India: By Bus or Train

BUSES

There are sleeper buses and surprisingly they are okay. Unlike most sleeper buses in Asia, the beds are less like reclined seats and more like bunk beds. They have 2-tier single and double berths. I took a 10-hour overnight ride from North Goa to Mumbai. Surprisingly, I believe I slept at least 5 hours. Though I highly recommend booking a lower level berth if you want to avoid whiplash. Driving in India as you can imagine is a bit erratic. My husband and I wedged ourselves between out backpacks and each other to avoid hitting the bus walls and falling off. Also, keep in mind they will stop once or twice on journeys more than 6 hours, however, there is no toilet on the bus (thank God). I recommend always having your own water, snack, toilet paper and sanitizer when doing these journeys.

How to Book

RedBus⇒ This is a top choice for anyone traveling on long-distance bus journeys. The company was created by an Indian man who was fed up with not having a good nationwide bus system to get home for a festival. Now Red Bus is available in a few South East Asian Countries and Columbia and Peru!

It is also very easy to book tickets. Just go to the website or you can even download the app on IOS and Android. Each state in India has local bus routes ending with RTC (Road Transport Company) if you are looking to travel shorter distances. For example, if you are in Gujarat state the bus will say G.S.R.T.C. Searching a bus route is very easy, the site even gives you top bus routes so finding your bus won’t take much time.

Booking is made simple and easy even for foreigners. They take all major card types and you have different options as to how to receive your ticket.

  • M-ticket- a ticket sent to you on SMS after booking a ticket.
  • E-tickets- sent to your email.
  • Or you can pick up from a counter (which I don’t recommend for travelers)

*Keep in mind your ticket does need to be printed. You can usually find a print shop on most streets in India or ask your hotel or hostel nicely.

I highly recommend taking the bus if you are a solo traveler or a pair. It is a bit cheaper than the train and to be honest it doesn’t really take any longer. Trains in India get delayed if you’re traveling on a slow train. If you are traveling in a larger group or as a family I recommend taking a train for longer distances.

Trains

Traveling by train is a huge part of your adventure in India. The train system is great. What makes it even better is you pay a fraction of the price you’d pay in Western countries. Unlike buses, trains offer greater comfort and a smoother ride. They also have fresh food vendors and toilets.

How to Book

MakeMyTrip⇒ This site offers tickets for international and domestic flights, buses, trains, holiday packages and a lot of deals. You can also download the app for easier access. You will need an Indian number and to register with IRTC. See below for my recommendation on sim cards.

ClearTrip⇒ this site offers easy access to search for flights, hotels, trains and local travel. It also provides you with sightseeing and things to do wherever you are. International Mastercard and Visas are accepted.

IRCTC⇒ Indian Railway and Tourism Corporation. This is the government site offering tickets for trains and luxurious train travel. Mastercard and Visas are accepted.

Registering

Like I said above, when booking train tickets, you will need an Indian number. I suggest before even leaving the airport you buy a SIM Card of your choosing. There are various kinds but all around cheap prices.  You just need to choose what data package will be best for you. It’s always a great resource being about to access maps and various other apps on your phone while in a strange country.

The key to online booking is to know your dates and specific destinations. As you can imagine trains to a certain destination may only run on odd days. Websites such as Maps of India offer a search engine for finding your train schedule.

For you to receive tickets you must register with the IRCTC and this is why an Indian phone number is necessary. Head to the IRCTC website, on the left side panel is where you need to register. It will ask you for basic login information as well as your phone number. You will receive an OTP (one-time password) via SMS to confirm your registration. Once this is done be sure to note your log in details. Now you are all set to book your adventures.

At the Station

Though you can purchase tickets at the station I really don’t recommend this unless you want to travel in unreserved/ reserved 2nd class (details below). Trains in India are busy. Popular routes are packed, and tickets can be limited or hard to find if you don’t book in advance. I recommend using one of the sites I mentioned above for online booking at least a week in advance.

Classes

  • Air-Conditioned 1st Class (1AC)à This class is the most expensive, keep in mind it’s still pretty cheap. You have cabins with two or four-berth compartments, locking doors and meals included.
  • Air-Conditioned 2-Tier (2AC)à Two- tier berths in groups of four in an open plan carriage. There is a privacy curtain and the bunks convert to seats during the day.

*I recommend these two the most as you’ll get more privacy for your overnight or long-haul journeys.

  • Air-Conditioned 3- Tier (3AC)à Three- tier berths in groups of six in an open- plan carriage. There is no privacy curtain. This is more popular with Indian families.
  • AC Executive Chair (ECC)à This class offers comfortable reclining chairs, much like what you’d find in Western countries.

*I booked this on Shatabdi Express train for a 6-hour journey to Mumbai.

  • AC Chair (CC)à Similar to Executive chair but simpler.
  • Sleeper Class (SL)à this open plan carriage with three-tier bunks and no AC offers great views from the open windows but not a lot of comfort.
  • Unreserved/ Reserved 2nd Class (II/SS or 2S)à most likely hard wooden seats and crammed with people but hey its cheap and you won’t forget the experience (might be cool to try as a single or pair travelers going only an hour or so).

RAC (Reservation Against Cancellation)

The IRCTC will oversell tickets with the hope that there will be cancellations. When booking tickets, you will find there is an availability field which will list classes you are able to book, or it might have RAC. If you do book these tickets you will have to wait until the day of the train journey and check the station cancellation list located at the departure station to see if you got a seat or berth.

Waitlist

If there is a WL in the availability field this means you are a bit lower down on the pole. If there are enough cancellations, you may get a ticket. Keep in mind that you are still allowed to ride the train with an RAC or WL ticket you just won’t have a seat.

Taktal Scheme

Tatkal means emergency in Hindi. Indian Railways developed a program scheme that allows ticket bookings at short notice. Maybe 100 seats are kept aside for the Tatkal. Booking for these tickets opens at 10 am the day before the journey. It can be made online or at a train station.

Premium Taktal Scheme

These tickets can be purchased online only and cost twice as much as normal Tatkal tickets. It follows the same scheme as Tatkal.

Taktal Pricing

Class of Travel Minimum Tatkal Charges (in Rs.) Maximum Tatkal Charges (in Rs.)
Second (sitting) 10.00 15.00
Sleeper 90.00 175.00
AC Chair Car 100.00 200.00
AC 3 Tier 250.00 350.00
AC 2 Tier 300.00 400.00
Executive 300.00 400.00

Train Fares (INR)

Distance (km) Second (II) Chair Car (CC) First Class 3AC 2AC 1AC
 

100

 

48

 

205

 

262

 

428

 

613

 

1048

 

200

 

74

 

280

 

412

 

428

 

613

 

1048

 

400

 

130

 

468

 

690

 

561

 

843

 

1460

 

500

 

150

 

577

 

843

 

733

 

1058

 

1795

 

1000

 

256

 

932

 

1370

 

1352

 

1708

 

2940

 

2000

 

412

 

1442

 

2127

 

1797

 

2659

 

4620

*$1 is equal to about 64 INR, £1 is equal to about 80 INR

 

 

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