I will admit, my first night train in India scared me to bits. The whole process of even just finding the correct platform is stressful, but then nothing prepares you for the moment when the train arrives. All of a sudden there a crowd appears out of nowhere, and what was once a relatively normal train station, now is a swarm of women in sari’s, luggages, men yelling and children screaming as everyone rushes to the doors. This is when you need to find your appropriate cart, and try and settle in… So this is my advice:
Before getting on the train:
- Hire a travel agent to book your train tickets for you.
From my experience, it is close to impossible to book your own without making a mistake. You have to make sure he books you a First Class Sleeper Train with Air Conditioning. Remember those words almost like a mantra. When you get your ticket, make sure it says Sleeper Class A or at the very least Sleeper Class B.
- The difference between Sleeper Class A and Sleeper Class B.
Sleeper Class A is about as nice as it is going to get on the night train. You have bunk beds already laid out for you, one on the bottom and one on the top with a curtain closing in your compartment. Generally there are four beds per compartment. In Sleeper Class B it is a little bit more hectic, and the bunk beds run up 3 beds high, so you have a bottom bunk, a middle bunk and a top bunk. There is no curtain, and generally many more local Indian families who had enough money to book air conditioning. It is still a lot of fun.
- Have a guide bring you to your platform and on the train.
If you can, I highly recommend getting your travel agent to tell your driver to personally escort you to your exact seat on the train. If this is your first time on a sleeper train, all the extra help you can get is worthwhile. This is not an odd request of travel agents, but they sometimes will give you a headache telling you how easy it is. Make sure you stand your ground and make sure someone will take you to your seat. A tip of 100 rupees is enough. Also, if the train is delayed, they can translate for you.
- How to get on the train without a guide.
Usually First Class is at one end of the train, usually the first 4 carts. Sleeper Class A is the first cart, and the one’s directly following it are all Sleeper Class B. They will be labeled, so keep an eye out for it.
- Trains are always late. Do not book a flight the day after.
Just as a caution, I have only been on one train that was on time, they usually run from one hour to 24-hour delays. Be cautious of this. Do not book a flight the next day after a train in the winter time, as 24 hour delays are very common, but in the summer time, make sure you have a very long gap between your train arrival and evening flight. It is advised at least 10 hours. This is particularly useful information when travelling into Delhi as the north experiences delays heavier than the south.
On the train:
- What you get on the train:
You made it on the train! Congratulations. Once you are on here, you will notice that every bed gets it’s own pillow, two sets of sheets and a big blanket. So you can make your bed and get cozy with a book or journal. The sheets are washed after every use and come in a brown paper bag that you rip open. The blankets are questionable… but at least you have a clean sheet to separate you from it.
- Do not order any food on the train.
I cannot express how many locals told me not to eat or drink anything on the train. It is advised you bring your own food and water for the long journey. The kitchens on trains are not exactly the most sanitized. This rule goes for the 50 rupee Chai as well.. stay clear!
- Put your personal belongings and important pieces up by your head.
The bag containing your passports, camera and money needs to be up by your head and secured to your body somehow. Safety first. Even though you are in First Class, please be travel smart and do not make your belongings easily accessible for the opportunist thief. Your big luggage on the other hand you can put under the seat without a worry. I recommend you push it closer the window of the train, so the perpetrator has more of a struggle to reach it and will be discouraged.
- Pack earplugs.
Self explanatory. As a general population, Indian men can snore, but then again, all travellers having finally reached a sleeper train are generally pretty tired and ready to sleep. Expect a lot of snoring, a lot of yelling when the train stops at stations, and general noise from the train moving. An eye mask is also a good idea.
- Pack Chewing gum and Wet Wipes.
A quick chewing gum in the morning and a wet wipe bath is enough to make anyone feel refreshed after a long night. No one guarantees you will sleep well, but at least washing your face will help you feel refreshed.
How to get off the train:
- Calculate when your train is supposed to get in and anticipate it.
This for me, is the most tedious part of the journey. There is no announcement that your train has reached it’s station, and most stations are not even properly labeled, so it is impossible to determine. The best advice I have is to look out the window, ask locals, and be prepared. On my last trip to India a few weeks ago (February 2015), our train was meant to arrive at our destination at 4:55 AM. I was up and ready at that time anticipating. Little did I know, the train would not arrive for another 3 and a half hours, but then on another train, we actually arrived an hour earlier than anticipated. So be prepared.
- What happens when you get off the train:
Usually the train stops at a station for about 20 minutes. Once you get off the train you will get bombarded with men offering you taxi’s or rickshaws. Be prepared to begin bargaining right away after a long time or have a prearranged vehicle waiting for you so you don’t get stressed out right away.
Those are my top tips. If you have any questions or any other tips you feel I didn’t cover, then feel free to write them below in the comments. Just remember a night train can be really fun, and sometimes the best part of a trip. Make friends with people in your bunk and don’t worry, they are actually really clean!