Tips for Long Distance Travel on Indian Railways Trains

Indian railway vendor selling tea to passengers in train at railway station, India
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The thought of being stuck on a long distance Indian Railways train, sometimes for days at a time, can be quite daunting if you don't know what to expect. These tips for train travel in India will help make your trip as enjoyable as possible.

Entertainment

  • 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.

Food and Drink

  • 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 and choices are limited (biryani is standard). 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 alternative food delivery services such as Travel Khana. Order in advance from the website and your food will be delivered to your seat when the train stops at a specified station. Indian Railways has also introduced a similar e-catering food service on many trains.
  • Food and drink vendors will 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.

Sleeping

  • 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! It's quite a cacophony.
  • Carry a sleeping bag liner with you to sleep in. Bedrolls (pillow, sheets, hand towel, and blanket) are provided in the air-conditioned classes but the blankets are only washed once per month or so.

Bathrooms

  • 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 are usually the cleanest and most hygienic option.
  • Bring anti-bacterial hand wipes and toilet paper. You'll find them both very handy to have.
Toilet on Indian train.
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Safety

  • 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.
  • It's also wise to avoid eating food, such as biscuits, offered by others. There have been instances of passengers being sedated and robbed.
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