One thing I wanted to do when coming to India was take a train. I blame the Darjeeling Limited. The romance of travel is all there. Reality is another thing. Most trains are overcrowded and sometimes dangerous. However, life is quite a bit more civilized in the south. As are the trains. I never felt unsafe travelling as a solo female traveller (by day). Thankfully.
- Make sure you buy a sim card. Very important. One, for safety of knowing where you are at all times and two, trains are notoriously late in India so you’ll want to know by how much as it’s constantly changing.
- Use the Clear Trip app. To book trains, to check your trains whereabouts, and to see where you are on your journey while on the train. It’s actually so wonderful.
- Check how much a taxi should cost before arrival and be ready to barter. Look like you’re in control to save being taken advantage of. Maximum RP 20 per km in a touristy area.
- While waiting for the train check out where generally the car classes land at the station. You don’t want to be running up to the front of the train as it arrives to grab your seat and potentially miss it.
- Don’t eat train station food. You’re stomach isn’t that brave. Stick to chips.
- If you have a suitcase be prepared for stairs. Sometimes a lot of them.
- Still keep basic train safety rules like keep an eye on everything at all times, don’t flash your electronics, dress appropriately and try to blend in.
- If you’re nervous travel by day if you can when families are travelling as well. It’s the safest time for train travel.
STEP BY STEP TO GET A TICKET AND BOARD THE TRAIN
- Expect your train to be delayed but arrive early. You never know. For example my train was scheduled to arrive at 10:25, the app said delayed until 10:50 I arrived only for the app to say 10:35 then the ticket officer said 10:45. It arrived at 10:50 YOU NEVER KNOW.
- Either buy your ticket on the Clear Trip app (which can be a long pain the first time) or check on the app for the train schedule and buy your ticket from the counter. They do not cue in India so know what your looking for and stand your ground, exact change is requested.
- Which class should you use? Sleeper cars are perfectly fine for day travel. There’s no reserved seats so just jump on and sit down. If you’re traveling after dusk I recommend going at least AC 3 which will have air conditioning and lots of people around which I would say makes it safer than AC 1 where you could get stuck with just one other random person.
- Make sure you know your platform and head there asap to get the lay of the land. Check the app to see where your train is and how delayed it has become. Grab some chips and wait it out.
- Train announcements should/will be in english so listen up. When you hear the announcement head to where you think your class will be boarding. It will now be a bit of a mad scramble to get on. You only have a 3 minute window or so to get this right. Get on, try to be the first KEEP AN EYE ON ALL YOUR THINGS and head to the nearest seat. My favourite is the singles side where you can fold down two chairs into a sprawled out bench with your suitcase underneath. Perfect.
- Inevitably though you’re squished between a family and you can’t move your legs. Oh well that’s life hopefully you’re not going too far. Be glad you’re not standing or on the roof like in the north.
- Now you can either be hyper vigilant and check the signs at every station stop for yours OR check the app for your expected arrival and set an alarm or something of the sort to know when to roughly pay attention. Google maps is good too just in case your app isn’t constantly updating.
- Now relax. Look around, everyone is friendly/curious and probably snacking. Join them. Eat the chips you bought and grab a masala chai from the guy walking around. It’s good.