Exploring India – Let the train take the strain


With a staggering eight different classes of travel, combined with waiting lists, foreigners reservations and Taktal rules, it’s no wonder that foreign travellers  get confused when they come face to face with Indian Railways for the first time.  But getting a grip of the Indian railway is simple if you take a little time out

Indian Railways has the largest rail network in Asia, its trains carry over 23 million passengers every day and there are 1.4 million people on the payroll.  For the traveller, the train is cheap, enjoyably slow and offers out of this world travel opportunities.

Exploring India’s railway system is a real joy and this post is about getting your hands on that all important ticket.

This guide won’t answer everything, but it will point you in the right direction and give you some handy hits and tips when planning a trip on a railway system that is a wonder of the world.

Tickets sell out quick smart

Tickets on the most popular trains on the most popular routes sell out quickly.

So, plan ahead and take advantage of the 120 day advance booking window if you want to get a decent seat (or bed).  The 120 day rule doesn’t apply to all trains and remember that foreigners can also take advantage of a 360 day advance booking window.

If you’re a foreigner, there is another plus point.  You also have access to the foreigner’s reservation.  What’s that?  Well.  The Indian Railway holds onto some tickets solely for foreigners. Jolly decent of them if you ask me.

You’ll have to head to the train station to book the foreigners reservation quota, but it is well worth the trip when you’re in desperate need of a ticket.

Make sure you go to the right place when looking for a ticket, tourists looking for the foreigners ticket office are a favourite for the touts.

Appearing well meaning, these charlatans will take you away from official office and to a place where they’ll take you for a ride (but not on the train).  You’ll find lots of these young men hanging around CP offering amazing deals from so called government approved tourist shops.  Read more about them here..

What do all these different categories of ticket mean?

Confirmed, Taktal, WL and RAC tickets are important to understand.  Read on for a 101.

What you really want is a confirmed ticket.  This is simple to understand.  You ticket is confirmed meaning that you’ll have been (or will be) allocated a seat / bed number. Everything is fine and you are guaranteed to travel.  Great.

If you don’t have a confirmed ticket then here’s what you need to know.

Taktal tickets – Taktal tickets for AC Class become available at 10am the day before the train departs (it’s 11am for sleeper classes tickets).

Taktal tickets are limited in number and available to everyone.  So get primed at your computer with your fingers at the ready. And go when the second hand touches 10am!  There is a mad rush for Taktal.  As you would expect, the systems crashes regularly due to demand.

RAC – Reserved against cancellation.  In theory this ticket guarantees you somewhere to sit, but does not guarantee you a bed for the night.  It doesn’t mean you’ll get AC either.  You can board the train, but no promises on where you will end up.

WL – Means wait listed There will be a number after the WL which indicates your place in queue.  You haven’t got a ticket, you can’t board the train and you’ll have to hope people cancel their tickets so you can get a seat.

Will you get a seat?  That all depends on how many people cancel.  Check the PNR number to see how it is going. This Indian Railways portal shows you how.

Leaving it late?  Indian railways sends a text to the registered mobile phone number of all passengers 4 hours before the train departs.

After this there is little chance of getting a ticket, but if you are desperate go and see the station master and tell him your tale.  There might be something he can do, but do not bank on it.

Buying train tickets is not straightforward to start with, but it is when you know how.

Getting a grip of the Indian railway is simple if you take this two step.

First step, read what the The man in seat 61 has to say.  His no nonsense guide to rail travel in India is the best in the business.  Full stop.

Second step, sign up to one of the online booking portals.  Cleartrip is my preference, but there are others.

Now, signing up to Cleartrip (and the other portals) is a process, but read the guidance carefully, follow the instructions  step by step and hey presto, you’ll be on the rails in no time.  With my Cleartrip account I’m just like a ticketing agent.  Next customer please!

As you would expect there are apps from Indian Railways, Cleartrip and other booking agents, to help make travel simple and seamless.  They are pretty neat.


The toy train pulls into it’s hill station in Darjeeling

What about those eight classes again?

The marvelous Man in Seat 61 has some excellent advice.  He explains what is what and there’s pictures too.  Take a look at his site.

He’s the resource on the Indian Railways in general in you want a deep dive.  He’s also great at giving advice on setting up your Cleartrip account, but be aware that there are always updates to the Indian rail system and guidance on the exact process can be out of date the second it gets written.

Indian Railways has its own booking portal too.  It’s here.  Not as easy to navigate as Cleartrip, but it has its fans for good reason.

Why can’t you book return tickets?

I know, it is annoying.  It’s only possible to book single journeys, so checking routes and availability is a bit of bind.  The first few train tickets that you book might take you a couple of goes, but you’ll get the hang of it in no time .And maybe, just maybe, a return ticket option will feature soon.  We hope so.

Is there a limited on how many trips you can booked?

There seems to be when booking online, but this too varies. Bank on being able to book a six trips per month, but after that the online booking portal might well say no.  If that is the case, you’ll have to open another account or head on down to the ticket office to get your tickets.

There are travel agents everywhere

There are travel agents dotted all over India that will be willing to help you out with train booking.  Only part with your money once you have an official ticket.

Feeling a little flush?  Check out The Palace on Wheels

Love railways.  After the trip of a lifetime.  Are you very, very, wealthy?

You are? Then the Palace on Wheels offers you the dream ticket.

I’m waiting for my wife to buy me a ticket, but I reckon I’ll be waiting a very long time.  This website gives you the lowdown on what you can expect.

A word of warning, use a reputable agent to get your tickets.  There have been cases where agents have taken the cash, but there has been no train.  An expensive scam that one.

Not so flush, take the semi luxury train and tourist trains

For the less well heeled, there’s the semi luxury trains and the tourist circuit.  Take a look what’s on offer at this link.

Anything else?

Yes, loads.  There’s so much more to say when it comes to the Indian Railways.  Most of it is marvelous.  I’ll write about it another day.

2 thoughts on “Exploring India – Let the train take the strain

  1. Pingback: Festival, fairs and carnivals in India this February | Namaste New Delhi

  2. Pingback: India Railways: Everything you need to know | Namaste New Delhi

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