Train travel in India has its ups and downs but generally speaking we were pretty impressed by the efficiency of it all. The trains might not be the most modern and aren’t always the cleanest, but they are the same or better than your average bus in South East Asia and offer a cost effective and pretty quick way of getting round the country.

If you do choose to travel India by train, you’ll find that you save a lot of money compared to flying and also save yourself the stress of facing what have to be some of the world’s most dangerous roads. We travelled for just over two weeks in North India by train with no journeys reserved in advance and were surprised to find it a reasonably straightforward compared with the nightmare we had been expecting.

We wanted to share our experience and provide some handy tips for others planning on travelling India by train.

The most efficient way to manage train travel in India is to be organised and book at least one to two months in advance, especially if you want to secure specific journeys and seats.


Booking online is almost impossible in our experience – Cleartrip is the most user friendly website that connects directly to India Rail’s site but you still need to register with IRTCT to get tickets.

Writing this over a month after we began the process of getting our account verified (no India mobile number) and still despite chasing on email and twitter we don’t have an account. Which says it all really. The IRTCT claims to be a ‘Next Generation E Ticketing System’ so perhaps they’re aiming for it to be workable for the next generation… who knows.


These sites give a good overview of the process, and if you have plenty of time on your hands before you travel and a clear itinerary I imagine this to be far easier than trying to book in train stations when you arrive.

If you know where you want to go and when, and don’t mind paying a bit of a commission, consider using a travel agent to organise this bit for you as it will save a lot of hassle in the long run.

Generally speaking we found booking train tickets at various stations fairly tricky but by no means impossible if you are happy to queue and get lost a lot. Everyone we dealt with at the ticket offices was pretty helpful and spoke anything from passable to good English.

The main problem we found was working out where you’re supposed to queue. This was one of the hardest parts of navigating train travel in India!

Every time we went to a station to book tickets we queued at at least two desks before finding the right place to actually buy them.

Most stations seem to have an ‘on the day’ counter, an unreserved ticket counter (not sure what the difference between these is, and a reserved ticket counter. Alongside this will usually be another couple of random counters and none of these are necessarily well signposted. Usually it’ll be the Reserved Tickets counter that you’ll need and once you track it down the process is fairly simple.

The best bit is that whilst often tickets will show as unavailable online, we found we were able to get train tickets in person without too much difficulty. Even our one waitlist experience ended up fine and we got assigned seats in the end.

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