Playful. Astonishing. Uncomfortable. Microcosm. These were just a few responses we received to our recent Facebook post, "Describe Indian train travel in one word." The post was prompted by a recent email from a Sodha Traveler, Paul, regarding the Indian rail system:
I have heard so many stories about taking an overnight train in India. Some are idyllic and some are horrifying. It seems like everyone has an opinion on whether or not I should reserve the journey. What is your professional opinion? Also, is 1st class worth it?
An Indian train journey surely has the ability to spark many descriptive words - some are positive and others cannot be posted on this blog! Although the rail system is very reliable, I only recommend it for certain travelers. Contrary to what you may hear, taking an overnight train in India is not similar to European train travel. (Note that this refers to standard train travel, not luxury rail journeys like Palace on Wheels.) If you are particularly discerning, overnight trains can be a sensory overload.
The majority of overnight trains offer three classes of seating: 1st A/C, 2nd A/C or non-A/C, and 3rd non-A/C. Most travelers opt for 1st or 2nd class, where seating is reserved and Western restroom facilities are available. Depending on your itinerary and class of service, meals are delivered by a server or you may purchase food items from a vendor. Here are a few photos of the different interior spaces:
The cost difference between 1st and 2nd class is usually nominal and I do recommend paying the difference. Although 1st class is not completely private, it does offer a bit more of a retreat. However, 1st class is not available on all overnight trains so be sure to check on the availability before confirming a reservation.
Although not for everyone, overnight train travel can be quite magical as you observe the lands and people passing outside your window. My advice is to try and not have strong expectations - positive or negative - and just enjoy the ride. If you find it less than desireable, remember that it will be over the following day. Enjoy the journey!