Train Journeys – Kolkata to Varanasi

vlcsnap-2014-06-17-22h30m36s77Taking a train in India is an unforgettable and without a doubt, cultural, experience. The stations are bustling places full of life, and you know what? So are the trains themselves. Whilst taking the train in India, I have usually taken second class sleeper where overnight journeys have been concerned. And that has been most of the train journeys I’ve done in India. The distances are great but the speed of the trains is yet to reflect the distances needed to travel to get from one place to another. Trips that don’t look that long on the map, say Jaipur to Udaipur, can take a night and a few hours.

Yes, the trains can be a bit intimidating, and yes if you need the toilet a few times in the night that can sour your journey, but one thing for sure, train travel in India is an experience in itself almost separate from the rest of the country, yet entirely complimentary.

train ind 1
Crossing a bridge not so long after dawn

I’ve taken half a dozen or more over night journeys in India. The smoothest sailing was Mumbai to Goa, thanks to the fact second class had sold out and I had to fork out for first class. First class is really nice, full bedding, breakfast, air conditioning. But it’s not the quintessential way to travel the Indian rails. Second class is infinitely cheaper (even today, it’s still really cheap) but not as comfy. You’re on plastic beds which are really just long seats/benches above one another.

train ind 4

But inside the carriage, people listen to cricket, chat, move above about, you see families together, people cooking on little stoves, women wearing amazing colours and so much more. And this journey from Kolkata to Varanasi I remember for all the right reasons. I even got a good dose of sleep overnight to wake shortly before six am as the sun rose across the fields, the rivers, as we sped (well, comparatively) over bridges as the wheels clickety clacked underneath the train.

Delhi train station.
Delhi train station.

Kolkata station was big and confusing, but yet manageable compared to Delhi or Mumbai. We boarded in the evening, and left a couple of hours before midnight. So, there was next to nothing to see of the Kolkata suburbs as we slowly crept through them.

Map thanks to Lonely Planet
Map thanks to Lonely Planet

As the train journey went on, I met the people in my section and chatted, and we all went to sleep. The next morning I was happy to chat to the Japanese backpacker next to me, and the nice ladies opposite posed for a photo with snoopy for me and the countryside provided the perfect backdrop.

train ind 2

Trains in India can be very long, and are almost always pulled by diesel engines, in this case a couple because there were some twenty or more carriages to get from the east of India to the centre.

This is pretty much the classic Indian rail journey. It is over some 760 kilometres and costs, according to the Indian Railways site (without specifying class) around 435 rupees (this will not be first class sleeper!). That’s a little over $7 US. You’ll struggle to find a hotel room that cheap! And believe me, the adventure is unforgettable!

train ind 3

A great site for looking up all the information you might need on Indian Railways is here – The Indian Railways Website.

Have you ever taken to the rails in India? What makes it so memorable for you?


Don’t forget, my Short Journeys: India Kindle ebook is available now ($1.39)


  1. I don’t think a visit to India is complete without a journey by rail. I didn’t manage to convince my husband of this last time – so obviously we need to go back :).

    I think it’s also good to get a sampling of all the different classes as they are so unique, and all so much a reflection of India in their own way – including first class comforts.

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