Darjeeling Limited, the film from Wes Anderson where the main action is happening on a train, is set in India. It seems iconic to travel around India by train and especially while in the North, where is the best way to travel, everything is possible. Unfortunately, the regular trains are not as precious and colourful as the one where Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman go to reach the Himalayas. The real carriages are a little bit duller, but still having all of that bubbly life inside.
For sure, you can never get bored or get hungry on an Indian train; many characters inhabit the carriages within chai or packaged food sellers. “Chai, Chaiiii, Chaiiii” this is their war shout that it is easy to hear many times during the journey. While it can be just as much of an adventure to book flights from Chennai to Mumbai or take other planes domestically, it’s worth having a mix of both methods of transportation for an authentic experience.
Train system in India
Part of the adventure of travelling India is doing it by train, embracing the romantic feeling of slow travel. Most of the trips to take between destinations in the North are long distance ones, so you can choose the overnight train to take advantage of the darkness and spending it on the train, whereas daytime journeys can offer a beautiful view. All the trains are managed by IRCTC, the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited, that tries it best for keeping the trains as clean as possible and on time. The challenge starts when you want to book a train in advance, it is not as easy for foreigners as it should be. First, you need to create an account at IRTC and send an email with your passport. It takes time for them to proceed your account and time can be even more than two weeks, where you start to see that the trains you want to get start to get sold out. There is nothing much you can do about it, just wait and then when you have your online account and try to make the payment, probably it won’t let you because obviously, you don’t have an Indian debit or credit card.
How to organise your train route and seats
Trying to book online train tickets for any of the routes is very frustrating, so this is when a travel agent makes sense for transportation in India. Although there is a large amount of travel agencies and companies that offer this kind of service, only a select few know the system well. When you as a foreigner prefer to work with a local company that might know the country entirely, and it is little details, the choice is not as big. Vasco Travel is one of those family-run travel businesses that you can rely on for booking your trains along India. With more than 25 years of experience, they do not just book your tickets; they recommend which are the best routes, alternatives and times. As organising a trip like this can be time-consuming, the best thing to do is to rely on professionals like Vasco Travel. You just need to relax and prepare your mindset for the Indian adventure; they will do the rest. Sometimes it is a relief not to have to manage everything by yourself!
The different train carriages
One of the first images that come to mind about travelling through India by train is of those carriages full of people – big crowds on top of the carriages anywhere there’s space. This is due to the significant volume of people commuting every day from the central stations like Mumbai, Delhi or Kolkata.
Actually, on the overnight journeys, there is no need to stress, you have your seat booked, so a pair of clean sheets, pillow and blanket will wait for you. For The overnight experience, there are five different classes: General, Sleeper, 3A, 2A and 1A being The most expensive one and comparable to airline fares. After first class there is 2A, air-conditioned coaches with sleeping berths, curtains and individual reading lamp. The bedding is included, and in every coach, there is an eastern and western toilet. At this point, there is no a big difference with The 3A; there are three tiers across and no curtains.The 2A and 3A are full of international tourists and Indian families, so they are usually quiet and peaceful coaches.
The Sleeper class and day trips
Sleeper class is the most common coach with non-AC, but still three berths. This is a very cheap way of train travelling, but forget the commodities you get in the other three classes. It is also a good way of getting to know many Indian people, their peculiar way of travelling and their local food. Of they are eating, and they see you do not have anything, for sure, they will invite you. Take the risk of tasting their delicious homemade treats, but always be careful with the feared Delhi Belly.
For getting just the vibe for a day travel, there is CC, an Air-conditioned coach, very comfortable with allocated seats. The other day option is 2S, non air-conditioned coaches in bench style seats. Prices for this kind of short distances are cheaper, and you can enjoy the beautiful landscapes.
Let yourself immerse in this exciting way of travelling, even the longest trips are the most enjoyable ones. You just need a little bit of patience, and you will get time for yourself while crossing through amazing Indian landscapes, just like in the movies.