luggage (Indians don’t travel light!) most stations have coolies – men who will carry your luggage for a fee. Just make sure you settle on a price beforehand. If you get in the wrong coach, don’t worry! The entire train is connected so you can walk to your seat or berth once the train starts.

And we’re off!

Depending on your location & destination, the journey can be long. Mumbai to Kolkata, for example can take as long as 38 hours. Make sure you carry toiletries with you, even a change of clothes. 2nd class (non Ac) will have some common charging points while AC compartments should have them quite close to your berth. And now you’re set! You can pass your time by looking out the window (especially amazing during the morning), reading, listening to music or even chatting with your co-passengers. Who knows, you might hear some amazing stories. Happy Journey!