Train travel in India for first time travelers

Trains can be the most awesome way to travel around India. The railway system connects the entire country and you can choose from a variety of options based on timing, speed and luxuries. Most trains are cheaper than airfare and for shorter journeys, it is common for people to opt for train travel. Of course people also choose trains over flights because of the charm of the journey.

As the train departs the station, you can watch the city fade into the distance and enjoy the serenity of open farm fields, quaint railway colonies and hills for miles. It can be very calming. Bring an engaging book, plug in your earphones and listen to your favorite songs as the train journey begins. Personally I find train journeys with family or friends more delightful than traveling alone but it’s quite safe if you do prefer to travel alone. 

Choose your destination and book tickets on IRCTC online or contact a travel agent to assist you for a small fee. Print your tickets and arrive at the station at least a few minutes earlier than your departure time. Railway stations can be quite overwhelming in terms of size and number of people so having that extra time to get to your train is important. Information boards at the station’s entrance should have information about any delays and the departure platform number.

If you’re at a major station and that’s the starting point of the train’s journey, locate the printed reservation chart glued next the train doors. It’s wise to double check that you’re boarding the right train on the right date. 

A few years ago, I was scheduled to take the train to a conference that I had been preparing for several months. I arrived at the railway station at 10 PM and was about to board the train when my colleague decided to check the reservation chart. But our names were not on the chart. It was then that we realized that our train had left …a month ago. The booking was wrong. During all those months of conference planning, I had forgotten to check the tickets. Needless to say, I was embarrassed and anxious at the same time. The conference was scheduled to start at 10 AM the next morning. We ended up taking the first flight out the next morning. So make sure that you check those dates and get on the right train.

If you’re not scheduled to depart from a major railway station, make sure that you know how long the train will halt there and be prepared to board swiftly. That’s one thing that makes me a little nervous – making sure that we get on the train with all the luggage, while also allowing people who are getting off at that station to get off along with their luggage, and competing with others who are also trying to board.

It’s not uncommon to board a train and find out that someone else is in your seat. Be prepared for requests to change seats but don’t hesitate to politely decline if someone offers terrible seats in exchange. Window seats on the train are my favorite. Tip: wait for the Traveling Ticket Examiner (TTE) to check your tickets after the train departs before any seat exchanges. It will save you the trouble of having to explain why you’re not in your assigned seat.

Whether you are a frequent traveler or a tourist, be prepared for some unwanted attention. There are people everywhere in the world who love to stare at other people. Staring back or starting a conversation with them usually gets them to look away. Some passengers love train conversations especially with solo travelers, so all I can say is all the best if you’re looking forward to a quiet journey and end up with some chatty people around you.

If you’re a tourist in India, you will be showered with extra attention. A few years ago I traveled with some of my friends from the US and the attention they received was hilarious. Co-passengers wanted to know everything about them and even exchanged phone numbers so that they could stay in touch beyond the journey. 

Comfortable clothes and shoes are essential. If your compartment is not air-conditioned, it will most likely be humid at night and hot during the day.

To make your long train ride more exciting, figure out how long the train is scheduled to halt at each station (observe your co-passengers or just ask them!). If the train is scheduled to stop at a station for a few minutes, use that time to get off and stretch or get some real cha and fresh cooked food. This is obvious but don’t get so distracted that you forget to board the train before it departs again and don’t leave valuables unattended on the train – they will most likely disappear. Packing valuables in a backpack that you can carry along with you around the train or station is advisable. Maybe even lock your suitcase so that everything is intact. It doesn’t hurt to be cautious.

Call me a picky eater but when it comes to ordering food on the train, I try not to get too adventurous with the fried stuff unless it’s part of a pre-ordered meal, which some trains offer. Since most of my train journeys have been with family, we have excelled at the art of packing food for train rides. 

The longest train journey I have been on was 36 hours long. Taking short naps during the day and light dozing during the night, in addition to a great book and great conversations, got me through the journey. 

An important part of preparing for long train journeys are preparing for train toilets. Most train toilets do not include toilet paper or hand sanitizer. Pack your supplies to make your train travel as comfortable as you need to be. I also prefer using bottled water for drinking and even washing my mouth and face.

When your train finally reaches your destination, have your luggage ready to disembark and be cautiously swift as you meet the crowd of people trying to get off and board the train at the same time. It’s usually not too bad but it’s best to be prepared for the challenge.

Made it! I hope you clicked photos during that journey so you can celebrate all those memories!


final-3Author: The Overseas Magazine Editor

I wish I could include some images for your reference but unfortunately I do not have any personal photos of train journeys yet and the images available online were not free-sharing. If you have images of train journeys that you would love included with this post, please email them to theoverseasmagazine@gmail.com. Thank you in advance!

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