Traveling India by Train

This is your rough how-to guide for traveling through India by train.

Traveling India by train can be intimidating. But after our first train ride out of New Delhi to Jaisalmer, it didn’t take us long to learn the ropes. To my surprise, traveling India by train is actually quite easy. We spent three weeks in the Rajasthan region of India. Our train travels were as follows:

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New Delhi – Jaisalmer – Jodhpur – Udaipur – Ajmer (Pushkar) – Agra – New Delhi

The booking rules have changed.

Prior to arriving in India, we managed to book most of our train tickets via ClearTrip without a glitch. That has now since changed. You are now required to have an IRCTC account. The IRCTC is the Indian Railway reservation system.

In order to activate an IRCTC account, you need an Indian mobile number. For a step-by-step instruction on how to activate an IRCTC account without an Indian mobile number, visit seat61.com.

Essentially the workaround this is e-mailing IRCTC customer service a copy of your passport and they will reply back with your account activation code. We got a response with our activation code within 24 hours.

IRCTC Issues

The IRCTC may be the biggest reservation system in the world but they suck. Don’t be surprised if you are unable to search for specific train routes or book your ticket through ClearTrip due to system overload and error. It’s down quite often.

WL, RAC, CNF and what this all means

The Indian Railways have a unique booking system. Once a train is fully booked, a number of tickets are sold as “Reservation Against Cancellation” or RAC. Once those tickets are sold out, you can be “Waitlisted” or WL. If a passenger with a confirmed reservation cancels, you get moved up the line. Meaning, if you are WL you can move up to RAC status and RAC to Confirmed status or CNF.

Confused yet? Don’t worry. We’ve been RAC and WL on virtually every train ride and managed to get CNF seats in the end. At one point, we were even Waitlisted #17. Just make sure that if you are WL or RAC to check the morning of or 2 hours before your train departure to see if you have been promoted to CNF status. Which in most cases you will.

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You can check if you are confirmed online or at the train station where the WL confirmation is posted on a message board or on a list outside your assigned train cart. If your name is on the list, congratulations! You are confirmed.

Once on board, the conductors will make their rounds to verify tickets. You don’t need a physical ticket, just your E-ticket on any mobile device and passport will do. Another reason why Gerard’s phone came in handy.

Your stop will not be announced. At least I never heard ours announced in any of our rides so better to know your arrival time and set your alarm. If you’re running late, just confirm with several passengers on the train. Somebody will be able to confirm each stop with you.

Where is my seat?

All train carts are clearly marked by class with 1st Class AC at the front of the train and Unreserved 2nd Class towards the back. You just need to know which direction your train is heading to know which is the front and where on the train tracks to wait.

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We typically booked Air-Con 2-Tier or 3-Tier with one AC Chair Class while training in India. Our beds were comfortable. We had clean sheets, blankets and pillows. No Indians tried to take our seats although occasionally, you will see one bounce around trying to find a free bed to sleep in.

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Food on board

We were spoiled to thinking every train ride in India would be like our first overnight train from New Delhi to Jaisalmer – veg Thali dinner on board ($100Rs), the Chai Chai man ($5Rs) and the awesome tomato soup man with his delicious garlic croutons ($10Rs). Turns out that wasn’t always the case.

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Food is not always available on board the train. Not every train ride has a Chai or tomato soup man. If you are on an overnight train, there are dinner boxes served on board typically consisting of rice and dal. Someone will walk the aisles and take dinner orders. However, it can take up to several stops before you get your meal so if you are an in-between stop, your paid meal may not come in time before you get off. Best to ask at which stop dinner will arrive to see if it’s even worth ordering.

Make note of your train schedule to check when and where there are extended layovers (usually at major stops). This is your only chance to hop off and grab biryani, samosas or snacks from vendors selling on the train tracks.

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Packing your own snacks is essential to every Indian train travel. We had plenty of water, nuts and my absolute favorite Parle-G ginger cookies which are delicious on its own but are also the perfect dunker to my Chai tea. All the snack above cost less than $50Rs – not even $1USD!

Do not leave food or snacks out in the open. Unfortunately, there are instances where we had mice and cockroaches on the train.

Free pickups

And finally, if you already have reservations at a hotel or guesthouse, they generally offer free pick-up! Just make sure you arrange it before you arrive and confirm that it is in fact free of charge. The catch is they’ll pick you up for free but you’re on your own when you leave.

The picture below is of Jaisalmer train station upon arrival.

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So there you have it. Phew! Apologies for the lengthy post. We felt such information may be important for those traveling through India by train for the first time. Did we leave out any important details?

You Should Also Know

 

  • We hired a taxi from Jodhpur to Udaipur with a short stop in Ranakpur. You can bargain at local travel agencies and get a private taxi anywhere from $2,200 up to $3,600Rs if you have your hotel arrange it. The trip takes approximately 6 hours.
  • Make sure you pack your own toilet paper for the train ride. In India toilet paper is not generally used. Thanks for the correction, Rakhee Ghelani. 🙂
  • It is best to always carry small change as most snack items cost any where from $5-$10Rs.
  • Our total train cost is $7,242 Rs for 2 persons (approx. $135.43 USD).

 

We’re no experts, but if you have any questions about traveling India by train, feel free to ask us in the comments!

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  • http://www.MyBeautifulAdventures.com/ Andi Perullo

    Such great tips! I’m really sad that I didn’t ride a train when I was in India a couple of years ago. I need to return!

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com Kieu – GQ trippin

      Training in India was definitely an experience but I was surprised at how easy it was. We’d do it again. 🙂

  • http://www.MyBeautifulAdventures.com/ Andi Perullo de Ledesma

    Such great tips! I’m really sad that I didn’t ride a train when I was in India a couple of years ago. I need to return!

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com/ Kieu – GQ trippin

      Training in India was definitely an experience but I was surprised at how easy it was. We’d do it again. 🙂

  • http://www.heelsandwheelsonline.com/ Bobbi Lee Hitchon

    Wow-great guide guys. I’m starting to plan India for next year and I have to admit, I’m a bit nervous about navigating the train system. I think I’ll spend more time down south, so I hope it’s all similar.

  • http://www.heelsandwheelsonline.com/ Bobbi Lee Hitchon

    Wow-great guide guys. I’m starting to plan India for next year and I have to admit, I’m a bit nervous about navigating the train system. I think I’ll spend more time down south, so I hope it’s all similar.

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com Kieu – GQ trippin

      It’s the same system throughout India so you should be good. I was surprised at how easy it was to navigate the train system in India. The only part that look like a train wreck was unreserved 2nd class because all the locals scramble to get on for a free seat. I definitely suggest to splurge a little – and by splurge I mean by Indian standard – and get AC Classes. 🙂

  • http://www.heelsandwheelsonline.com/ Bobbi Lee Hitchon

    Wow-great guide guys. I’m starting to plan India for next year and I have to admit, I’m a bit nervous about navigating the train system. I think I’ll spend more time down south, so I hope it’s all similar.

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com/ Kieu – GQ trippin

      It’s the same system throughout India so you should be good. I was surprised at how easy it was to navigate the train system in India. The only part that look like a train wreck was unreserved 2nd class because all the locals scramble to get on for a free seat. I definitely suggest to splurge a little – and by splurge I mean by Indian standard – and get AC Classes. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Ooooh boy, India is the one country that I don’t feel ready to tackle just yet. And your mention of cockroaches and mice REALLY confirmed I’m not ready yet! Very useful post though!

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com Kieu – GQ trippin

      India is definitely an assault on the senses – it’s intense. But definitely an experience you won’t forget which could be both good and bad. LOL. And by mice I meant I saw one little guy scoot around the train carts. Maybe a few little cockroaches too. You’ll see worse in India. 😀 Haha

  • Caro_PassportandaToothbrush

    Ooooh boy, India is the one country that I don’t feel ready to tackle just yet. And your mention of cockroaches and mice REALLY confirmed I’m not ready yet! Very useful post though!

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com/ Kieu – GQ trippin

      India is definitely an assault on the senses – it’s intense. But definitely an experience you won’t forget which could be both good and bad. LOL. And by mice I meant I saw one little guy scoot around the train carts. Maybe a few little cockroaches too. You’ll see worse in India. 😀 Haha

  • Wright2travel

    I just came to your site to contact you guys about India but this post gave me most of the info I was after!! Thanks so much guys. India is still wavering on and off our schedule but we might be brave enough to confirm it … We don’t have long to decide so we will see 🙂 Thanks again for the awesome info!

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com Kieu – GQ trippin

      Hey! Yea, sorry we’re like two countries behind. LOL. Just about to get our India posts on so hopefully I can provide some service?! 😉 Feel free to email us should my posts come out too slow, haha. You know how that goes.. Let us know if/ when you go. India is a trip!

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com Gerard ~ GQtrippin

      If you want to see & experience something COMPLETELY different from what you’re used to and be out of your comfort zone. I would recommend visiting India. It’s not for the faint of heart.

  • Wright2travel

    I just came to your site to contact you guys about India but this post gave me most of the info I was after!! Thanks so much guys. India is still wavering on and off our schedule but we might be brave enough to confirm it … We don’t have long to decide so we will see 🙂 Thanks again for the awesome info!

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com/ Kieu – GQ trippin

      Hey! Yea, sorry we’re like two countries behind. LOL. Just about to get our India posts on so hopefully I can provide some service?! 😉 Feel free to email us should my posts come out too slow, haha. You know how that goes.. Let us know if/ when you go. India is a trip!

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com Gerard ~ GQtrippin

      If you want to see & experience something COMPLETELY different from what you’re used to and be out of your comfort zone. I would recommend visiting India. It’s not for the faint of heart.

  • http://www.baconismagic.ca/ Ayngelina

    Thank you so much for this post, I just bookmarked it as I know understanding this system can be a nightmare.

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com Kieu – GQ trippin

      Sure thing! We were glad we booked most of our train tickets before arriving otherwise I would have panicked for sure. Surprisingly, once we figured the loop around the Indian number thing, it was pretty easy. 🙂

  • http://www.baconismagic.ca/ Ayngelina

    Thank you so much for this post, I just bookmarked it as I know understanding this system can be a nightmare.

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com/ Kieu – GQ trippin

      Sure thing! We were glad we booked most of our train tickets before arriving otherwise I would have panicked for sure. Surprisingly, once we figured the loop around the Indian number thing, it was pretty easy. 🙂

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  • http://technosyncratic.com Technosyncratic

    This is something that we soooo want to do! We spent three weeks in India two years ago, but we didn’t ride a single train. Sigh. I guess that’s what happens when you travel with an academic group. We’ve been meaning to go back, but it hasn’t happened yet!

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com Kieu – GQ trippin

      An academic group?! Now that sounds cool.. and smart! Hehe. Training in India is definitely worth it. Especially to places like Jaisalmer where there is no airport. Hope you guys get back there soon! 🙂

  • http://technosyncratic.com Technosyncratic

    This is something that we soooo want to do! We spent three weeks in India two years ago, but we didn’t ride a single train. Sigh. I guess that’s what happens when you travel with an academic group. We’ve been meaning to go back, but it hasn’t happened yet!

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com/ Kieu – GQ trippin

      An academic group?! Now that sounds cool.. and smart! Hehe. Training in India is definitely worth it. Especially to places like Jaisalmer where there is no airport. Hope you guys get back there soon! 🙂

  • http://whichhotel4me.com/ Spencer

    I travelled by train in India back in 1981 and it certainly wasn’t as comfortable as you appeared to be!

  • http://whichhotel4me.com/ Spencer

    I travelled by train in India back in 1981 and it certainly wasn’t as comfortable as you appeared to be!

  • http://twitter.com/freakytravel travelFREAK

    Looks like quite an ordeal! Glad you made it alive!

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com Kieu – GQ trippin

      Haha thanks! I think one of the most interesting train travels to date.

  • http://www.travelfreak.net/ Jeremy Foster

    Looks like quite an ordeal! Glad you made it alive!

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com/ Kieu – GQ trippin

      Haha thanks! I think one of the most interesting train travels to date.

  • http://aussiegirlinindia.com/ Rakhee Ghelani

    I just wanted to correct the information in your post. You can still book through Cleartrip and do not have to go through the IRCTC site at all. I have been traveling India’s trains for 10 months now and never used the IRCTC site.

    Also your comment about India being “notorious” for not “providing” toilet paper is also incorrect. In India toilet paper is not generally used, with the majority of the population using water and their left hand. So they don’t “provide” toilet paper for the westerners who think it is a requirement. It is the toilet paper users (and I am one of them) who are using something that is not generally used in India.

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com Gerard ~ GQtrippin

      You’re right about the toilet paper Rakhee! Very true, it’s a typical expectation of a westerner. We forgot we always had to pack our own! =P

      In regards to the train comment. This was a mandate that was issued with 3rd party ticket brokers this past February. You do not need to book through IRCTC’s site, but you do need to have an IRCTC account linked to cleartrip or makemytrip. Just curious, how did you get around this within the last couple months?

  • http://aussiegirlinindia.com/ Rakhee Ghelani

    I just wanted to correct the information in your post. You can still book through Cleartrip and do not have to go through the IRCTC site at all. I have been traveling India’s trains for 10 months now and never used the IRCTC site.

    Also your comment about India being “notorious” for not “providing” toilet paper is also incorrect. In India toilet paper is not generally used, with the majority of the population using water and their left hand. So they don’t “provide” toilet paper for the westerners who think it is a requirement. It is the toilet paper users (and I am one of them) who are using something that is not generally used in India.

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com Gerard ~ GQtrippin

      You’re right about the toilet paper Rakhee! Very true, it’s a typical expectation of a westerner. We forgot we always had to pack our own! =P

      In regards to the train comment. This was a mandate that was issued with 3rd party ticket brokers this past February. You do not need to book through IRCTC’s site, but you do need to have an IRCTC account linked to cleartrip or makemytrip. Just curious, how did you get around this within the last couple months?

  • http://www.thetravolution.com/ Cristina

    Key info. Thnx! Haven’t done India yet but still would love to experience it. thnx for the tips!

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com Kieu – GQ trippin

      No prob! It’s actually a lot easier and more comfortable than we thought. Definitely an experience.

  • http://www.thetravolution.com/ Cristina

    Key info. Thnx! Haven’t done India yet but still would love to experience it. thnx for the tips!

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com/ Kieu – GQ trippin

      No prob! It’s actually a lot easier and more comfortable than we thought. Definitely an experience.

  • http://twotravelaholics.com/ Tara

    Love this post too! Thanks for sharing all of these great tips!

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com Kieu – GQ trippin

      Sure thing. Anything if it helps. India by train can be intimidating at first but it’s actually really comfortable. 🙂

  • http://twotravelaholics.com/ Tara

    Love this post too! Thanks for sharing all of these great tips!

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com/ Kieu – GQ trippin

      Sure thing. Anything if it helps. India by train can be intimidating at first but it’s actually really comfortable. 🙂

  • http://twitter.com/JacknJillTravel Jack and Jill

    Great tips. We’re sort of thinking of heading to India sometime next year and we’ll be probalby taking a train ride or two while we’re there. Thanks for sharing!

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com Kieu – GQ trippin

      Oh when next year? The train was great for us since we only stuck to a specific region but even so, longest ride was like 15 hours! Haha

  • JacknJillTravel

    Great tips. We’re sort of thinking of heading to India sometime next year and we’ll be probalby taking a train ride or two while we’re there. Thanks for sharing!

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com/ Kieu – GQ trippin

      Oh when next year? The train was great for us since we only stuck to a specific region but even so, longest ride was like 15 hours! Haha

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  • http://twitter.com/ChrystalClear_ Chrystal-Clear

    These are awesome tips! I will LOVE this when I go to India!

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com Gerard ~ GQtrippin

      Thanks! Hopefully this will come in handy! The train isn’t as bad as you think it may be. It definitely was much more cost-effective than hiring a private driver for our entire trip.

  • http://SeamsLikeChrystal.blogspot.ca/ Chrystal McKay

    These are awesome tips! I will LOVE this when I go to India!

    • http://www.GQtrippin.com Gerard ~ GQtrippin

      Thanks! Hopefully this will come in handy! The train isn’t as bad as you think it may be. It definitely was much more cost-effective than hiring a private driver for our entire trip.

  • Marv.n.Jo

    This is a very helpful post! We’re planning our trip right now, and your tips about the trains really help us to know what to expect. Assuming our train ride goes without a hitch…we’ll be Christmas’ing in Kolkata! 🙂

  • Marv.n.Jo

    This is a very helpful post! We’re planning our trip right now, and your tips about the trains really help us to know what to expect. Assuming our train ride goes without a hitch…we’ll be Christmas’ing in Kolkata! 🙂

  • http://pnrstatus.getprotected.in irctc login

    The most important part of traveling by train is to get a confirmed ticket. For Online train ticket booking go to irctc login site and follow the instructions.

  • http://conferenceneardelhi.com/ Pooja

    Really informative blog article.Thanks Again. Keep writing….resorts near delhi

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