Train travel in India:  Amritsar station before the departure of the Shane Punjab Express to Delhi.

The platform at Amritsar before departure of the Shane Punjab Express for Delhi...

Buy train tickets

See advice & full details on buying Indian train tickets


Getting around India by train...

The best way to see India is not on a plane at 35,000 feet, but at ground level on the incredible Indian railway system.  No visit to India is complete without experiencing the bustle of Indian railway stations and a safe & comfortable journey on an Indian express train with the tea seller's cry of Chai, chai, garam chai coming down the aisle.  You can safely forget media images of overcrowded suburban trains with people sitting on the roof.  On long distance expresses in an AC Chair Car or an AC1 or AC2 sleeper, all seats and berths are reserved and it’s a safe, civilised, inexpensive & comfortable way to get around India.  Even long distances such as Bombay to Delhi, Delhi to Varanasi or Delhi to Udaipur can be covered time-effectively using overnight AC Sleeper trains, city centre to city centre, saving a hotel bill too.

You can book Indian train tickets online at

Train times, fares & tickets...

small bullet point  Train routes & maps

small bullet point  How to check train times & fares

small bullet point  Tourist Quotas, RAC, Waitlists & Tatkal

small bullet point  How to buy tickets at the station

small bullet point  How to buy train tickets online

small bullet point  Tips for train travel in India

small bullet point  The 8 classes of seat & sleeper

small bullet point  Where to go:  A recommended 2-week itinerary around northern India

small bullet point  Vacations, holidays & tours of India by train

small bullet point  IndRail passes - now discontinued

small bullet point  Tourist cruise trains & the Palace on Wheels

small bullet point  International trains, buses & ferries from India

small bullet point  Overland travel between Europe & India

small bullet point  Hotels in India - personal recommendations

small bullet point  Guidebooks 

small bullet point  Flights to India

small bullet point  Travel insurance, Curve card & VPN

large bullet pointUseful country information

Train operator:

Indian Railways: & for train times & fares.

See here for online booking.  Luxury train tours around India

Also see for advice.


Time zone:



Dialling code:




£1 = 90 Rupees, $1 = 70 Rupees.   Currency converter


UK citizens need a visa: Visa issuing has been outsourced to, a regular tourist visa now costs around £95.  However, many nationalities can get an e-visa at including UK, Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, Singapore, France, Germany, Japan.  An e-visa costs around $100.

Tourist information:    Tripadvisor India page   Health & vaccinations



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Hotels in India:

Scan Multiple hotel providers for the cheapest hotel rates & see hotel recommendations.

Page last updated:

3 July 2022

large bullet pointTrain routes & maps

The third biggest passenger rail network in the world...

With 63,000 km of rail routes and 6,800 stations, the passenger rail network in India is the third biggest in the world after Russia and China, and the biggest in the world in terms of passenger kilometres.  Indian Railways are the world's biggest employer, with over 1.5 million staff.

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large bullet pointHow to check train times & fares

See or 

Example train times & fares...

Indian trains are a very practical way to get around, and even long journeys can be done overnight by sleeper train more time-effectively than a flight.  As an example, here are some train times & fares from Delhi to key tourist destinations:

 Example train times from Delhi...

From Delhi to:

Train times:




New Delhi depart 06:00

Agra arrive 07:57.


Shatabdi Express - quality train, breakfast included



New Delhi depart 16:25

Bombay Central arrive 08:15 next day.

AC1, AC2, AC3, CC

Rajdhani Express - quality sleeper train, meals included.



New Delhi depart 16:55

Calcutta Howrah arrive 09:55 next day.

AC1, AC2, AC3, CC

Rajdhani Express - quality sleeper train, meals included.


Delhi depart 17:35

Jaisalmer arrive 11:45 next day.

AC1, AC2, AC3, SL

Delhi-Jaisalmer Express



New Delhi depart 22:30

Madras arrive 07:10  (2 nights later).

AC1, AC2, AC3, SL, 2

Tamil Nadu Express


New Delhi depart 07:40 by Shatabdi

Express, change at Kalka, Simla 17:20

XC, CC then 1, CC, 2.

By broad gauge train to Kalka, then by Toy Train.


Delhi H Nizamuddin depart 19:00

Udaipur arrive 07:20 next day.

AC1, AC2, AC3, SL

Mewar Express


(by day)

New Delhi depart 06:00

Varanasi Junction arrive 14:00


Vande Bharat Express, a 160km/h streamlined electric unit.



New Delhi depart 20:40

Varanasi Junction arrive 08:25 next day.

AC1, AC2, AC3, SL, 2

Swatantrta S Express

 Example fares from Delhi...

 One-way per person, in rupees


AC Exec

chair car



chair car




 Delhi - Agra (by Shatabdi Express)







 Delhi - Agra (by ordinary express)







 Delhi - Udaipur







 Delhi - Jaisalmer 







 Delhi - Varanasi 







 Delhi - Bombay (by Rajdhani Express)







 Delhi - Bombay (by ordinary express) 







 Delhi - Calcutta (by Rajdhani Express)







 Delhi - Calcutta (by ordinary express)







£1 = 90 rupees.  $1 = 70 rupees.

Child fares on Indian trains since April 2016:  Children aged 0 to 4 inclusive travel free.  Children aged 5 to 11 inclusive travel at half fare if they do not take up a reserved seat or berth, but as from April 2016 they must pay the adult fare if they travel with their own reserved seat or berth.  I do not recommend that any child aged 5 to 11 travels without their own seat or berth in AC1, AC2, AC3, AC Chair car or Sleeper Class, so this effectively means you must now pay the adult fare for children aged 5 and over.  Children aged 12 and over pay the adult fare in all cases.

Shatabdi Express = Premier daytime train, special fare payable, meals included. 

Rajdhani Express = Premier overnight train, special fare payable, meals included.

Tips for finding train times & fares at


Printed timetables:

Trains at a Glance...

'Trains at a Glance' - train timetable for India

Once in India, you can buy the famous 'Trains at a Glance' for about 35 rupees (50p) at bookstalls and railway stations across India.

Download for free...

Click here to download the pages you need from Trains at a Glance for free...

Use the map to find which table you need.  Please tell me if the link stops working.


Types of train...

large bullet pointRAC, Waitlists & Tourist Quotas

Do you need a reservation?

Do trains get fully-booked?

When do reservations open?  Usually 120 days before departure

The Foreign Tourist Quota...

Reservation Against Cancellation (RAC) & Waitlisted (WL) places...

Tatkal places...

Jaisalmer to Delhi train Indian trains: The AC2 sleeper on the Delhi - Varanasi Express

Identifying your train & carriage:  The locomotive backs onto the Jaisalmer to Delhi Express.  The yellow signboard on the end carriage states the train name and number, clearly identifying the train.  Station nameboards are also clearly shown at every station.


An AC2 sleeper car on the Delhi-Varanasi express.  The yellow boards on the coach side tell you the train number and route, so you know you've found the right train.  Under the destination boards, the small yellow square shows the coach number.

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large bullet pointHow to buy tickets at the station

Tourist reservation bureaux...

New Delhi International Tourist Bureau (temporarily closed)...

New Delhi railway station International tourist train reservation bureau at New Delhi

New Delhi station Photos courtesy of Eric Barchas


New Delhi tourist reservation bureau.

New Delhi international tourist counter (open)...

New Delhi international tourist office New Delhi international tourist office

Entrance to Rail Reservation Centre.  The building is behind the trees. Courtesy of Martyn Cook


New Delhi international tourist counter 124 Photo courtesy of Martyn Cook.

Bombay CSMT foreign tourist counter...

Reservations centre, Mumbai CST Foreign Tourist counter, Mumbai CST

Mumbai CSMT (Bombay Victoria) reservation centre Photos courtesy of Tom Whitehead


The Foreign Tourist counter.

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large bullet pointHow to buy train tickets online

Indian trains often get fully-booked weeks in advance as demand usually exceeds supply.  So if you have a fixed itinerary and limited time I recommend buying tickets online in advance before you get to India.

Which website for Indian train tickets?

Option 1:  Buy online at - easiest way, international credit cards accepted...


Buy train tickets for Indian train tickets:  The painless option, accepts overseas credit cards, with no need to register at to buy India train tickets

Option 2:  Buy direct from - now accepts MasterCard & Visa for Indian train tickets:  Now accepts overseas cards....

How to register & activate an IRCTC account...

How to buy tickets using

Option 3:  Buy from or

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large bullet pointTips for train travel in India...

Checking your reservation...

  Train reservation lists are posted on platform noticeboards about 2 hours before departure...

The reservation lists posted on the platform at Agra Cantonment station.

  Indian Railway app
  Indian Railway Ixigo app

Use an app!

The reservation system is very efficient and the days of finding your reserved berth already occupied by several passengers are long gone.  Your train, coach & berth number will be printed on your ticket - unless you're travelling in AC1 in which case the reservation list with your allocated berth numbers is only compiled a few hours before departure.

Reservation lists for each class in each long-distance train are posted on the notice board at each station about two hours before departure, showing the name, age and sex of each passenger reserved in each berth in each coach.  The age and sex help the ticket inspector identify that the right passenger is in the right berth.  A reservation list for each coach also used to be pasted next to the entrance door on the train itself, but this is no longer done.

If you need to check your reservation, you can do so on your smartphone or laptop by entering your PNR (= booking reference) a PNR status-checking website such as or, or using the IRCTC app.

Download the app: Indian Rail IRCTC...

I recommend downloading an app for your smartphone.  There are a bewildering number of apps, some official, some 3rd party.  As the official IRCTC apps seem unavailable outside India, try either Indian Rail IRCTC, PNR Status, or Ixigo IRCTC train booking, both available for Android or iPhone.  With these you can:

Car numbering...

Coaches on Indian long distance trains are normally numbered like this:

AC1:  car H1, H2, and so on, where 1, 2 is the number of coaches of that class on the train.
AC2: car  A1, A2, and so on.
AC3:  car B1, B2, and so on.
AC chair car:  car C1, C2, and so on.
Sleeper class:  Cars S1, S2, and so on.

So if you booked an AC2 ticket you'd expect to be given a car number 'A1' or 'A2'.

Food and drink on Indian trains...

  Eating an Indian Railways curry on the Delhi - Varanasi overnight train

Enjoying a curry in the AC2 sleeper on the Delhi-Varanasi sleeper train (we brought the bottle of Wolf Blass with us!)

There are no restaurant or buffet cars on Indian Railways, but on long distance trains an attendant will appear in your coach and ask you if you would like to order food.  He will note down your order (usually a choice of 'veg' or 'non-veg') on a bit of paper.  An hour or so later he will reappear with some rice and curry in small foil containers from the kitchen car.  It is not expensive - you can reckon on £1-£2 per meal.  Attendants also regularly pass down each car selling soft drinks, snacks, or excellent hot sweet Indian tea (garam chai) for a few rupees.  On the premier Rajdhani Express trains (linking Delhi with Bombay, Calcutta, etc.) and the premier daytime Shatabdi Express trains (linking Delhi with Jaipur and Agra, etc.), food is included in the fare, served at your seat.

Pre-order your food from a restaurant of your choice!  Alternatively, there are now several Indian websites that allow you to pre-book food to be delivered to your seat on the train from various vendors along the way.  If you have a confirmed train booking you can go to, enter your PNR, select a vendor you like the sound of who is located at a station where your train calls at a suitable time, and select specific items from their menu to be delivered to you on board the train at that station - reports so far have been very positive, but feedback is always appreciated!

Cleanliness, toilets & crowding...

The efficient reservation system means that you can safely forget any pictures you've seen of overcrowded Indian trains with people on the roof or hanging on the side.  These these photos show suburban trains, or basic unreserved 2nd class on long distance ones.  On fast long-distance trains in AC1, AC2, AC3, or AC Chair Class, all passengers have an assigned seat or sleeping berth so there's no overcrowding.  Don't expect pristine western standards anywhere in India, but you'll find AC1, AC2, AC3 and AC Chair class fairly clean by Indian standards, with both western-style and squat toilets usually in a reasonably sanitary condition.  See the train interior photos below.  On the other hand, Sleeper Class gets much grubbier than the AC classes and unreserved passengers can sometimes enter the coaches making it crowded.  2nd class unreserved can be incredibly crowded.  Toilets in sleeper class or basic non-AC 2nd class seats can leave a lot to be desired...

Security on Indian trains...

Indian trains are safe to travel on, even for families or women travelling alone, and you are unlikely to have any problems at all.  Having said that, theft of luggage is rare but not unheard of, so for peace of mind take along a bicycle lock or medium-sized padlock to secure your bags.  In the sleeping-cars, there are wire hoops hanging down underneath the seats to which you can padlock your luggage.  As in any busy place anywhere, pickpockets operate at the major stations (for example Delhi and New Delhi), so take care.  Oh, and be prepared:  If anyone tells you that your train is cancelled, that the ticket office has closed or has moved to a travel agency across the road, or your pre-booked hotel has burnt down or been abducted by aliens, please politely ignore them, even if they look 'official', to avoid ending up in a travel agency paying for a car and driver at vast expense, or booking their 'alternative' hotel which of course will luckily have a room available.  These are all well-known scams (yawn...) to get travel agency business, usually obvious to any regular India hand, but first-timers have been known to fall for them...

Do Indian trains run on time?

  AC2 sleeper on an Indian train

AC2 2-tier sleeper:  An AC2 bay of 4 berths.  There are more photos of what each type of seat and sleeper are like below.

Generally, Indian Railways are very efficient, but Indian trains do run late, and sometimes it's hours rather than minutes.  To get a feel for it, why not go to either or and see how late yesterday's Delhi-Jaisalmer Express arrived, or last Thursday's Bombay-Delhi Rajdhani Express?  At, select the origin and destination that interests you, and bring up the train list.  Now find the train that you want and click on it.  Now select a date and click the 'train running status' button.  It will show you a table of scheduled times and actual times at each station.  Data is only held for the last few days, not weeks or months ago.  At, you simply enter the train number or name, then select from a list of possible trains.

Alternatively, these examples from my own travels may give you a feel for the likely delay:  Delhi-Varanasi overnight express spot on time, Bombay-Calcutta Mail 1½ hours late, Madras-Bombay Chennai Express 40 minutes late, Calcutta-Delhi Rajdhani Express spot on time (Rajdhani Expresses get priority and are pretty punctual), Delhi-Agra Shatabdi Express spot on time (Shatabdi Expresses also get priority and are pretty punctual), Jaisalmer-Delhi Express 2 hours late starting and 3 hours late arriving, Delhi-Kalka-Simla Himalayan Queen spot on time, Varanasi-Agra-Jaipur Marudhar Express 50 minutes late, Delhi-Madras Grand Trunk Express 1½ hours late.

Recharging mobiles & cameras...

You'll find shaver sockets in most AC1/2/3 sleeper cars and many Indian trains now have power outlets for mobiles and laptops.  However, it's worth investing in a Anker backup battery which can recharge your phone several times over when necessary.

Other Indian train tips...

Bring your own toilet paper.  You'll normally find one western toilet and one squat toilet at one or both ends of the car.  In AC1, AC2, AC Chair Class and even AC3 the toilets are normally reasonably clean by Indian standards, and in full working order.  Sleeper Class and 2nd class toilets may be a different matter!

Make sure you research when to visit India carefully - in summer it can be unbearably hot, and you also want to avoid the monsoon rains.  And in January & February in Northern India that there can be major disruption to road, rail & air due to thick fog, so bear that in mind.

Finally, forewarned is forearmed...

In India, if someone asks which hotel you're going to, then announces that this hotel has been flooded, burnt down, or abducted by aliens, they are of course trying to get commission from sending you to another hotel - that's often painfully obvious and it's almost funny!  Smile, ignore them, and persist in walking to your own hotel, which will of course be open as usual.  But similarly, especially at big stations such as New Delhi, if an official-looking person (they may even show you a badge) says your train has been cancelled, or says you can't board without a boarding pass (with an e-ticket you can get on the train, there's no such thing as a boarding pass), smile, ignore them, walk past, and persist until you see the actual departure indicators and get your train.  If necessary, go and see the station master!  Although this has never happened to me, there are occasional reports of travellers being conned into buying new tickets from a nearby travel agency, being sent to a nearby travel agency when they wanted the genuine New Delhi foreigners booking office, or being conned into hiring a private car and driver for hundreds of dollars when they already had trains booked, which of course weren't really cancelled.  So smile, ignore, persist, go and see the departure boards with your own eyes, find and get on your train, and have a giggle about it later!  If you encounter any of this, feedback (and a good laugh) is always appreciated!

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large bullet pointThe 8 classes on Indian trains...

There are 8 classes of accommodation on Indian trains, although only a selection of these classes will be available on any given train.  Here are the classes, in roughly descending order of cost, together with the usual 2- or 3-letter abbreviations...

A request:  If you get any clear interior photos of AC1, AC2, AC3, AC Chair or Sleeper class which would better illustrate these classes, please do get in touch!

Air-conditioned first class (AC1 or 1A)

AC1 is a comfortable and civilised way to travel, although it's only found on the most important long-distance trains and costs twice the price of AC2.  In AC1 you're typically mixing with bank managers and army officers.  A corridor runs down one side of the car, off which open a number of fairly spacious, carpeted and lockable 4-berth & 2-berth sleeper compartments with washbasin.  All necessary bedding is provided, and berths convert to seats for daytime use.  You cannot specify that you want berths in a 2-berth rather than a 4-berth compartment when you book, nor will you be given specific berth numbers when you book, as specific berth numbers are only allocated by Indian Railways closer to the departure date and shown on reservation lists at the station before departure and on the coach side.  Couples are normally given preference for the 2-berth coupés, families and passengers travelling alone are normally allocated berths in one of the 4-berth compartments, but of course this can't be guaranteed.  Note that when using online systems such as, the AC1 sleepers shown here and AC Executive Chair class (available on certain short-distance inter-city trains) may both be shown as AC1, with no distinction between these two classes.

Click for car plans & berth numbering in AC1, AC2, AC3, AC Chair, Sleeper Class.

Indian trains:  AC1 coach   AC1 4-berth sleeper compartment

Classic AC1 cars:  Regular AC1 cars have a side corridor off which open two or three 2-berth coupés and (above right) a number of fairly spacious 4-berth sleeper compartments.  The 4-berth AC1 sleeper pictured above right has the usual brown leatherette seats/berths.  Clean sheets, pillow and blankets are provided.  Interior photo courtesy of Peter Pitt See larger photo.

Boarding the Bombay to New Delhi Rajdhani Express   4-berth AC1 compartment on the Bombay to Delhi Rajdhani Express

Newer AC1 cars:  The Bombay to New Delhi and New Delhi to Calcutta Rajdhani Expresses and an increasing number of other premier trains have newer Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) cars like this.  Above left, the Bombay-Delhi Rajdhani Express boarding in Bombay, and above right a spacious carpeted 4-berth compartment on the same train.  Photos courtesy of Sunil Mehta See larger photo.

Air-conditioned 2-tier (AC2 or 2A)

AC2 is relatively clean, comfortable and not crowded, a good choice for most visitors to India. It's found on almost all decent long-distance trains, and it's the class typically used by middle class Indian families.  AC2 provides padded leatherette seats by day, convertible to flat padded bunks at night.  AC2 coaches are not divided into separate compartments, but are open-plan with berths arranged in bays of four on one side of the aisle (two upper, two lower, transverse across the car width), and in bays of two on the other side of the aisle, arranged longitudinally along the coach side above and below the windows.  Each bay is curtained off for privacy, and an attendant distributes pillows, sheets and blankets in the evening.  If you're tall, you want a transverse berth.

Click for car plans & berth numbering in AC1, AC2, AC3, AC Chair, Sleeper Class.

AC2:  Bay of four berths in daytime mode   Aisle of an AC 2-tier sleeper   AC2:  Bay of four berths in daytime mode

AC2 sleeper car...


AC2 aisle:  Bays of 4 transverse berths to the right, bays of 2 longitudinal berths to the left.  Larger photo.


A bay of 4 berths in an AC2 sleeper.  The seat back folds down to form the bottom bunk.  Larger photo.

Air-conditioned 3-tier (AC3 or 3A)

AC3 is very similar to AC2, but it has three tiers of bunks - upper, middle and lower - arranged in bays of six on one side of the aisle, and bays of two (upper and lower) along the coach side on the other side of the aisle.  It's more crowded than AC 2-tier, and it sometimes lacks the privacy curtains and individual berth lights found in AC2.  As in AC2, an attendant distributes pillows, sheets and blankets in the evening.  Berths convert to seats for daytime use.  Click for car plans & berth numbering in AC1, AC2, AC3, AC Chair, Sleeper Class.

Indian trains:  AC3 sleeper AC3: a bay of six berths (in daytime mode) on the Jaisalmer - Delhi express train...

An AC3 sleeper on the new Jaisalmer - Delhi Express.  In the far photo, the middle bunk is shown folded against the wall.  The seat backrest folds down to form the bottom bunk.

First class (FC)

Traditional non-air-con 1st class has now almost disappeared, as Indian Railways have progressively phased it out in favour of AC 2-tier.  But for the record, ordinary first class consists of non-air-conditioned sleeper coaches with lockable 4-berth and 2-berth compartments.  Bedding is not included in the fare, but may be available for a small extra charge if booked in advance.  It is much grubbier than either AC1, AC2 or AC3 as it is not sealed against the dirt.

Interior of 1st class 4-berth compartment.  This is a metre-gauge example...

AC Executive chair class (EC)

AC Executive Chair Class is only found on the most important Shatabdi Express, Vande Bharat Express & Tejas Express trains.  Seats are arranged 2+2 across the car width, and on Shatabdi Expresses food & drink is included in the fare, served at your seat.  The more modern type of car is shown here, found on the morning Delhi to Agra Bhopal Shatabdi and the Delhi to Jaipur & Ajmer Ajmer Shatabdi.  Note that online booking systems may not distinguish between AC Executive Chair class & AC1 sleepers, both are shown as AC1 or 1A.  Photo courtesy of Simon Smidt.  Seat numbering plan, AC Chair cars.

If you see the term Anubhuti class, this refers to the very latest version of AC Executive Chair Class now replacing the original EC cars on some Shatabdi expresses.  This is similar but upgraded, with leg rests and seat-back TV screens.

AC Executive Chair class on a Shatabdi Express

AC Executive Chair class on a Shatabdi Express train.  Courtesy of Dan Stowell.

Interior of AC Executive chair car on the Jaipur - Delhi 'Shatabdi Express'   Complimentary snacks on a shatabdi

AC Chair class (CC)

AC Chair class is a good choice for daytime journeys.  Comfortable & air-conditioned, they have seats arranged 2+3 across the car width.  AC Chair Class is found on the Shatabdi Expresses, Vande Bharat Express, the several Tejas Express trains and a number of other inter-city daytime trains, for example Delhi-Jaipur, Delhi-Agra, Delhi-Kalka for Simla.  Seat numbering plan, AC Chair cars.

AC Chair class on a Shatabdi Express

AC Chair class - newer type, as used on Shatabdi Express trains.  Courtesy of Dan Stowell.

Interior of AC chair car on the Delhi - Kalka 'Himalayan Queen'... Indian trains:  AC chair car

AC Chair class - older type...


Sleeper Class (SL)

This is the way most of the less-well-off Indian population travels long-distance, and the majority of cars on a long-distance train will be sleeper class.  Sleeper class consists of open plan berths with upper, middle and lower bunks arranged in bays of six on one side of the aisle, and along the coach wall in bays of two (upper and lower) on the other side of the aisle.  Bedding is not provided, so bring a sleeping bag.  Sleeper class is found on almost all long-distance trains except for the premier 'Rajdhani Express' services.  Sleeper class can be quite crowded (although in theory all berths must be reserved, so it can't get overcrowded), and it's fairly grubby and basic.  On the other hand, you get a better view of the countryside then in AC coaches, where the windows are sealed, tinted, and sometimes dirty.  In summer, there are fans on the ceiling and a breeze from the windows.  In winter, wrap up warm at night and take a sleeping bag and fleece, as it can get cold.  Sleeper class is used by the more adventurous backpackers, who are prepared to take the rough with the smooth...  Berth numbering system, AC1, AC2, AC3, AC Chair, Sleeper Class cars.

Indian trains:  Sleeper class car   Interior of sleeper class car - bay of six berths. Sleeper class - aisle

Sleeper class windows are fitted with bars to keep out intruders. There is a glass pane and a shutter both of which can be raised / lowered.

A bay of six in sleeper class, with seats in day mode on the left, and berths in night time mode on the right.

The aisle of a sleeper class car.  Bays of six to the right, bays of two on the left.  Bring your own bedding!

2nd class seats (2S = reserved or II = unreserved)

Open plan cars with wooden or padded plastic seats, sometimes reserved and shown online as 2S, sometimes unreserved and shown online as II.  Not recommended for long distance overnight journeys (you'll see the huge scrum of Indians all trying to bag a seat in unreserved 2nd class), but quite acceptable for daytime journeys of up to a few hours if you're on a budget.

Indian trains:  2nd class seats coach   Some Indian 2nd class seats have padded plastic cushions...   ...others have hard wooden seats.

2nd class seating car.

Some trains have padded plastic 2nd class seats...

...others wooden seats.

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Book hotels at

large bullet pointUsing an IndRail pass

IndRail passes were discontinued in 2017...

Indrail pass agency SD Enterprises reports that Indian Railways discontinued the Indrail pass scheme at the end of 2017.  A quite incredible decision, given the difficulty of booking Indian train tickets.  You will now need to book an itinerary as point to point tickets, either through a reliable agency such as or online as above.

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large bullet pointWhere to go in India

Recommended itinerary:  Highlights of Northern India...

First-time visitors often wonder where to start in such a vast country, and they're sometimes told to tour only a small area, for example stick to Rajasthan or perhaps the beaches of Goa.  But I suggest a bolder approach.  Use the remarkable Indian train network to see a varied cross-section of India's highlights, picking one example from each type of place:  A big city, a colonial hill station, a princely city or two in Rajasthan, then Agra of course for the Taj Mahal, and also Varanasi, the classic Hindu holy city on the Ganges.  This way, you'll see some incredible highlights and complete contrasts, with overnight trains minimising both daytime travelling time and hotel bills.

Here's what I personally think is the absolute best itinerary around Northern India, taking you to an amazing variety of classic Indian cities in as little as 2 weeks.  Highlight after highlight in a 2-week itinerary!  If you have longer to spare, add an extra day or two here and there and/or add one more Rajasthani city, Udaipur.

How to book this itinerary...

Option 1 is to arrange it all yourself.  First sketch out your itinerary, perhaps using the technique explained here.  Then book each train journey at (hassle-free, although naturally they charge a reasonable agency mark-up) or get yourself registered with IRCTC and book as explained here.  Then book each of your hotels separately using  This is the budget option, if you don't mind the legwork and managing it yourself.

Option 2 is to have it all booked for you, hassle-free.  I've arranged for train specialists Railbookers to offer this exact itinerary as a package, with trains, hotels, transfers (and if you like, your flight to India) all sorted for you.  This costs more than sorting it all out yourself, but it saves a lot of effort (and possible frustration) and as it's then a package, if anything affects one part of the tour Railbookers will sort things out for you.  Their suggested tour can be customised to your own requirements, to spend more or less time in each place.  Railbookers is an ABTA member and holidays including flights are ATOL protected.

UK flag  UK call 0207 864 4600,

US flag  US call free 1-888-829-4775, see website.

Canadian flag  Canada call free 1-855-882-2910, see website.

Australian flag  Australia call toll-free 1300 971 526, see website

New Zealand flag  New Zealand call toll-free 0800 000 554 or see website.

Alternative versions...

Alternatively, just pick on big city, one hill station, a couple of cities in Rajasthan, and a couple of places from the 'other' list below and create your own itinerary.  How about:  Calcutta - (overnight sleeper train to New Jalpaiguri then the famous Darjeeling Toy Train) - Darjeeling - Varanasi - (overnight sleeper train) - Agra - (daytime train) - Jaipur - (overnight sleeper train) - Calcutta?

The big cities...

Bombay (Mumbai)     

It's been described as London on acid, a wonderful sub-tropical parody of 1950s London.  Colonial banks and offices (complete with foliage sprouting from the roofs), red double-decker buses and Victoria Terminus (CSMT), a railway station to rival St Pancras.  If your budget will stretch, the place to stay is the famous Taj Hotel, right next to the Gateway to India.

Calcutta (Kolkata)

The former capital of British India, before it was moved to Delhi.  Lots of historic buildings, the famous Hooghly bridge, the Victoria Memorial, the site of the infamous Black Hole, well worth a visit.


India's capital.  Crowded Old Delhi with its Jama Masjid mosque and the famous Red Fort sits next to the new British-built capital with its elegant buildings designed by Lutyens.  Also visit the Qutub Minar (an ancient tower plus a strange iron pillar) and Himayun's tomb, a trial run for the Taj Mahal.

Madras (Chennai)

An even older colony than Bombay or Calcutta, in Southern India.

The royal cities of Rajasthan...


The 'Pink City', and one of my favourite cities in India.  Roads full of trucks and camels.  See the royal palace, the old observatory and the famous Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds).  Make a day trip to Amber Fort a few miles away.  The Shahpura House Hotel gets good reports.


A fantastic and beautiful place, built around a lake with a royal palace overlooking the lake and another equally famous palace - now a hotel - on an island on the lake itself.  Not to be missed!  If you can't afford to splurge on the famous & luxurious Taj Lake Palace Hotel on the lake itself, the Lake Pichola Hotel is a great low-to-mid-price choice, very central and with its restaurant terrace overlooking the lake.  Also check out the Jagat Niwas Palace, also overlooking the lake.


A walled city in the desert full of beautifully carved temples, havelis (merchants houses) and palaces.  Probably the most amazing place in Rajasthan and perhaps India - don't argue, just go there...  It used to be one of the most time-consuming places to get to, being right next to the Pakistani border, but there's now a direct train from Delhi.  In Jaisalmer, the Mandir Palace hotel is absolutely wonderful, as long as you ask for an upstairs room.  The hotel was indeed once a palace, and the rooms are straight out of Arabian nights - yet remarkably cheap.


Another fascinating Rajasthani city, worth a visit for the fort overlooking the town.

Old Colonial hill stations...


Arguably the most famous hill station of them all, up in the cool foothills of the Himalayas.  Mock Tudor houses and a church straight from the Home Counties.  Before dawn, take a vintage Land Rover to Tiger Hill to see the sunrise - you'll see Kanchenjunga in the distance, and on a clear day you can see Everest.  Pay your respects at the cremation site of Sherpa Tenzing Norgay of Everest fame.  To reach Darjeeling, take the overnight Darjeeling Mail leaving Calcutta (Sealdah station) at 22:05 and arriving New Jalpaiguri (NJP) at 08:40.  The famous narrow gauge toy train leaves NJP at 09:00 and arrives Darjeeling at 15:30 (Update June 2017:  The Toy Train was cut back from daily to running 3 times per week in 2016, but was restored to daily operation in May 2017).  Don't miss this spectacular trip to Darjeeling on the toy train - although buses are quicker, the toy train is a UNESCO world heritage experience but the buses certainly aren't!  If your budget will stretch, stay at the incomparable Windamere Hotel.  See 'a personal favourite' below.  If you can't get a reservation at the Windamere, try the Elgin Hotel instead.  Check the current operating status of the Darjeeling toy train at


Mock Tudor houses from a suburban town in Surrey, transplanted to the Himalayan foothills with an Indian bazaar tacked on the side.  In the days of the Raj, Simla became the capital every summer when Delhi (and before that, Calcutta) became just too hot.  Don't miss the journey to and from Simla on the narrow-gauge 'toy train', a spectacular trip up from the plains at Kalka up into the hills.  The daily 07:40 Kalka Shatabdi from New Delhi (AC Chair class and AC Executive chair class, breakfast included) connects at Kalka with the daily 11:55 toy train which reaches Simla at 17:20.  Alternatively, the 22:50 sleeper (AC1, AC2, AC3, sleeper class) from Delhi Junction arrives Kalka at 05:00 next morning.  The Shivalik Deluxe Express leaves Kalka at 05:30 and arrives Simla at 10:15.  The Shivalik Deluxe Express has plush 1st class armchairs and an at-seat meal service included in the fare - AC2 IndRail passholders can use this train (and enjoy the meal) at no extra charge.  I recommend the lovely colonial-style Clarkes Hotel.



A old colonial hill station, southern India-style, now also known as Udhagamandalam.  Take the overnight Nilgiri Express from Madras (depart 20:15) to Mettupalaiyam (36km beyond Coimbatore) arriving 06:20.  Change for the 07:10 metre-gauge train, still steam-hauled, up to 'Ooty', where you arrive at 12:00.


A lesser-known hill station close to Bombay, also served by its own hill railway from the mainline junction at Neral.

Other places to see...


The Taj Mahal is an icon and well, it just has to be seen...  Two bits of advice for Agra:  first, don't plan to spend more time than necessary in Agra to see the sights.  One or two days is enough, then high-tail it to somewhere less touristy with fewer touts and less hassle.  But second, there's more to Agra than just the Taj Mahal.  The 'baby Taj' and Agra Fort are both well worth a visit.  And most importantly, the deserted royal city at Fatephur Sikhri, 40 km West of Agra, is superb and in many ways more interesting than the Taj.  Buses link Agra with Fatephur Sikhri every hour or so, trains run irregularly from Agra Fort Station.  If there's two or three of you, it's not too extravagant to hire a car and driver for a day or half day.


One of the holiest Hindu cities in India, on the banks of the Ganges.  This is one city that should really not be missed.  The upmarket Western tourist hotels are all in the new town well away from the old town and Ganges - to see the most of Varanasi, book a lower or mid-range hotel overlooking the Ganges, for example, the excellent Hotel Alka (it's clean, comfortable, has air-con, and I'm sure you can do without a fluffy bathrobe or complimentary slippers for a night or two!).


A famous and well-touristed temple complex (but without much else to see in the area) with erotic carvings in a remote location in North India.  Khajuraho now has a station, with an overnight train 3 times a week from Delhi's Nizamuddin station at 21:35 on Tue, Fri & Sun.  It  returns from Khajuraho at 18:15 on Mon, Wed, Sat.  Alternatively, you can use a bus or hire a car & driver from Jhansi, Kanpur or Allahabad.

Two personal favourites:  A ride to Darjeeling...

A personal favourite is the ride to Darjeeling on the narrow gauge Darjeeling Himalaya Railway (DHR), and a night or two at the Windamere Hotel.  The DHR is now a UN World Heritage Site.  Take the broad gauge Darjeeling Mail from Calcutta (Sealdah station) to New Jalpaiguri (NJP), leaving Calcutta Sealdah around 22:05 and arriving NJP at around 08:40 next morning.  The Darjeeling Mail has AC1, AC2, AC3, sleeper class and 2nd class accommodation.  The DHR 'toy train' connects with the Darjeeling Mail, leaving NJP at 09:00 daily, arriving Darjeeling at 15:30.  Major landslides blocked the line in a couple of places in 2010, but the line was reopened (barring temporary problems) in late 2014 so as at May 2017 was running daily.  However, all services suspended again by July due to local civil unrest.

You can check the current status of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway at - it has it's ups and downs, if you'll pardon the expression...

Some guide books recommend taking the bus from NJP to Darjeeling (a 4 hour journey, so much quicker than the 'toy train') and treating the railway as a theme park ride for a quick trip over a short section - ignore them!  Four hours on a bus is cramped and uncomfortable, and hardly a world heritage experience.  The leisurely day spent on the toy train through the Himalayan foothills is a day well spent.  The 09:00 train from NJP is diesel-hauled except for certain days when the diesel is being maintained, but other services are still hauled by steam locomotives.

Once in Darjeeling, if you can stretch to £95-£130 a night for a single or £125-£145 for a double (including all meals), the place to stay is the Windamere Hotel.  Originally a boarding house for bachelor tea planters, it became a hotel in 1939.  Meals are served by white-gloved, turbanned waiters and eaten by candlelight to the sound of Cole Porter tunes on the piano.  Even if you can't afford it, make sure you come along for afternoon tea - probably the best cup of tea you will ever drink...

A ride on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway   The Windamere Hotel, Darjeeling

A journey on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway...


The wonderful Windamere Hotel, Darjeeling...

...and a ride to Simla.

A little bit more robust than the line to Darjeeling, the similar toy train up to Simla in the Himalayan foothills is the way to reach Simla, once India's summer capital.  Take a fast broad-gauge train from New Delhi to Kalka and change there onto the Toy Train up into the hills.  The train ride to Simla is one of Simla's highlights on its own.  If you get the chance, use the Shivalik Deluxe Express on the way back down from Simla (it connects with the overnight express to New Delhi going forward next day to Calcutta).  The Shivalik Deluxe has plush fabric-covered first class armchairs, and a meal is served at your seat, included in the price.  Although it gets dark as you descend, at stations without electricity the signalmen hand the single-line token to the driver whilst holding burning torches, the shimmering flames lighting up the side of the train.  It's wonderfully atmospheric.

Simla station   The Toy Train to Simla

Simla station.


A wonderful ride up to Simla on the Toy Train...

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large bullet pointTours of India by train

Have your train tickets, hotels, transfers & flights professionally booked...

The cheapest option is to arrange everything yourself, independently, but this takes significant time and effort.  If you want a customisable itinerary with all your train tickets, up-market hotels and transfers arranged for you, you can do this through train specialists Railbookers.  Their website has various example itineraries including a one-week Golden Triangle one visiting Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, but have a look at the suggested itinerary above covering Delhi, Agra, Varanasi, Jaipur, Jaisalmer & Simla as I think it's the best 2-week itinerary around northern India that you'll find, and I've arranged for Railbookers to offer it.  Railbookers takes good care of their clients and gets very good reviews.

UK flag  UK call 0207 864 4600,

US flag  US call free 1-888-829-4775, see website.

Canadian flag  Canada call free 1-855-882-2910, see website.

Australian flag  Australia call toll-free 1300 971 526, see website

New Zealand flag  New Zealand call toll-free 0800 000 554 or see website.

Escorted tours in India by train...

If you'd prefer to travel with a group of fellow travellers escorted by a professional tour guide, check are Great Rail Journeys (, in the UK call 01904 527 120) and Rail Discoveries,, 01904 730 727.  Both offer popular escorted tours covering India's 'Golden Triangle' of Delhi, Agra for the Taj Mahal and Jaipur in Rajasthan.  At the time of writing, Great rail Journeys also do an escorted tour covering Delhi, Amritsar for the Golden Temple, Agra for the Taj Mahal, Lucknow, Varanasi on the Ganges and Kathmandu in Nepal, with departures on various dates through the year.

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large bullet pointTourist cruise trains...

There are now several luxury cruise trains catering for tourists and offering sightseeing itineraries around Indian cities.  All of these trains are in effect 5 star international hotels on wheels, allowing you to see India in great comfort.

The Palace on Wheels...

Other luxury cruise trains...

The Palace on Wheels is no longer the only cruise train in India.  A number have sprung up, though prices are sky-high.  Be warned that most of these companies quote a rate per night, not for the whole tour!

Book through train travel specialist, 0207 864 4600...

Railbookers is a train travel specialist and a safe and reliable way to arrange a trip on the Palace on Wheels, Maharaja's Express, Golden Chariot or Royal Rajasthan on Wheels.  They take good care of their clients and I can recommend them.  They have offices or toll-free numbers in the UK, US/Canada, Australia and New Zealand, but can be used wherever you live.  On their website, select 'Private trains'.

UK flag  UK call 0207 864 4600,

US flag  US call free 1-888-829-4775, see website.

Canadian flag  Canada call free 1-855-882-2910, see website.

Australian flag  Australia call toll-free 1300 971 526, see website

New Zealand flag  New Zealand call toll-free 0800 000 554 or see website.

Great Rail JourneysInclusive luxury train escorted tours...

If you'd like a deluxe train-based holiday to India, but would like to do this as part of an organised tour, Great Rail Journeys ( is a well-known company offering inclusive upmarket escorted tours to India, including the Palace on Wheels or a number of other special Indian 'cruise trains', five star hotels plus flights to/from the UK.  There are a number of different tours available, departing on a range of dates throughout the year.  Check the holiday details online, then call 01904 527120 to book or use their online booking form.  Seat61 gets some commission to help support the site if you book your holiday through this link and phone number.

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large bullet pointInternational trains, buses, ferries

There are international trains to Pakistan & Bangladesh, and buses to Nepal.  Here's a quick summary:

  Closing ceremony, Atari on the Pakistan-India border.

The border closure ceremony at Atari.  You can attend this if you use buses or taxis to cross. Photo courtesy of Koen Berghuis.

  Travelling between India & Pakistan on the Samjohta Express train

The Samjohta Express crosses the India/Pakistan border.  Photo courtesy of Sudhir Mehra.

India to Pakistan:  Delhi - Amritsar - Lahore

India to Pakistan:  Delhi - Jodhpur - Karachi

India to Nepal:  Delhi to Kathmandu

India to Bangladesh...

India to Sri Lanka...

India to Burma (Myanmar)...

India to China...

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large bullet pointEurope to India overland

Lonely Planet guidebook Istanbul to Kathamndu

Europe to India via Istanbul, Iran, Pakistan...

Europe to India via Moscow, the Trans-Siberian Railway, Beijing & Lhasa...

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large bullet pointHotels in India

My personal hotel recommendations...

Find hotels at Booking.comMy favourite hotel search site: is my favourite hotel booking site and I generally prefer booking my hotels all in one place here.  You can usually book with free cancellation - this allows you to confirm your accommodation at no risk before train booking opens.  It also means you can hold accommodation while you finalise your itinerary, and alter your plans as they evolve - a feature I use all the time when putting a trip together.  I never book hotels non-refundably.  I have also come to trust their review scores - you won't be disappointed with anything over 8.0.

Tip:  It can pay to compare prices across multiple hotel sites: is a price comparison site which compares hotel prices on,, Expedia, Accor, Agoda and many others.  Though if there's not much in it, I prefer keeping all my bookings together in one place at

Tripadvisor hotel reviews... is a good place to find independent travellers' reviews of the main hotels.  It also has the low-down on all the sights & attractions too.

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large bullet pointFlights...

Overland travel by train around India is an essential part of the experience, so once there, don't cheat and fly, stay on the ground!  But if you need a long-haul flight to reach India in the first place...

1)  Check flight prices at Opodo,

2)  Use Skyscanner to compare flight prices & routes worldwide across 600 airlines...

skyscanner generic 728x90

3)  Lounge passes...

Make the airport experience a little more bearable with a VIP lounge pass, it's not as expensive as you think!  See

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large bullet pointGuidebooks

Lonely Planet & Rough Guides...Amazon logo

For independent travel, the best guidebook to take is either the Lonely Planet or Rough Guide.  I gave Sarah the Lonely Planet and Karen the Rough Guide and we road-tested both of them head-to-head across India.  The result was a tie, with similarly excellent levels of both practical travel information and historical and cultural background.  I personally prefer the Lonely Planet, but Karen preferred the Rough Guide.  Just make sure you take one of these two guides with you..!  If you buy anything at Amazon through these links, gets a small commission to help support the site.

Buy Lonely Planet India at   Buy Rough Guide India at

Lonely Planet India - Click to buy online   Rough Guide to India - Click to buy online

Alternatively, you can download just the chapters you need in .PDF format from the Lonely Planet Website, from around £2.99 or US$4.95 a chapter.

Also for your reading list...

OK, so Rudyard Kipling's 'Kim' is a novel, not a guidebook - but you'll need a reading book for your trip, right?  Trust me on this - 'Kim' is a magical tale, that captures the feel of Northern India even today.  Buy Kim online - it costs all of about £1.25!

Once hooked, you'll probably want to get Peter Hopkirk's book, 'The Quest for Kim', which tells you about the real people and places on which the characters and places in the novel are based.  Buy 'The Quest for Kim' online.

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large bullet pointTravel insurance


Columbus direct travel insurance logo

Always take out travel insurance...

Never travel overseas without travel insurance from a reliable insurer, with at least £1m or preferably £5m medical cover.  It should also cover cancellation and loss of cash and belongings, up to a sensible limit.  An annual multi-trip policy is usually cheaper than several single-trip policies even for just 2 or 3 trips a year, I have an annual policy myself.  Here are some suggested insurers.  Seat61 gets a small commission if you buy through these links.

UK flagIn the UK, reliable insurers include Columbus Direct.

UK flagIf you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over 65, see - 10% discount with code seat61.

UK flagYou can use to compare prices & policies from many different insurers.

  US flag If you live in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

A Curve card saves on foreign transaction fees...


Curve card

Most banks give you a poor exchange rate, then charge you a currency conversion fee.  A Curve MasterCard means no foreign transaction fees and gives you the mid-market exchange rate, at least up to a certain limit, £500 per month at time of writing.  The balance goes straight onto one of your existing debit or credit cards.

How it works:  1. Download the app for iPhone or Android.  2. Enter your details & they'll send you a Curve MasterCard - they send to most European addresses including the UK.  3. Link your existing credit & debit cards to the app.  4. Now use the Curve MasterCard to buy things online or in person or take cash from ATMs, just like a normal MasterCard. Curve does the currency conversion and puts the balance onto whichever of your debit or credit cards you choose.  You can even change your mind about which card it goes onto, within 14 days of the transaction.

I have a Curve Blue card myself - I get some commission if you sign up to Curve, but I'm recommending it here because it's great.  See details, download the app and get a Curve card - they'll give you £5 cashback through that link, too.


Express VPN

Get a VPN for safe browsing.  VPNs & why you need one explained...

When you're travelling you often use free WiFi in public places which may not be secure.  A VPN means your connection to the internet is encrypted & always secure, even using unsecured WiFi.  In countries such as China where access to Twitter & Facebook is restricted, a VPN gets around these restrictions.  And lastly, you can select the geographic location of the IP address you browse with, to get around geographic restrictions which some websites apply - for example one booking site charges a booking fee to non-European visitors but none to European visitors, so if you're not located in Europe you can avoid this fee by browsing with a UK IP address using a VPN.  VPNs & why you need one explainedExpressVPN is a best buy and I use it myself - I've signed up as an ExpressVPN affiliate, and if you go with using the links on this page, you should see a special deal, 3 months free with an annual subscription, and I get a small commission to help support this site.


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