January 27, 2012

Traveling by train in India

The best way to experience the real Indian train experience is by travelling in the second class or the sleeper class for the longer journey. It is dirt cheap and a good way to meet the local people from all walks of life, although usually only the poor and middle class travel in these carriages.

I really wanted to try it but as I was travelling alone and taking an overnight train, I thought it was best to go for the more civilized and comfortable journey. Save the hassles for future travels, when I come again with a travel buddy. Susah senang bersama bak kata orang. :p

OK so there are several classes of accommodation on the train, namely:
  • Second Class (SC) - the cheapest class it is almost free but be prepared for the crowd. It is overcrowded as those who aren't able to secure a ticket in sleeper class will cramp in here. These basic carriages have hard wooden seats so it is best to avoid it for longer trips.
  • Sleeper Class (SL) - there's six beds in each compartment. The beds are stacked in three tiers on either side of the compartments. During the day, the middle beds must be folded down against the compartment walls to allow passengers to sit on the lower beds.
  • Air Conditioned Chair Car (CC) - designed for daytime short distance travel, found almost exclusively on superfast services and consists of comfortable reclining seats.
  • Three Tier Air Conditioned Class (3A) - similar to SL; it has six beds in each compartment but it is air-conditioned and much more comfortable. Sheets, pillow, blankets and towels are provided in the evening.
  • Two Tier Air Conditioned Class (2A) - there's only four beds in each compartment. The beds are stacked in two tiers on either side. Sheets, pillow, blankets and towels are provided in the evening. Additionally, it has curtains at the entrance to each compartment for more privacy and individual reading lamps.
  • First Class Air Conditioned (1A) - The most expensive class. Compartments have lockable doors, carpeted, washbasin and either two or four beds, stacked in tiers. Sheets, pillow, blanketss and towels are provided. The only problem is that you cannot specify if you want accommodation in a two bed or four bed compartment when you book.

The choice is yours. The officers at the reservation office will usually recommend you the 3A or 2A, depending on the availability.

For the tickets, you can book it at the train station. Alternatively, you can book online through Indian Railways' official reservation site or Cleartrip. Cleartrip is easy to use but they impose some service charge.

If you fail to get the tickets, try the Foreign Tourist Quota, a quota specially allocated for foreign travellers. The tickets can only be booked through the International Tourist Bureau though, and you need to show your passport.

There's actually much more options to get the tickets. You have Waitlist (WL) or Reservation Against Cancellation (RAC) tickets. Quite tricky to explain all these cos I don't really understand it myself. Go google it ok. hehe...

If you land in New Delhi, you can go to the International Tourist Bureau at New Delhi Railway Station. Reserve and buy your tickets here, not at any 'government approved booking office' which are clearly fake.

Once you enter the train station, head to the first floor above the main departure building where the reservation office is located. Some touts will tell you that the office was burnt down or relocated, but don't be fooled by them.

main hall

go up to the first floor

the office

You can buy tickets to/from anywhere at this reservation office but first, you need to fill in this form.

Once the form is completed, get in the queue (or just get the form, queue and fill it up while queuing) and wait for your turn to be served. If you don't know the train number, you can leave it blank first. The officer will then check the departing and arriving stations, the dates of your journey and he will recommend the suitable trains for you.

the platform

Sleeper Class (SL)

Two Tier Air Conditioned Class (2A)

Here are some pictures just to give you the ideas how the carriage looks like inside. These pictures are on 2A class that I rode.

#1 During the day, passengers sit on the lower beds. Blankets, towels, pillows and sheets are provided for the night.

#2 To secure your bags, chain and lock your bags to the hooks provided under the lowest bed.

#3 The compartment, with 4 beds each. I prefer to take the lower bed everytime I travel in an overnight train. How about you?

#4 The compartment is complete with mirror for you to see your ugly face in the morning :p and power socket to charge your phone, laptop etc.

#5 Inside the carriage, each compartment has a curtain to give passengers privacy. You don't want people to see your terkangkang style of sleeping, do you?

#6 The toilet. There are four toilets in a carriage, two at each end. The toilet was surprisingly clean. Don't expect the same if you travel in the second class though.  

#7 Washbasin outside the toilet to brush your teeth and face in the morning.

#8 Ready to leave. Back on foot carrying my Deuter AirContact Pro 55+15 SL backpack. T_T Gahh I really need to learn how to travel light.

The sound of chaiwallah shouting 'chai, chai' passing each compartment selling chai kept on playing in my ears, the image of little child playing by the train tracks, the blaring train horn in the middle of the night, the curious locals greeting you. It was indeed one of the most interesting part of the journey.

You definitely have to try it whenever you're in India! Oh for the record, no I didn't see people sitting on the roof. 


fatt said...

very detail about the train classes. mcm seat61! i like it! :)

i can relate this with my experience naik sleepers train dkt china...i mmg amik journey malam je sbb nak save & kill time...china train journey selalu lebih dari 12jam memandangkan tempatnya jauh2

i penah rasa nak yg 3 tier bed...i purposely pilih top bunk sbb kat atas tu ada shelf utk kita letak luggage. i rasa lagi safe bila duduk top bunk sbb i takut org harass (tak abih2 :P)...patu i tak rasa takut sgt sbb brg2 i sume within reach.

experience duduk 3 tier bunk? pehhh...lgsung tak boleh tegangkkan badan bila duduk kat birai katil..kena tunduk skit..ada sekali tu i lupa dan bangun mcm biasa dan terhantuk dgn siling ketapi..hahaha....nice!

klu china train takde soket & mirror bagai tapi coach dia mmg selesa sgt2 & its with air-condition

btw yg mirror & power access tu setiap katil ada atau kena share?


rara said...

fatt: tapi train classes tu i tak sure actually ada berapa now sebab ada yang dah phased out.

yup.. naik overnight train memang saving. plus tak la rugi daytime kita. actually kalau travel with friends i memang akan pilih top bunk. tapi kalau travel sorang i suka amik yg bawah sekali sebab senang. nak gi toilet ke, nak bangun ke, nak amik barang dalam bag etc..

tu la.. 3 tier bunk tu nampak macam rendah.. somemore kalau yg duduk tengah tu sure susah gila. hehehe.. i tengok price 3A dgn 2A tak bayak beza, so i amik 2A je la.

mirror dgn power socket tu kena share, 1 compartment each. i nak try la china train one day. u buat la travelog pasal china train ok. boleh i refer situ nanti :)(eh ke dah buat i termiss?)

wa said...

akak ke delhi dan kashmir bulan depan :-) , thanks bgi info pasal train tu

rara said...

wa: no problem.. banyak lagi nak blog pasal india ni but now tengah busy sikit..