The Indian Railways constitute one of the largest rail networks in the world. The first passenger train in India left Mumbai (then Bombay) on 16 April, 1853 for Pune. The rail network in the country has come a long way since. Currently it employs over one-and-a-half million people, links 28 states and three union territories, operates over 6,000 locomotives running on more than 60,000 km long tracks spread across the country and ferrying over 10 billion people (more than the planet’s population) every year. This gigantic network offers an unmatched variety of trains – from notoriously crowded trains whose photos you often see on the web to cruise trains that offer an unrivalled luxury - and unique way to discover India.
Depending on whether you are in or outside India, there are two ways to book train tickets in India: Offline and Online?
(a) Inside India
Once inside the country, you can go to a railway station (there are more than 7,500 of them) and get a ticket from there. This is most conventional way of booking train tickets and you’ll not be over charged. If you don’t like standing in a queue, an authorised railway agent (not a ticket tout) can make things go faster for a small commission. Your hotel should be able to direct you to one. Remember if you do decide to buy tickets at the railway station, there are separate queues for women.
Most international airports in India will have an railway counter (just like a prepaid taxi stand) where certain number of train tickets are reserved for tourists. You can always take advantage of this and buy your reservations or tickets before you come out of the airport.
(b) Outside India
The Indian Railways operates a series of offices in several countries. You can find contact information to your nearest office at the Indian Railways website.
(a) Indian Railways
While the official Indian Railways website is a popular choice, a downside of the service is that it isn’t very user friendly so you end up spending a lot of time just figuring out how the whole booking system works. In addition to that, the official website doesn’t accept all credit cards.
(b) Online travel websites
There are numerous online travel portals that can be used to book tickets. For example, ClearTrip, although a private website, it beats its government competitor by a long shot; it even accepts foreign credit cards. You have to register before booking but the whole process is very simple and intuitive. Unlike the official website, this one charges a little commission; and from what its users have to say, it’s worth it.
MakeMyTrip and Yatra are other big players in the online booking world. In case you haven’t heard of them, they happen to be very popular. Both these websites offer a variety of services in addition to mere ticket booking. They accept major credit cards and have a wonderful customer service.
Ticket buying tips
(a) Know your destination
That sounds obvious, but sometimes even this can be tricky. The names of several Indian cities have been changed in the past few years, so you will have to be careful. For instance Bombay is now Mumbai while Madras is Chennai.
(b) Compare prices online
There are several websites mentioned above along with many others you can book tickets with. So, it is advisable to compare prices before you pay. Prices vary quite a bit.
(c) IndRail Pass
IndRail Pass is a permit which allows you unlimited travel for a specific duration; normally not lasting more than three months. This is a cheaper and more convenient option if you plan is to hop from one city to another.
Don’t forget to have your masala tea when you are at New Delhi Railway Station. Here’s a British traveller having a cup of Indian tea. Watch this video to learn more.