07 Jun Travel by train in India: overview
The train in India, is the representation of the country condensed into few square meters. In the land of Gandhi, the train is an integral part of the landscape and is an inevitable stage of your journey. Backpackers or comfort travelers, you will certainly be required to travel by train in India. For your convenience (as you will see it’s not that easy), we wrote you a guide of different classes that constitute the Indian train.
In the same way that our TGV’s are equipped of a first and second class, Indian trains are composed of different cars that offer different benefits… You choose your class according to your travel time, your budget, your comfort requirements… and the availability of tickets !
Chair Car: no air conditioning and loads of people
This class represents the lowest one of Indian trains. Sitting on a bench for 3 persons, you will probably find yourself with 4 other fellows (haven’t you said that the bench was for 3 ?) and the daughter of the woman next to you on your knees and even a hen escaped from the previous stop. To sum up, this is where you will “live” the authentic India. Do not panic, this class is far from being unbearable, on the contrary; it is festive, lively and friendly. It’s a suitable trip for few hours and during the day as a New Delhi – Amritsar in the morning for example ( if your train is not delayed but we cannot guarantee you that…).
Even if you see Indians getting to the train during your journey in these cars, we strongly advise you not to do the same. Get yourself a ticket at the station or you will get a fine on board. Indeed, you’re not Indian and do not know (yet) how to speak in Hindi to negotiate with the controller. Moreover, the cost of a ticket on the Chair car is costless. it would be a shame to get into trouble for few rupees. You should also know that even if the train is full, you can buy a ticket that will give you the right to board the train but it doesn’t guarantee you a seat. In this case, you can stand next to an open door (and yes the cars run without air conditioning but open windows and doors) or even share a little piece of bench with an Indian family who will be delighted to welcome you and offer you some chapatis.
Sleeper Class : travel lying… with some noise !
La Sleeper Class is the folk one. Amateurs of authentic experience, we strongly encourage you to do it at least once. This is the cheapest category for travel berth. In most cases, these cars are made available for long overnight journeys. Here no air conditioning, a lot of people and a permanent animation.
As there is no air conditioning (and so no heating neither), we urge you to take with you a sleeping bag for cold winter nights. In summer, fans (outdated) swing over your heads. If you are sensitive to noise, also plan to have earplugs that will be useful to sleep well, the trains mark many stops and goes back and forth and last all night. In the early morning (5:00), the tea seller (the famous Indian chai) will wake you up with its haunting melody and screaming saying “chai ! chai !”. Now you’re warned !
Chair Car AC : like at home
This category looks like Chair Car but with air conditioning (hence the “AC”). This is the closest class of our French trains. There is no overbooking here, everyone has its seat and no one has to sit on the knees of someone else. If you have to make a journey of several hours during the day, it’s probably the best compromise. This class is much quieter than the previous two and frequented by middle-class Indians. Here, the seller of chai is discreet and offer tea without humming.
3 AC : sleep well and (almost) alone
Welcome to the middle-class that has more comfort; air conditioning, bounded berths, blanket and clean pillow (details are important). In these cars, the controls are stricter than in the previous ones. Result : less chance of ending up with a person with the same reservation. Sellers of good small typical Indian dishes prepared on site and chai will come discreetly. It is also probable that a controller come and wake you up before your stop if this one is at night. Similarly to Sleeper Class, there are 6 berths per compartment but you will be separated from the hall by a small curtain. For a long night of travel, this category is ideal. it is certainly more expensive than the Sleeper Class, but way more comfortable. You can truly recover from your day and be ready for the next day in top form.
2 AC : more and more comfort
The category 2 AC is very similar to the previous but of a higher standard. The materials used are noble (lots of wood) and the comfort of the berths is significantly higher. The Indians who book this category are part of the middle-high-class since the ticket price can be twice the price of the 3 AC. A ride in a car 2 AC passes like a lunch in the sun ; quiet, spacious and clean, sellers of food are even dressed in uniform (hehe).
1 AC (first class) : top of the top !
If you want to get a treat or just travel in very good conditions, this class is simply the best. At this point, we can even speak about luxury; compounds compartments with only 4 berths and closed by a door (so ture), quality service, absolute silence and very affluent Indians. This class of travel does not exist in all trains because it is very expensive. For example, count 2600 rupees (about 35€) for New Delhi – Varanasi in first class, against 1,100 rupees (15€) for the same route in 3 AC. So you might think that more 20€ is not a huge difference but believe us 1500 rupees can be used for a great restaurant (or even rwo) ! It is up to you.
To recap : what class to choose for a train trip ?
For travelers who want a bit of comfort, Chair Car AC or 3 AC will perfectly fit your travel needs. You will not be disturbed every 5 minutes and can rest during your journey. it will nevertheless require a little more for transportation budget.
And for those whose budget is not a problem, the 2 AC and First class will be your relaxing cocoon between two stages of your trip to India. And if you’re a fan of luxury travels, know that there are amazing trains in India including the best comfort, worth the finest luxury hotels.
You now have all you need to select your class while traveling by train in India. Depending on the way you travel, you may need to pace India in completely different ways, and each way has its quota of anecdotes. In a future article we will give you all the keys to buy your train tickets and you’ll see, again India offers finest surprises !