Train Travel in India: A Quintessential Backpacker Experience

Passengers alighting at Mughal Sarai Train Station

Railway travel is very affordable and practical in India. Taking overnight trains is a great way to save on accommodation costs, and maximize your itinerary. And it’s also the perfect way to meet locals and immerse yourself in everyday local life. Overall, train travel is a quintessentially Indian experience every backpacker cannot afford to miss out on.

One can book train tickets at (a) train stations (b) travel agents or, most conveniently (c) online. There are several train classes: second class (SC, not recommend for long distance travel); non-AC sleeper (SL); three-tier AC bunk (AC3); two-tier AC bunk (AC2) and first class AC (AC1). Here are photos of the different train classes. During my entire trip, I traveled by sleeper class (pictured below).

Sleeper class, from New Jaipalguri to Mughal Sarai (en route to Varanasi)
Tickets can be booked as early as 90 days before the journey date. But even when fully booked, one can still buy seats as wait-listed passengers. Waitlisted passengers can check their PNR status online, or from the ticket collector (TC) at the train station within two hours before the departure time.

Train travel immerses visitors in daily Indian life
Buying tickets in train stations can be horrendous, if not time-consuming, especially in big cities. In Kolkata, my travel companion and I attempted to book tickets to Siliguri, en route to Darjeeling, at Sealdah train station. And it was stressful to say the least, figuring out the schedule from the time tables, filling up the reservation forms and finding the right queues, while keeping watch over our belongings. We ended up taking the bus instead.

Tip – If you book your Gangtok tour packages through a reputed provider, it is fairly easy as your train tickets would be included in the deal. You don’t have to worry about booking/ rebooking or any other process of reservations.

The most convenient way is to purchase tickets from booking agents (for a commission) or online at ClearTrip. Credit card payments for wait-listed tickets that eventually did not get confirmed will be refunded (My reservations, which were waitlisted because I just made them during my trip, were all refunded).
Platform at New Jaipalguri Train Station
What happens if your waitlisted ticket doesn’t get confirmed, and you really have to get on that train? No need to worry! Approach the ticket collector (TC) or tourism assistance officer. They can help you get an “open ticket” which will get you on your desired train without reserved seating. On board, the ticket examiner can assign you a seat, or transfer you to another class, if seats are available. You’ll have to pay the corresponding price difference on top of your “open ticket”.
For more information on train travel in India, visit

11 Replies to “Train Travel in India: A Quintessential Backpacker Experience”

  1. I have tried the 20 hour 2nd class sleeper from Butterworth in Malaysia to Bangkok, Thailand and loved it. Hope we get to do this too someday soon:-D

  2. Trains have a timeless, nostalgic appeal to them… I visited Penang last April before going to India. I want to try that train route to Bangkok, too! Thanks for sharing

  3. Nice article, thanks for the information.
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  4. Edsan says:

    I like the sleeper class photo, makes me nostalgic about my college dormitory days. Thanks for sharing this. This Island Vacations enthusiast intend to travel also by train in India in the near future.

  5. can’t wait to travel to India next year. Thanks for train infos and photos so i got to know how does train in India looks like.

    p/s: tq for info on Bromo. I met Myda, she’s wonderful!

  6. chris says:

    India is interesting pero parang nakakatakot, I mean hindi naman ako parating natatakot magtravel kahit mag-isa pero pag India parang nakakaoverwhelm na parang ewan,bigla ako naduduwag.It’s like Metro Manila times 10.I watched an episode of “An Idiot Abroad”and mas lalo ako natakot sayang gusto ko sana makita Taj Mahal

  7. Backpacking in India can be unnerving but your perseverance will repay you a thousand fold. It’s a love-hate relationship really. But one thing’s for sure, you will emerge a different traveler.

  8. Hi Traveller’s Anatomy, sorry for the much delayed response. I’m glad to hear you’re excited for your trip.

    P.S. Myda is such a hospitable host! She drove me to Bromo from Malang =)

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