I have been on quite a number of trains over my four trips to India. I have done several overnight journeys, although I always prefer to limit it to daytime trips on trains to see where I am, but in India over-nighting is ultimately unavoidable if you are there for a while and have any sort of distance to cover. My most recent visit to India was a couple of years ago now in 2018, and I took a number of train trips then, here are my reviews of them:
I have, by the way, travelled by bus in India. I have taken the slower, local buses, and I’ve taken the ‘VIP’ buses which are certainly a bit ore comfortable. I took a train from Mumbai to Goa and forked out for first class AC, it was a long time ago now so I can’t remember exactly what the class was but it was the only berths left and it was the most expensive spot on the train. But it also was the most comfortable I’ve been on an Indian train.
I came back in a VIP bus where the seats nearly got horizontal and it was almost a thin bed. It was pretty comfortable for a bus, but compared to the train, considering that the road goes up and down mountains where the train went through them, it just doesn’t compare. The train can’t go round a hairpin bend, which is one of the reasons train travel can (but isn’t always I should say) be pretty smooth.
Classes are tricky on Indian trains. The thing is, if you have the money (and even in 2AC Class the trains are not that expensive), paying for the better classes is well worth it for comfort. My train Jodhpur to Delhi in 2018 was an all-day train, and I had I think the 2AC seat/berth. It had come from further afield overnight, and even in the day I took the chance to take a kip. The cabin had controlled temperature which I don’t recall ever having experienced in India before, and with one other to share it we could set it how we liked. One drawback though – couldn’t open the window which was quite dirty! Comme Si Comme Ca!
But the thrill of Indian trains is not experienced in 2AC. It is in Second Class. Remember, some trains run 1000 km or more, there are trains from Delhi to Chennai for example. Which I think is two nights or more on board. Memory of my first time waiting for my train at Delhi Station was hearing an announcement that the train from Calcutta was going to be 24 hours late. I took a train from Kolkata to Varanasi, and then Varanasi to Delhi. They were both long, overnight and through the day trains. So it was probably a 40-hour plus ride. But still.
What do you get in 2nd Class? Well, you get a berth. A bed, a spot, you’re on vinyl so bring a sheet or something or in the heat you will most certainly stick! I think they get three berths in per side of the ‘cabin’, two facing each other. There are versions where it’s just two and it all sort of fits in together snuggly. There is ceiling fan to cool the travellers, but it’s is fairly common that they don’t work. During day time the middle beds get pushed back to create the backs of the seats, and the carriages get really social. Second class is where everyone travels, first class however is foreigners and those who have a bit more money to spend. Second class carriages are a microcosm of India. People cook, entire families sit and sleep together, the windows have bars but can open so you can get better pictures, and even though it is crazy and after a day in there it’s not very clean, it’s a real experience, and I think that’s what you come to India for – for experience and for adventure. And on the train you get it in spades.
You will meet people. Many won’t speak English but they will be interested in you and you will conversations, sometimes without words. You will look over the land and marvel at how it changes, you will see things that amaze, and you will see things that confront. For instance beggars who can’t walk pulling themselves along on a piece of wood with wheels. At stations people will put their arms through the open windows asking for money (although these I believe are less likely to happen these days, but in my earlier trips to India this happened quite a bit).
India’s network of rail is probably second to none. Europe is very well connected, and in Russia rail goes to places sometimes roads don’t go to, but India just has connections everywhere. So of course I decided to research this. India is fourth in the world for track – 65,000 kilometres. Interestingly it’s the USA with 228,000km of track as the most in world, followed by Russia and China. But compared to those three countries, India is a much smaller country.
However India is only (just) behind China in the number of rail passengers in the world, with 770 billion kilometres travelled on average annually by rail passengers in India.
There is main network with long long trains trundling along, but there are also a number of toy train lines as well running steam, the country has a very long rail history and love for the rails. If in Delhi you can visit their train museum with so many different engines, great for the kids or the train enthusiast.
And get along to Darjeeling if you can. Up in the mountains, a very steep ascent there is a toy train style railway that goes up from Siliguri. There is a shortish section of track at the top leaving from Darjeeling on which they run a steam train (when it’s all running) and this is a highlight without a doubt of visiting this region of the country.
Thanks for joining me today. Have you sampled the trains in India? What were your impressions? Thanks for reading – May the Journey Never End!