Train travel is one of the fastest, cheapest and most convenient modes of transportation to cover long distances in India, and if you really want to get to know the locals, you really can’t beat several hours — or days — in a train. With the third largest rail network in the world, India probably has a train no matter where you’re going or coming from. Here are some quick tips for making the most of your rail journey in India.
- Bathrooms- Most Indian trains will have both Western-style and squat toilets, and the squat toilets are almost always cleaner than their Western neighbors. The hole dumps right onto the tracks, so there’s nothing to stink up the cars. Bring your own toilet paper and soap, as these are rarely if ever provided.
- Choosing a Bunk- If you’re riding long distance in a sleeper car, you’ll have your choice of top, middle or bottom bunk. During the daytime, the bottom and middle bunks are used as seats, so if you want to sleep in or go to bed early, reserve that upper bunk. The bottom bunk gets a window seat but is a bit smaller than the other bunks.
- Food- Most long distance trains have a pantry car that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner of varying quality depending on the region of the country and popularity of the train. Each morning, chai wallas (tea vendors) will board the train to sell tea. It’s been boiled and is safe to drink. When eating on the train, it’s considered polite to offer some of your food to your neighbors, who may or may not accept. Feel free to politely decline anything offered to you.
- Your Belongings- Keep a very close eye on your belongings, particularly in train stations. Aboard the train, lock your bags to the ring beneath your seat with chain. Keep your valuables and important documents in a purse or backpack beneath your head while you sleep. If you don’t have chain and a lock, you’ll find them sold in almost all the train stations.
- Buying Tickets- Many Indian trains, particularly in the summer months, get booked months in advance, so reserve your seats or bunks ahead of time online. If you’re planning to do several long distance legs via train, consider purchasing an Indrail Pass to save money. Never buy tickets from street vendors or touts.
- Entertainment- Enjoy the view out the window to get a sense of day-to-day life in India, but bring a book as a backup. Chat with your cabin mates as well. Most people are extremely friendly and will willingly chat away hours of the journey. Due to cultural differences, you may be asked questions that seem intrusive by Western standards.