Published on May 4th, 2018 | by Tayla Gentle
10 tips for a stress-free Indian railway experience
Read time: a bit over 4 minutes
UPDATED: This blog was originally published on 26 June 2014.
Some things seem complicated enough that they need instructions. Like, superannuation or Microsoft Excel. Other things in life, like the Indian railway, seem simple enough to not require instructions. All you’ve got to do is buy your ticket, get on the train and sit back and watch the world go by, right? Wrong.
The Indian railway is definitely best enjoyed when taken with instructions. So, take note of our following tips to ensure your adventure on the Indian railway is as awesome as it can possibly be.
1. Don’t play musical chairs
Don’t swap seats. Don’t swap seats with anyone. Inspectors come round on the regular to match your ticket to your seat number, and they don’t take kindly to bed hopping. So, even though that super friendly local man gave you free chai, it’s best you stick to your allocated seat. Watch out for kindly strangers appealing to your empathy (“my wife is sick and I must sit with her”), or the seemingly generous (“you should take my bunk, it’s closer to the bathroom”) or the straight up lie (“you’re in my seat”). These are all tried and tested tricks on the Indian railway that you’re above falling for.
2. BYO toilet paper
Let’s just say going to the bathroom en route will be a breezy affair. Practice your squat and turn on that core strength because you’ll need all the balance you can get. Also, it’s BYO toilet paper. So make sure you have some in an easily accesible place (particularly during the night, so you’re not scrambling around in your bag disturbing your bunk-mates).
3. Be organised
In India, if you want to go by train you need to use your brain (#poet). Travelling on a weekend? Book ahead. Heading to the airport? Book ahead. Making the 18-hour journey from Bodhgaya to Jaipur? Book ahead. It’s guaranteed the ‘real world’ experience of local class is going to get ‘real old’ around the three-hour mark, and the idea of laying your head on a pillow and not the lovely old lady beside you will be a welcome luxury. Alternatively, we know of a pretty cool company that’s qualified to do the thinking for you. Ahem.
4. The food ain’t free
Hopefully by this age you’ve come across the classic saying, “nothing in life is free”. Because that saying really applies on the Indian railway. If a cart comes round selling you food, you can guarantee the dhal will be delicious, but you can also guarantee it isn’t free (even if they don’t charge you upfront). Go ahead and tuck in, just be aware that the attendants will come round in five hours time and ask for extra rupees.
5. Pray for a top bunk
If you find yourself with a top bunk, you are #blessed, because the middle and lower bunks are often converted into a seating area once the sun comes up. That said, if you are a friendly face who loves a good chat, the lower beds provide the perfect opportunity to drink chai and play cards with the locals on the train. So, really it’s up to you which bunk you prefer.
6. Keep all your limbs inside the train
We get it. The Indian countryside is exotic and enthralling. By all means check out the scenery, watch the landscape fly past and sit beside a window for some fresh air. Just don’t stick your whole head/arm/foot out of said window. Scoring yourself one of those cliché Insta shots (jaunty backpacker smiles as head juts out of moving train) is not worth the risk of possible decapitation. Be real.
7. Pack some headphones
Unless you like to be rocked to sleep to the sound of multi-person orchestral snoring, then you might want to chill out with a few of your own tunes. After all, depending on what class you’re travelling, you could be one of six people in a two metre by four metre cabin. Cosy.
8. Know where the nearest exit is
Not that the event of an emergency is likely, but, as any wise flight attendant will tell you, it’s important to be aware of the location of your nearest exit. Can you, off the top of your head, recite the feature differences between AC, AC1 and Coach? No? Hit the books. You need to know what you’re getting yourself in for.
9. Look after your stuff
Despite the friendliness of the locals and backpackers sharing your berth, so it’s a smart idea to keep a close eye on all your stuff. Take a padlock to lock your luggage and then stash it either below the bottom bunk or squeeze it into bed with you (depending on how light you travel). As a side note: you should also keep track of where your shoes end up. The bathrooms are what you might call rustic… so a middle of the night, barefoot bathroom run is less than ideal.
10. Chill out
Your train may be late, your food a little weird looking and the space might be smaller than you’re used to, but let’s put things in perspective. You’re sitting on a bullet train cruising through the Indian countryside. You’re talking to locals, reading good books and maybe even learning a new language. Life doesn’t get much more exciting than this. Treat yourself to a beer, and sit back and enjoy.
Want to experience the Indian railroad in real time? Get on board one of our awesome India trips and see what all the fuss is about. You won’t regret a thing.
Hero photo by Rathish Gandhi.