Worried about how you'll eat or what the bathrooms will be like? The thought of being stuck on a long distance Indian Railways train, sometimes for days at a time, can be quite daunting. These tips for train travel in India will help make your trip as enjoyable as possible.
Bring a good book!
Spend time looking out the windows or carriage door. The ever-changing landscape provides a rare and hassle-free view of everyday life in India.
If you're the talkative type, you won't have a shortage of people to chat to. Finding out as much information as possible about their traveling companions is the number one way that Indians pass the time on these train trips. By western standards, their questions can be quite intrusive. You should feel free to ask the same questions back. Your companions will be pleased you've taken an interest in them and you may receive some fascinating answers.
If you have special dietary requirements, bring food with you. Meals are provided onboard most long-distance trains. However, the food served by Indian Railways is hardly inspiring. Choices are limited (usually to biriyani and thalis) and don't cater to Western tastes. Plus, the quality has deteriorated substantially in recent years. Someone from the catering department will come and take your order in advance for these meals. Fortunately, if you don't want to eat train food, there are now some alternative food delivery services such as Travel Khana, Mera Food Choice, Rail Restro, and Yatra Chef. Indian Railways has also introduced a similar special food service on some trains.
Food and drink vendors will also make their way through the compartments, mostly in sleeper class but also in the air-conditioned classes. Make sure you carry lots of small change for your purchases. It's possible to buy food on the platforms when the train stops, but don't count on being at a station for meal times.
Be prepared to go to bed early. Indians love to sleep when they have nothing better to do and most people will start retiring for the night around 9.30 p.m.
If you're a light sleeper, bring some earplugs or headphones. There's guaranteed to be at least one loud snorer in each compartment. That adds up to around a dozen of them in each carriage!
The busiest time in the bathrooms is in the morning between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., so either get up early or sleep late if you want to avoid the rush. (If you're concerned about cleanliness, it's best to get in first).
There's not much difference in the standard of the toilets in the sleeper and air-conditioned classes—it's the cleanliness that sets them apart. The sleeper class toilets rapidly become filthy, while the toilets in the air-conditioned classes manage to retain some sort of respectability.
There are two toilets, shared by both males and females, and a washbasin at the end of each carriage. Some are western style sit down toilets, and the others squat toilets. If you can manage them, the squat toilets can often be the cleanest and most hygienic option.
Bring anti-bacterial hand wipes and toilet paper. You'll find them both very handy to have.
Don't leave your luggage unsecured or your valuables on display. Your traveling companions may be honest, but thieves can enter the carriages when the train stops during the night. Bring a padlock and chain as you'll find facilities for fastening your luggage under your seat in your compartment. Theft is unfortunately common (and I have experienced it).