Thursday, April 7, 2011

India Train Travel 101

So you have planned your backpack trip to India, you have looked up the trains you will be travelling on and finally you are trying to make reservations and you see all the trains are wait listed. With 1.2 billion people in India, trains are the most convenient and comfortable travel across the country. The over-night trains are extremely popular for many reasons, it saves valuable day time, reduces lodging costs and is generally cooler than the balmy days especially in the steamy tropical South. Indian Railways has over 64,000 km of tracks and carries 25 million passengers daily.1
    There are several classes of travel on the Indian Railways, the most popular are Sleeper class, Second class, 2A A/C two tier, 3A A/C three tier and 1A First-class A/C. A booming middle class following the economic liberalization of India which started in 1991 has increased the demand for 2A and 3A classes which are generally more expensive than Sleeper class. If you are a budget minded back-packer and would prefer the sleeper class of travel the following should help you plan a successful and enjoyable trip.

1. India has several travel seasons. Significant ones are the Summer vacation season, where trains are often more than full and reservations run dry quickly with on the same day it opened up. One can book up to 90 days in advance for any Indian train where reservation functionality is available. The other significant travel time is around festivals which abound in India. Diwali is in late October, Dasara (Nava rathri) in early October, Christmas in late Dec, Holi in March are major national festivals and there are severeal regional ones like Onam in September celebrated in Kerala, Pongal in January celebrated in Tamil Nadu and Ganesh Chathurthi in September celebrated in Maharashtra.
2. To complicate things 'Muhurtha days' are scattered all over the year. A seemingly quiet week can turn into an overcrowded train ride with all the gears for a wedding can catch you off-guard.
3. Weekends are always popular for travel and sometimes Saturday nights can be crowded too as many offices work 6 days a week.(Except for Sundays).

To beat the crowd, always book early. While it is un-ethical to make several reservations and block the seats  from those who need it, due to the next to nothing fares and lack of strict penalty for cancellation, you may want to have a back-up reservation on another train or the following day. Following the computerization of reservations and the ability to book-online, several working professionals book tickets 'just in case' and tend to cancel at the last minute and hence while travelling between metros, (eg. Bangalore and Chennai) it is not uncommon for a Wait listed ticket in the hundred or even two hundred to confirm.
  For major trains , look up Wikipedia for coach composition. Sleeper class wait lists tend to clear faster than A/C classes as most trains have 10 + cheaper class coaches, but 2 or 3 A/C classes.
  Tatkal reservation is a last minute travel tool where you pay a premium for a reservation and it opens 2 days prior to travel date.

If you have any questions post a comment and I will answer.
More Itineraries and tips at

 India Trains


  1. Hi

    I am going to backpack India by train next year and find all your information valueable :) I thinking about not to buy traintickets in advance - is it possible to buy tickets very close to departure like 1 hour ? On whick website do you by your tickets ?

  2. Sorry, I just saw this. You can buy tickets close to departure for short distance trains. trains in India are always crowded. IN major stations, you may wait an hour in the line at the ticket counter. I would always recommend reservations. you can buy tickets at