This post is also available in: French
If you have ever been to India or if you are preparing your trip to India, then you already know the complexity of the Indian rail system and its 8 different classes.
I’m not going to explain to you how to buy train tickets online. So many blogs have already done it and that would just be repeating it. Instead, I’m going to tell you about my 10-hour trip in Sleeper Class hoping to lift the veil on your interrogations and doubts.
Plan your trip
I started booking my train tickets in July for a trip in August. I was able to book all my important tickets in time except for the Delhi-Khajuraho journey. I was 4th and 5th position on the Waitlist for AC 2 Tier. 4th and 5th isn’t so bad, so I booked the tickets hoping I would be able to secure real seats before leaving France. Before catching my flight to Delhi, my waitlist position remained unchanged. I didn’t want to miss Khajuraho, I had high expectations for this town. I’m sure I would have made the final list on the D-day but I really didn’t want to risk it. So I cancelled my waitlist ticket and booked Sleeper Class tickets instead, the only ones available.
The good thing is Sleeper Class cost us 700 Rs (10€) for 2 people while the AC 2 Tier cost 2,700 Rs for 2 (40€). Can you imagine that we were able to travel 640km by train for only 5€/person ?
Life on board
Below is the coach layout of the Sleeper Class (source). Berth on 3 levels face to face on one side of the aisle and on two levels on the other side.
You will read a lot of discouraging stuff on the internet regarding travelling in Sleeper Class as a foreigner saying it is filled with poorer Indian families. On the other end, you will read that AC 2/3 Tier will be more comfortable for foreign travelers because they will meet other travelers and will be surrounded by business men and wealthy Indian families.
When the four other travelers of our camel safari tour found out that we had travelled in Sleeper Class, they were so impressed. They wouldn’t have done it themselves. The man in seat 61 says “Sleeper class is used by the more adventurous backpackers, who are prepared to take the rough with the smooth”.
Seriously, do not be scared about what you can read on the internet. And most importantly, do not postpone a trip to a city you really have at heart just because all other classes are full.
It is true though that we had a more pleasant ride when we were in Exec. Chair or AC 2/3 Tier. People talked to us more easily and we had nice encounters with a business man, a military man, other travelers, a group of Indian travelers… However, during our ride in 2nd Class Unreserved, no one talked to us and we found that people were very shut. We shared a compartment with a whole family and even family members don’t talk to each other. They pass each other the food without even a look, a word or a smile. That was a hell of a quiet and boring journey. However, we have never felt in danger during our train or even bus rides, whether it was day or night. It is perfectly safe for foreigners.
We rode in Sleeper Class on the Delhi-Khajuraho train which departs at 8:15pm and arrives at 6:35am the next day: a 10-hour journey. Honestly, it is totally doable. You spend most of the trip sleeping anyway.
I would say the safest berths are the upper ones. As you can see on the picture above, you can stash your backpack at the bottom of the bed against the wall. For extra security, we fastened our backpack belly clip around the metal bar and used the backpack as a pillow.
There is no AC in Sleeper Class but there are fans on the ceiling (see it on the photo). So watch out for your head whenever you move from your berth.
Do make sure to stock up on food and water for overnight trains. During the day and at each station, there are hawkers selling chaï tea, samosas and all sorts of food but during the night only chaï sellers walk by in the wagons.
Regarding the restrooms: whether it is in Sleeper Class or AC 2/3 Tier, DON’T GO. Hold it in. The hygiene is absolutely awful, like everywhere else in India.
Tips for booking train tickets
Regarding account creation and early ticket booking, I highly recommend you to visit The man in seat 61’s site. He has done a great job of describing in full details the process step by step. It is so helpful.
Personally, I have made all my train bookings through Cleartrip and it worked very well. And when I cancelled my waitlisted AC 2Tier ticket to buy a Sleeper Class ticket, I was reimbursed within 48 hours.
My advice: booking one month and a week in advance was not early enough for me. I almost missed out on Khajuraho, which would have been terrible considering it ended up being my absolute favorite of my whole trip in India.
If you travel during the high season (October to March), you should book two months in advance. Reservations open up to 3 months in advance. I know it’s difficult to plan all your steps so long beforehand, especially in this country where unexpected things are inevitable.
You don’t need to book ALL your tickets. For example I only booked the trains to Amritsar, Khajuraho, Agra and the return trip Jaisalmer to Delhi to be sure we don’t miss our plane back home. For travelling around Rajasthan, we mainly took government buses (opposed to Deluxe buses) as the trains were always full. Government buses will cost you around 200 to 400Rs for 2. The longest ride we had by bus was from Udaipur to Jodhpur, 8 hours, a never-ending ride. Quite painful for your butt.
For day trains: I recommend you to choose AC Executive Chair if available. It is full comfort, the seats are wide and meals are included and served in large portions. Tea is also served on a regular basis. All of this is included in the price. We used Exec. Chair from Delhi to Amritsar and were very surprised by the high standard of services. If all reserved classes are full, do not hesitate to take 2nd Class Unreserved. The seats are not numbered and it works on a first-come, first-served basis. You can buy your ticket the day before or even on departure day. It’s totally OK for a day train. However, I do not recommend you to take it for a night train.
Overnight trains: You can take AC 1st, AC 2 or 3 Tier and even Sleeper Class. The important thing really, is to have a reserved seat with a seat number, and a coach where the seats unfold into beds for the night. Really, do not be scared. If I survived Sleeper Class, so will you. Moreover, it will allow you to live the real Indian experience and you won’t feel like you’ve missed out on something.
So are you ready to take the plunge now ? Have I demystified the worries you had about travelling in Sleeper Class ? Have you ever travelled in Sleeper Class or equivalent in other Asian countries?