How to Book Trains in India – Advance, Tatkal and Just Taking Chances

How to book trains in India is just like how to book trains in the UK or Europe. Wrong. Just because India sometimes appears disorganised, doesn’t mean it always is.

If you want to have  an experience like this…

Note that Indian trains can be booked up to 120 days in advance (it used to be 90). This means that if you arrive expecting to be able to hop on and off them, you may well find yourself disappointed. It isn’t your fault either, you can’t book Indian trains from outside of the country unless you have an Indian SIM card, or a friend there who can work the system for you. But fear not, here are some tips on how to book trains in India when you get there:

Reservation

Inside the Rail Reservation Centre

  • If you’re going to be in India for a while and have the time to spare, go and purchase an Indian SIM card.You will need a passport photo and your passport to do this. Try an Airtel shop. Without an Indian SIM you cannot book Indian trains online.
  • Once you have your SIM card, register on the IRCTC site. An easier-to-navigate and all round winning site for train bookings is  cleartrip.com
  • Avoid the tourist booking office in places like New Delhi station like the plague. Okay, not the plague, but this is the difference between two hours queueing in a hot office up some concrete stairs near the men’s toilets, or a ten minute wait in a one-roomed building.
  • Instead of a large booking office, try and locate a railway reservation centre like Nizamuddin Railway Reservation Centre in Delhi:

View Larger Map

  • If it’s a few days or weeks before you are due to travel, it’s more likely there will be space for you on the train. Without betting on a tatkal (emergency) ticket, or worse, a waiting list ticket. The further in advance you book the better.
  • If you are planning to travel imminently and don’t have a ticket, get to a reservation centre, or, in smaller places, a train station ticket office, before 10am the day prior to travelling. Pick up a slip of paper with a checklist on it if you can see one, or ask one of the people queueing where they got theirs. Fill in your details including the number of the train you wish to travel on and the time and date and hand it to the person behind the window. Good luck!
Railway Reservation Centre, New Delhi, India

Railway Reservation Centre, New Delhi, India

From Delhi, I took the train to Agra and the night train to Jaisalmer. Note that there is a New Delhi AND an Old Delhi train station, make sure you check which is the right one:

To Agra

  • New Delhi to Agra Cannt – 2hr journey in the morning – 12002 Bhopal Shatabdi 6.00am arr 8.06am £4 – £7 ($6-$10) rtn depending on class.
  • H Nizamuddin to Agra Cannt – 3hrs (recommended as it’s from a smaller less hectic station) – at 7.10am in the morning arr 10.05am – 12280 Taj Express Superfast less than £5 ($8) rtn.
  • Agra to New Delhi journey in the evening (a trip to the Taj Mahal can easily be done in a day this way) 2279 Taj Express 6.55pm arr 10pm.
  • Agra to New Delhi 12001 NDLS Shatabdi 8.30pm arr 10.30pm every day but Friday

To Jaisalmer

  • OLD DELHI to Jaisalmer – 17hrs leaving in the evening – 14659 Dli Jsm Express 5pm daily £17 ($16) in 2AC or £12 ($18) in 3AC or for the most ‘authentic experience,’ where you might have up to 15 blokes sitting with you playing cards (it happened to me), in Sleeper (SL) at just over £4 ($6). If you can, travel 2AC one way and Sleeper the other to experience both.
  • 14660 Jsm Dli Express Jaisalmer to OLD DELHI 5.15pm arr 11.10am the next day

Additional tips

  • If you arrive last minute you can take a chance that either there will be a spare ticket, or that you’ll get waiting list and the people in your seat won’t arrive. Don’t assume a waiting list ticket is the same as a normal one because you will be sitting in someone elses seat if you do that, however polite they might be about it because you are an idiot tourist.
  • If you are a woman, elderly or disabled, you have your own specific queue at stations and reservation centres. Even if this feels weird, the queue is shorter, so take advantage.
  • 5 rupee masala chai on the train is fine but not everyone gets on with the food, where provided. Pack some food before you go from a restaurant you like.
  • If you manage to get Old and New Delhi stations confused and miss your train (again, it happened to me) you may be lucky enough to get your auto rickshaw driver to take you to the wonderful government information office with a man I hope is still there – ‘you’re in India now, you must be strong’ he said to my friend.
  • There is a restaurant called Umed Marvel Garden Restaurant in Jodhpur where you can order thalis in advance by phone and have them brought to the train in the half hour it stops there on the way back from Jaisalmer (even better if you can get someone to help you order and share it with them)
Agra train

Agra train

2AC Jaisalmer Express

2AC Jaisalmer Express

The Man in Seat 61 is the best resource for researching train travel in India, along with about.com’s Indian site. Cleartrip.com itself is pretty good for searching the routes and train numbers, as well as prices, even if you aren’t looking to book through the site.

Sophie Collard on Google+

The Train, the Train – Thoughts Before the Night Train Delhi Jaisalmer

The Night Train Delhi Jaisalmer
I’ve finally worked out how to use WordPress from my iPad. I, er, downloaded the app. I know it’s a bit late, but then India is one of those places where you are lucky if you can get a couple of hours peace. Happily, I spent last night in the gorgeous French-run Rose in New Delhi, where peace is everything.

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Om…

So I now have a good couple of hours to update my blog and bring you the sights, sounds and smells of India, one post at a time. I hardly know where to begin and whether I should work backwards, forwards or at random. India is like my brain, it goes off in tangents constantly. One moment you’ve accidentally picked November 25th to visit the mosque, which wasn’t what you were looking for anyway, and 11-year-old boys are walking down the street throwing water and weilding swords you think might fly out and stab you in the face, and a thousand people wrapped in colour stand up together on the steps to watch. Because it’s a Muslim festival. Another moment you are meeting the editor of a luxury Delhi-based magazine and talking about your rates and where to order more business cards (they are far cheaper over here, everyone).

Tonight, I ride the night train Delhi Jaisalmer.

I hope to see more of this.

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But am equally aware I might have a rat pushed toward my face again by a small boy who has initially put it on the back of a puppy and watched as people waiting for trains take photographs on their mobile devices, but gotten bored and offered it up to my face instead.

I also look forward to arriving and seeing my friends. The ones who cooked mutton for my friend Clare and I in the desert and boiled masala chai, the ones who took us to a wedding where I ate my own weight in approximately fourteen dishes. The ones who drove us home on a scooter and made me feel 15 again.

And I look forward to seeing these guys too…

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Because riding a camel is like riding a dinosaur. And if you haven’t tried it yet, you simply must. You too can hear silence in a way you have never heard it before, crisp and clear.

The Rose New Delhi is in Delhi’s trendy Hauz Khas Village. It costs about £40 a night, which for a beautiful room in a serene space is worth it. Plus where else can you get great French food in Delhi?

An Indian friend managed to get me a 3rd class ‘bench’ bed on the night train to Jaisalmer by booking through an agency, but if you want to secure a ticket yourself, either go to a reservation centre well before you go (tickets can be purchased 120 days in advance now) or buy an Indian SIM card for your phone and register for an account on the IRCTC site.  Sound like a struggle? Get used to it, you’re in India now. Alternatively, head to a reservation centre for 10am the day before you wish to travel and see if you can get a Tatkal ticket. These are whatever’s-left tickets. First come, first served.

Sophie Collard on Google+