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.

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