Train is the main transport that Indians use for long distances, is cheaper than others and they run frequently between main cities; so after almost a week in Mumbai, I took a train to have a long travel to go to Delhi; here you can read how it was.
Booking trains in India is a bit chaotic, at least if you don’t want to use the General Class (no air condition), which I heard, is very crowded but you’ll probably be able to get a ticket for the same day in the station.
In my case I didn’t want to use general class tickets because I wanted to have some work done during the hours of journey, then I decided to use AC classes. AC classes have air condition and sometimes sockets and less demand of tickets therefore more chances to get a ticket online.
When you travel very long distances, or in the night, is worth to buy one of the options with berth, there are several classes; starting from the 3AC (3rd class AC), all of them with air condition and are differentiated by less berths in the carriage, curtains, food, etc. I’m not going to explain each class, there are quite a few posts describing those thoroughly and probably with more research than the one that I did.
You can do the actually booking in the stations in advance or in main cities there are ticket offices that they sell tickets in foreign quota; I read about it but I never used because I preferred to do it online to save time, with the tradeoff to take some trains in non-pleasant hours and have to plan a few days in advance. To be able to __book online the best thing that I found was Cleartrip , which offers a wrapper for the government website (IRCTC) but allow you to pay by non-Indian cards; as commented above there are several posts telling about it, but just bear in mind to register an account before your travel because you will have to register with IRCTC, too and they require to validate your account by email and Indian mobile phone number with a workaround if you don’t have an Indian phone, which is the most often case for tourists; don’t worry Cleartrip inform you of the steps to follow, but it’s awkward so take the time to read about it and retry if you don’t receive the IRCTC validation codes.
This post is about the only very long travel which I did by train, I booked it online, and I traveled on 3AC which is the closes one to the inferior one (sleeper) but with sockets and air condition.
Bear in mind that my comments here are related with the class that I used (AC3 tier).
Train was quite old and not maintained if we look to it from the West Europe point of view. I have to say that toilets were very dirty, smelly and you may think that it isn’t a toilet, but that’s the good part of India being honest, if I want luxuries then I’d have remained in West Europe.
During the day people sit where the bottom berth lean (it is never folded); the berths of the middle heigh are fold (they are around your head when you are sat) and upper berths are fix, so if you pick one of those you can always lie down. The berths are grouped by slots (kind of a compartment without door) of 6, 3 in one side and 3 in the other, each carriage have several of those; next to the slots are the windows and the corridor with no door, AC3 tier does not have compartments; in front of them in the other side of the corridor there are 2 berths perpendiculars to the berths in the slot, they are call side berths, one bottom and one top, bottom one is composed by two parts, which one fold to the side and top one never fold as the top one of the mentioned slot.
My recommendation is, if you can, to book a top berth in the slot, basically because you can lie down whenever you want and the sockets are in the slot just next to the window, sides berths don’t have sockets. I learnt that paying a very expensive bill, which I tell you later in this post, due the problem of not having socket next to me.
There are, or somebody will bring, 2 sheets and 1 blanked for each berth; you will have to put them in the berth at the time that people are happy to unfold the beds to sleep.
The journey started OK, people were quiet and you found somebody who was willing to chat with me; no everybody could do because some of them didn’t speak English at a minimum level to follow a conversation.
Crew offered me food at the times of the main meals; I guess that if you order they will bring it to you at the time but you will always have the option to buy food from random people who go around selling tea (call it chai) , sweets, soft drinks, ice cream, some home food, etc; but those aren’t the only options You can also step down to the stations meanwhile the train stop, in some of them (probably the main ones) you will have 5, 10 or 15 minutes (depending of the station) and buy something in the kiosk which are in the platforms, some of them they have even hot food (rice, Indian bread, etc).
You also have to consider is that trains are a little bit bumpy some times, so it makes a bit hard to work with your laptop, but you can deal with it.
My journey was OK until, I put my phone to charge. I left it inside of a textile bag that I used to tie to the place to leave bottles of water. I put in a slot where it was a whole family, 1 man, 2 women and 3 children, I asked him for it when they were sleeping and he was still awake. After I laid in my berth which was the top in side next to that slot.
That was my huge mistake, during the night, I was getting awake a few times and I could see the light of the charger there, so I was feeling OK with my phone. In the morning, they got up before me and they were sat with everything pack; at that time I got up and I went for my phone, the charger was there and he was using it, the bag was there but no the phone. I asked him and he told me I don’t know, probably it dropped, something that it was impossible because it was inside of the bag and the bag was still there tied.
When that happens I looked around and I wanted to contact with the train officer but at that moment the train stopped in a station and they stood up to get out; I was in the middle of the corridor and I was asking him to get back my phone then he started to push me violently to go out; I didn’t make an opposite force to avoid to get in troubles because my aim was to make time until the train officer reach our carriage.
At the end they went out and train ran away, so he lost the opportunity to demonstrate his innoncence; my thoughts are that he took it just before I got up, thinking that I wasn’t going to get up before their station, so I think that if I had got up 10 minutes before the phone had been there.
Anyway it happened and even though I am always very mistrustful, but this time I was beaten for not being it.
After that the train officer came, I reported and some Indian guys around helped me a lot with it; one of those, Rishi, was the one that I started to talk at the beginning of the journey.
When I arrived to Delhi, those guys went with me to the police station which was in the same station and helped me to report to the police; for me was something that I had never expected as we needed one hour something to finish all the process.
Moreover Rishi, who had to take a bus to go to Chandigarh , where he lives, delayed his trip until late in the night to carry me around Delhi to places where to buy a new phone and request a duplicate of Indian SIM card which was so hard to get.
In the evening after I sorted out all those things with his help we split our journey, he took a metro to reach the bus station and myself to go which I was booked in advance.
The experience to travel by train in India is something that I recommend to do if you want to see the real India. I also learnt from my mistake of being trustful, however I could meet awesome people due that experience.
I wanted to say thanks so much to Rishi and the others who helped me.
Any question, clarification or whatever you want to know, drop a comment.