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+

Travelling In Delhi Alone as a Woman

Travelling Alone in Delhi as a Woman

A young woman died. Most of her intestines had to be removed before she died, because they had become gangrenous following her rape by a group of men on a bus in Delhi.

When I arrived in Delhi it was loud and busy and there were cows in the street and everyone was allowed on the road whether they were walking, driving an auto rickshaw, a taxi, an overloaded lorry, or a scooter. But I wasn’t scared of it. I made friends and we rode on the metro together.

(the lovely Candace Rardon with our friends on the metro)

When I saw that the metro had a women only carriage, I said to my friend, ‘isn’t that great!’

‘Is it?’ she asked.

‘Well yeah, there’s all this space and you don’t get bothered,’ I said.

‘Don’t you think it would be better to educate our men to behave correctly? she replied, ‘I mean, what next, separate roads? Where does it end?’

This was only a couple of weeks before the appalling gang rape and eventual murder of the 23 year-old medical student on a bus in the city.

The best article I’ve read in western papers following her death is the one below.

I met a Delhi-born journalist the Friday before it happened. At this point I was alone, and definitely felt too vulnerable to venture out at night (and while I love Delhi, it really is not like that in London, I don’t feel the need to get pre-paid cabs after dark).

‘Girl,’ she said, ‘you gotta get yourself one of these,’ and she pulled out a small bright pink can of pepper spray.

‘Where did you get that?’ I asked.

‘Oh, they sell them in all the chemists.’

And so the next day I went and bought one, for 300 rupees.

(I liked the woman with the sword).

But as much as much as it made me feel safer to carry pepper spray while alone in Delhi, and on the overnight train to Jaisalmer, the idea of having it with me in London makes me feel safer too. Even though it isn’t allowed. Because you know what, women get raped every day in London. And although London is safer, before I left for India, a friend of mine was assaulted in a near empty carriage on a train headed for London. And while the police were really good about it, other people were shockingly unsupportive, even asking if it was her fault. And a week after that, I was in a shop in North West London and overheard a woman talking about intervening when she saw a teenage girl alone with a group of boys being assaulted. Worse, when the person who intervened asked if she was okay, the teenager shrugged it off and looked embarrassed.

I don’t think you can compare rape statistics between India and the UK. Our police are different and the number or reported rapes don’t equate to the number of actual rapes. But I do think it is important the media everywhere talk about rape everywhere. Loudly.

The outrage the case has sparked in India is really important for India. There have been multiple protests as well as worldwide media coverage. Nationwide mourning. The five men and one juvenile who raped the 23-year-old will be in court Monday morning. Forensic evidence links them all to the victimA protest with a difference is scheduled for the end of this month. Krav Maga self defence classes every Sunday in January at 11am in Saket. And fingers crossed a turning point.

Sophie Collard on Google+