You are probably terrified by the misleading photographs of jam-packed Indian Railways and people hopped atop. Apparently, this is not the case. Though there are times when you might get caught in a situation like this and pray for a savior from those stinking armpits and witty pick-pocketing. It is not for them but this also might be smothering to you. I don’t mean to scare you, but to make you feel the need to be on the safer side when it comes to Indian railways. India has the most extensive and ever growing railway network and a blessing from the British Raj. This is indeed the cheapest medium to travel to long distances. Everyday thousands of people who transverse using Indian Railways.
Indian Railways is the property of Indian government and the government works to make sure that this service is accessible to every class of the society without any discrimination and thus the rates have been set to a rather more affordable parameter.
Getting a ticket VS getting a reservation:
Let’s take it this way getting a ticket is like having a cookie, but getting a reservation is having a cake with nutella icing!
Yes, you can book your tickets even a week prior to the journey of the train. You can get a ticket anytime. But reserving a seat, especially during peak season, is a massive fuss. So, in order to grab this cake with nutella icing, you need to book for your cookie a lot earlier. Sometimes you can travel with only ticket but no seat and not get caught by the T.T. (ONLY if you are lucky!)
Usually it’s recommended that you book a ticket at least one or two months prior. As the day comes nearer, many people with confirmed registration cancel their tickets due to their own reasons which further get transferred to others with no confirmation of reservation.
Coming further, here are the different classes the Indian Railways have. Please take note that not all the trains have all the sections and it differs from train to train. So, kindly make sure that you are not expecting too much.
- Unreserved second class: The tickets are bought even in the last moments and the tickets usually exceed the number of seats. This leads to a much crowded compartment. Many a times people travel even without tickets.
- Sleeper class: This section is for over-night journeys and has no AC. The ones with the reserved seats get the bunk. There are people who in spite of buying tickets don’t get the bunks (because of no reservation) and still travel, but that’s fussy.
- AC executive chair: These are AC compartment for short distance travel usually. You cannot travel in this compartment if you don't have reservation.
- Air conditioned sleeper: For over-night journeys, there are again AC sleeper classes where you cannot travel without reservation. These compartments again are divided into three more sections; first class, Second class and Third class. And needless to say this section is usually selected by the richer classes of the society.
Sites for online reservation:
Keep your passport and proof of the date to arrival in India handy as you might need them for the booking.
These are the preferred sites if you want to book tickets in Indian Railways (Please note, the booking timings are 1:30 am to 11:30 pm according to the Indian Standard Time). Though there are other sites too but they might not accept foreign credit cards
- This is the official site of Indian Railways: Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited https://www.irctc.co.in/eticketing/loginHome.jsf
- These are the second-party sites which charge a nominal fees of Rs 20 or something and promise a fuss free bookings: Yatra (http://www.yatra.com/trains.html) and makemytrip (http://www.makemytrip.com/railways/)
Indrail pass: Indrail pass is something with which you won’t have to book tickets for a period of 90 days. But obviously you will need reservation. This pass is specially recommended if you are planning to travel to different cities of the country during your visit. Seek the assistance of an authorized agent and just like tickets you need to apply for Indrail pass a few months prior to your journey. You can indeed book for it 360 days earlier. It takes at least two months for foreign travel agents to get the Indrail pass.
Tips and warnings:
- Never ever take the risk of procrastinating with the booking. Especially when there is peak season in India like in summers.
- Stay away from unauthorized agents.
- Even if you are traveling in first class compartments, don’t get reckless about your money, ornaments or gadgets.
- There are first class compartments and waiting area but the bustle in whole of the railway station remains the same.
- Keep yourself updated with your train’s reservation charts.
- There are many trains which run on precise timings and some don’t. You be safe from your side and reach a little while ago from the departure timings, lest you get stuck up in traffic or crowd.
- If someone is trying to get over-friendly, don’t pay them heeds.
- If you are a solo female traveler, look out for some women-only trains which are new but have limited services.
- Pay special attention to your goods when you are travelling in sleeper class.
- Some special trains have foreign quota for foreign travelers and to make sure that they can proceed with their journey in spite of booking in short notice. But don’t put full reliance on this aspect, because there are only a few trains.
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- Just like foreign quota, there is Tatkal quota. The bookings (which are closed when a certain number of tickets are sold) again gets opened for the last time only a day prior until early morning of the day of train’s actual departure from starting point. So this is a good option for emergencies or sudden travel plans. And the tickets are a bit costlier.