How to (more comfortably) travel by train in India

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India has the world’s largest railway system, and even if you book 2 months in advance, the earliest allowed, you can still end up on a waiting list. My advice is to get a local to help you. Make a friend, ask a local couch surfer. It will be much easier that way to get the seats and dates/times that you want.
My friend was trying to book an AC sleeper car but since we were traveling during a busy holiday time, we couldn’t get that and ended up on a 2nd class sleeper car. This was probably for the best, in my opinion, because the AC car has tinted windows that don’t open, so we wouldn’t have been able to see the scenery or get a nice night breeze as we slept or wake up to the cool morning air.
Here are a few tips from my own experience on riding the Indian rails:
  • Women: dress conservatively, meaning wear short or long sleeves and long pants or a long skirt. Or even better, dress in traditional clothes, like a salwar kameez. In general, this is a good tip so you can blend in better with locals and not be harassed or stared at as much because you are a foreigner. Of course it will still happen, you can count on that, but dressing like the local women will actually offer you more comfort, security and is a sign of respect to the local culture.
  • Bring a bed sheet or long cloth to spread out over the seat when you sleep. The trains aren’t very clean as you’ll quickly discover for yourself…
  • If you are near the light switch, turn it off when you are ready to go to bed and usually your fellow passengers will get the message and end their endless chatting.
  • When you’re ready to sleep, close the window glass to avoid the screeching noise of passing trains at night. The engines on these Indian trains are diesel and are extremely loud.
  • If you think you’ll want to lie down or try to sleep early, try to reserve the top bunk, because the bottom and middle bunks (yes some cars have THREE beds) won’t be free to sleep on until everyone seated on the bottom bunk is ready to go to sleep.
Do you have any tips to offer from an experience with riding the Indian railways?
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