Traveling by train in India

India is a vast country with good train networks but roads of limited quality. Therefore covering large distances are best done by train. If the journey is more than 10 hours there are often overnight trains which save time and accommodation costs.

Overnight trains

Overnight trains have 4 classes of accommodation. 3AC are comfortable berths, and more than enough for most travelers. 3AC and 2AC offer a good chance to chat with Indian people and other travelers.

The Air Conditioning (AC) is very effective, and you might even get cold by the morning. 3AC, 2AC and 1AC all come with bedding (pillow, sheet and blanket). If you have a sleeping bag keep it handy.

Here is a breakdown of the 4 available classes

  • Sleeper – the cheapest option, but crowded and the wooden slat benches are not comfortable. Very popular with Indians.
  • 3AC – Aircon 3 seats/beds per section. Padded and comfortable, more than enough for most travelers. Popular with backpackers and Indian families. Tips: The beds running down the side (rather than across) of 3AC carriages are 2 high, rather than 3, making them effectively 2AC. The seats aren’t as well padded though. If traveling alone ask for the top bunk, which doesn’t fold away, as you can lie down during the day.
  • 2AC – Aircon 2 seats/beds per section. Slightly more comfortable than 3AC. Good for couples as the upper bed does not fold away, so someone can lie down during the day. Popular with travelers and Indian business people.
  • 1AC / First class – Aircon 1 seat / bed per section. Very comfortable, and quite a bit more expensive. Popular with Indias more affluent people and travelers with cash. It is often the same price to fly though.

Here are some handy facts about overnight trains

  • AC carriages are quite cool and most people prefer wearing trousers than shorts, especially when sleeping.
  • If your overnight bed doesn’t have any bedding try and sort it out straight away, and be persistent if no one comes along with it as promised.
  • Keep earplugs handy for overnight trains, there is often a lot of noise.
  • Luggage is stored under your seat, and can be locked to a metal loop. Keep a padlock and chain handy.
  • Don’t worry about taking food and water onto overnight trains. Typical Indian food is available on board at typical prices. Omelettes for breakfast, curries at lunchtime samosas and cutlets throughout the day. There is a pantry car, but the sales people will regular walk the train. Water, chai and coffee are also available at normal prices.
  • Each car has a toilet at the end. It is normally a squat toilet (sometime western), and normally clean. There is a wash basin outside the toilet.
  • The side doors at the end of the cabins will be open during the day. Hanging onto the hand rail and leaning out is a great experience. Hold tight though!

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