A Guide to Using the Wonderfully Mysterious Indian Railways

India is vaaaaast, so chances are, you’ll use a variety of different methods of transport to get about. We used buses, boats, auto rickshaws, cycle rickshaws, shared jeeps, meter taxis and trains. But our favourite and most used by far, was the legendary train. The main reason we used this so much for long distance travel was that I get motion sickness on the road (the first bit of long distance travel we did was by bus, from Alleppey to Mysore, and I threw up). Since that first trip , way back in Karnataka, we’ve travelled solely by train. It hasn’t always been plain sailing, and we’ve learned a few tricks along the way that would have come in handy at the start, so we thought it would be a good idea to share them. Sharing’s caring after all, and we are always keen to get our karmic quota up……..

First things first, let’s explain the different classes……

What this man doesn’t know about trains, isn’t worth knowing…..

– The lowest is 2nd unreserved. This is a crazy bun fight for space, let alone seats…….if you’re travelling with anything larger than a day bag this would be interesting. It’s dirt cheap.

Packed Indian Railways

Packed Indian Railways

– Some trains have a chair car carriage which you can reserve a seat on. Depending on where you are going, this may or may not be A/C (we didn’t really need A/C in the north as it was so chilly).

– The next popular carriage is Sleeper. We used this one a lot. There will be a few different options here…….the side bunks are either upper or lower. This means you get a seat downstairs (until bed time) as well as your bunk which will either be upper (little ladder to climb up) or lower (the seats fold down to make a bunk). In our opinion, these are the best value for money in any of the sleeper classes, especially if you are a couple as you get a whole section to yourselves. If you don’t get these, you’ll be in one of the 6 options next to the side berths. These are Upper, Middle & Lower bunks. On each of these, you get a seat (on the lower bunk) as well as your bunk. The lower and upper are already in bunk mode, but the middle will fold up from the seat back of the lower bunk. We liked getting the two upper bunks in the section, as you get to have a seat during the day, and a (pretty much) uninterrupted sleep at night. If you have the middle bunk, you’re a bit more vulnerable to people leaning on your feet as they walk past…..and if you have the lower bunk, people will hop on next to you occasionally (although this never happened to us). The benefits of sleeper class are that it’s cheaper than the A/C sleeper options and you do get to see a but more of the ‘real’ India in that it’s mostly locals using it. That’s pretty fun…..but it’s also really noisy sometimes, especially when the crazy clapping lady boys hop on to demand money from the men.

3AC is the same as sleeper but with A/C, curtains to section off your area, and a pack of blankets, a pillow & a towel, which is nice as it can get a bit chilly if you’re on a long ride. The only difference with 2AC is that you only have 4 bunks instead of 6, but you still have the option of side bunks…..we never had the chance to ride on this carriage

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