Travel tips The gang | Photo courtesy of Satish Krishnamurthy

Published on June 26th, 2014 | by Tayla Gentle


The 10 commandments of the Indian railway

Read time: a bit over 4 minutes

The gang | Photo courtesy of Satish Krishnamurthy

Some things in life require commandments or instructions to help people make the most of them. Take religion and Ikea furniture for example. Nobody would know what to do with their religion or Ikea furniture without instructions; the necessity is obvious. 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 (or in this case, commandments). So take heed of the following 10 tips (put together by us) to ensure your next adventure on the Indian railway is as awesome it can possibly be.

Indian train

See why we need rules? |

1. Thou shalt not swap

Don’t swap seats. Don’t swap seats with anyone. Not even with that super friendly local man who just gave you free chai. Persuasive techniques that can and will be used against you in the court of rails include; the appeal to your empathy (“my wife is sick and I must sit with her”), the seemingly generous (“you should take my bunk, it’s closer to the bathroom”) and the straight up lie (“you’re in my seat”). Don’t be a sucker, inspectors come round on the regular to match your ticket to your seat number, and they don’t take kindly to bed hopping. Middle-class railway riding is a dog-eat-dog world.

2. Thou shalt never go without 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. But you’re travelling in India, so that one should be obvious.

3. Thou shalt use your brain

In India, if you want to go by train you need to use your brain (#poet). Travelling on a public holiday? Book ahead. Meeting a flight? Book ahead. Making the 18-hour journey from Bodhgaya to Jaipur? Book ahead. It’s guaranteed the squashy yet ‘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 strange man beside you will be a welcome luxury. Alternatively, we know of a pretty rad company that’s qualified to do the thinking for you. Ahem.

4. Thou shalt not take the free food

It’s not free. It never is. It may be delicious and plentiful, but it’s not your complimentary dinner dhal. Sure, you can go ahead and tuck in, just be aware that the attendants will come round in five hours time and ask for extra rupees.

5. Remember the Top Bunk, keep it holy

If you find yourself with a top bunk, you should be totally stoked. Like seriously, consider thanking whatever God/Dog you put your faith in because luck has run your way today. Middle and lower bunks are not so blessed. The Middle bunk is often converted into a seating area once the sun comes up, so you will inevitably lose a bed. 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. Arguably, better than a sleep in.

6. Thou shalt look out but not stick out

We are talking about your head here. By all means check out the scenery, watch the Indian landscape fly past and sit beside a window for some fresh air. Just don’t stick your whole head out of said window. Scoring yourself one of those cliché travel photos (plucky backpacker smiles as head juts out of moving train) is not worth the risk of possible decapitation. Think about it.

7. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s 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 2 x 4m space. Cosy.

8. Honor thy floor plan

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. Thou shalt hoard thy belongings

Despite the friendliness of the locals and backpackers sharing your berth, there are a lot of people getting on and off these train and sometimes, when travelling, you’ve just got to be cautious. Lock your luggage and stash it either below the bottom bunk or squeeze it into bed with you (dependent on how light you travel). As a side note: you should also keep track of where your shoes end up. Braving a bathroom run sans sandals is never a good idea.

10. Thou shalt relax

Your train may be late, your food a little weird looking and you desperately need a shower, but let’s put things in perspective. You’re sitting on a bullet train that’s (almost) speeding through the Indian countryside. You’re talking to locals, reading good books and maybe even learning a new language. You’re pretty much owning life. You deserve a beer.

Want to experience the Indian railroad in real time? Get on board one of our kickass India trips and see what all the fuss is about. You won’t regret a thing.

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About the Author

A sucker for air fare sales to Asia and a good story, I've eaten my body weight in Philippine chicken, trekked the highlands of Myanmar and practiced with a very legit yogi in India. He could stand on his head for three hours. I once got lost in a rainforest in El Salvador and found myself eating burritos with a corn farmer. To me, travel means bantering with tuk tuk/moto/jeepeney drivers, mosquito bites and coconuts. But never socks and sandals, not when travelling, not ever.

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