A Complete Guide To Indian Railways For International Travelers
Authored by Rohit Agarwal
As a traveler, the best way to get to know India is to board a train.
Only train travel offers the combination of unique cultural insight into Indian culture coupled with incredible natural scenery; the ability to witness the landscape of a country whose scenery is diverse and continually changing. Mountains, rivers, rural villages; these are the sights which fly into your field of vision and vanish just as quickly as the train speeds by.
The comfort and freedom you enjoy on a train cannot be compared with even the best of flights. However arranging for train journey and the journey itself can be challenging if you do not know how to go about it.
The following is a complete guide to navigating Indian Railways for the international traveler – important guidelines to help you as you pack off for an interesting journey.
First Things First – Ticket Reservation
Image: Freddie Ablazed (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
Budget and level of comfort are naturally the two factors that you need to consider while booking your ticket for the train. The plans offered by Indian Railways are flexible enough to offer some comforts even for those with a tight budget.
The classes available are second class, which is unreserved, sleeper class, air conditioned chair car, three tier air conditioned class, two tier air conditioned class and first class air conditioned. Some trains have one or two more classes.
While booking your tickets make sure you state your preference regarding berths. A berth refers to a bed. Three tiers have three berths on each side while two tiers have two berths. If you have the ability to climb the top berth, it is best to request this as you will have complete freedom and there will be no need to fold it once you wake up after a sleep.
Every compartment has side berths too, which refer to the beds along the aisle. The aisle has two berths, and if there are two of you traveling together, this can therefore be a great option as you will have absolute freedom while sitting and stretching for a sleep. However, if you are quite tall and nearing 6 feet, you may want to avoid the side berths as they are shorter than others in the compartment.
Traveling in unreserved compartment is not the right option for a new traveler.
Boarding The Train
Image: Freddie Ablazed (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
If it seems odd that I’m giving you tips on how to board the train, I can guarantee you’ll understand the need from the moment you step into the station!
If you are about to board a train that stops enroute, you need to make sure you are on the right platform. Once you reach the station, you need to find the platform number where the train you are to board will arrive.
The waiting area for travelers in the station is set up with boards which announce the details regarding the arrival and departure time of the trains. On reaching the platform, learn where your coach will stop. This reduces the last minute rush through the crowd with your baggage to reach your compartment.
The overhead indicators on each platforms offers information regarding the coach numbers that will stop in that particular place. Once you get inside your compartment, locating your seats should be easy as these are all numbered.
If you are traveling with oversized luggage, you can load it in the luggage van that is attached at the end of the train. After arriving at the station, you need to show your travel ticket at the luggage office situated near the platform to have this luggage loaded.
Indian Railways offers free allowance for all classes up to a certain weight. This weight limit for free luggage depends on the type of the ticket you have.
Traveling Ticket Examiner
TTE, the Traveling Ticket Examiner, is an employee of Indian Railways. He will be hectically busy until the train starts moving as he is always surrounded by people on the shortlist, waiting for last minute tickets, as well as those who have travel related questions.
Once the train moves, you will find the TTE busy in a relaxed way, checking the tickets of passengers. He can address any concerns you have regarding change of berth or travel related questions like the time the train may reach your destination. You can also request class upgrades which are granted subject to availability.
Long distance trains have a pantry car, which serves beverages like coffee and tea, snacks, tiffin and meals. You can order from your seat anywhere throughout the train from the railway staff who frequent each compartment. Alternatively you can also walk up to the pantry car and order your food directly there.
Unless the travel fare includes your meals, you need to pay for what you buy.
Image credit: Ed Johnson via Flickr
Both Western and squat toilets (referred to as Indian toilets) are found in each of the coaches. A coach has 4 toilets out of which three are Indian and one is Western with a flush.
If you are not used to Indian squat toilets, especially on a moving train, you may find the concept of a bathroom break slightly intimidating!
Avoid carrying your cell phone, glasses, keys are anything that can fall off your pocket while in the toilet.
To ensure a pleasant journey, it is best to research all options available to you before booking a ticket on an Indian train. When you travel in India, you can also choose to book specialty and prestige trains, and these offer more comfort for a higher fare.
Abide by the above tips and tricks you’ll be fine – have a great time on-board Indian Railways!
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