Train travel in Kerala, as in most of India, is a very cheap and convenient way move from place to place. Our first train journey was from Aluva railway station in Cochin to Kannur, the journey took just over 5 and a half hours and cost 420 rupees (£4.50) each. So if rail travel is your thing and you want to get a real flavour of Keralan life, plan to let the train take the strain and book yourself some train travel with Indian Railways.
Indian railways are busy; and I do mean busy. Busy as in full up nearly every trip! Seats get booked up early, weeks or even months in advance, so you need to book as soon as you know you want to travel. Don’t bank on just turning up at the station and getting a seat, chances are it won’t happen.
You can generally book up to 120 days in advance. We booked one trip just 5 days in advance, there were only 6 seats available and we didn’t have the choice of sitting together. But for the couple of bookings that we made more than a month in advance, we had a choice of seats and always sat together. Bookings can be changed and moved, even cancelled, even if your plans change, you haven’t lost much. So how can you plan for this and book before you leave for India?
Create an account with Indian Railways
To book tickets you need an account with Indian Railways so you will need to set one up. You may read online that you have to make bookings through Cleartrip because Indian Railways don’t accept non-Indian debit or credit cards. However, this is no longer true. You can now set up an account and book directly with Indian Railways at https://www.irctc.co.in
Set up is a little convoluted and can be a little frustrating so I’d suggest doing it well in advance. Look on it as character building and training for Indian life. You may need time to go over things on the website, error messages aren’t particularly helpful. You will also need to verify both your mobile number and email by responding to a text and an email that you will be sent. It’s a bit of a faff, but it is doable if you take your time and have a little patience. Once you have your account, things get easier.
- Many websites will tell you that you’re unable to open an Indian Railaway account without an Indian SIM in your phone, or that without that SIM, you will need to send off copies of your ID and passport. This once was the case but you no longer need an Indian SIM in your mobile phone to register with Indian Railways. Just enter your mobile number with the international prefix. Leave out the ‘+’
- The ‘pin code’ referred to on the set up form is a post code/zip code. If the form doesn’t accept yours use 123456
- You will be asked to pay a small fee to cover the cost of sending the text message
Once you’ve verified your email and mobile number and have your account, you can then book your first tickets.
You can choose to book either directly with Indian Railways or with Cleartrip.
Booking tickets on the Indian Railways Website
You can book directly with Indian Railways at https://www.irctc.co.in Sign in and search for your train.
The only ticket type available from Indian Railways website is now an e-ticket, that is an electronic ticket. I-Tickets are no longer available from the website. I-tickets are paper tickets delivered to an address for you to use.
When you’ve searched, you’ll end up with a list of trains that run on that day, with the train number, name, the station it leaves from, departure time, time of arrival at destination, travel time, and a list of days that the train runs (x meaning it doesn’t run on those days) and a list of the classes of seats/bunks on that train.
Note in the screenshot above, none of the trains leave from the station I asked for, however, all of the stations listed are in Mumbai
Clicking on the train number that leaves on or around the time you want to leave (or arrives when you want to arrive), gives you further information about stops for the train. But you need to click on the berth/seat class you’re interested in.
We were advised to travel CC if travelling during the day or 2AC if overnight. CC is air conditioned chair, a train seat similar to those found all over the world, normally arranged 2+3 across the carriage. If travelling overnight, travel 2AC. 2AC are relatively comfortable and clean bench seats during the day that convert into bunks at night. These seats are not arranged in compartments, instead they are arranged in bays which are curtained off from each other for privacy. Car attendants distribute bedding each evening
First class is available on Indian Railways, but the above suited us very well and seemed to provide the most ‘bang for buck’. For further information and discussion on the classes available, try Seat 6. The Seat 61 website has a huge and comprehensive listing of all things Indian Railways.
Note: There are other ways to book seats on Indian Railways trains, and there are other classes of seats and other quotas available, some at last minute too. The choices we made worked for us travelling within Kerala and booking at between a week and 3 months. For more information about other choices and options see Seat 61
So…. Click on the class of seat you require and you will see something like:
At the top, this tells you the train number and name you’ve clicked on, the class you’re looking at. THe quota you’re looking at – GN in this case. Quotas are General, Ladies, Senior Citizens or ‘Divyangjan (Disabled). Indian Railways had a ‘Differently Abled’ carriage on every train we saw.
The next line tells you how many seats are available for each date listed – AVAILABLE-0004. I requested this information on 22-04-18. At that time there were only 4 seats left to book for the 16-06-18 – nearly 2 months away! Book as early as you can.
The screen also shows how much the ticket will cost, in this case a totla of 2200 rupees. That’s £23.72 for a 1300 km journey lasting 18 hours and you’ve got a bed for the night.
If you want to book your seats from this page, click on the ‘Book Now’ like under the date you want to book. In this case, when I do so, I get a reminder that this train is not leaving from the station I originally requested.
The station this train leaves from is Kalyan Junction railway station in Mumbai rather than the station I asked for, Mumbai Central. I’m not sure if there is a way to check where the stations are from the IR website, I simply Googled the station to find out. Don’t forget to check if you can get to the ‘new’ station on time.
Note The Indian Railways website is not available 24 hours a day, it closes for maintenance between 23:45 to 00.30 IST, that’s 19:15 – 20:00B BST. It’s frustrating but it will come back up within the hour.
The booking form asks for all of the details you’d expect to find on a train booking site, including berth preferences. The preferences are ‘NO Preference’, ‘Lower’, ‘Upper’ , ‘Side Lower’ and ‘Side Upper’. Even if you’re a Senior Citizen in the UK, you won’t be able to claim a Senior Citizen concession on Indian Railways, we’re not eligible. ID card is generally a passport number.
Further down the page are a number of options you may want to consider, for example that everyone in the party must be in the same carriage.
The GST box can safely be left blank.
When you get to the payment page you will be offered a choice of payment options. Choose the option for International Cards
And that’s it. You should now be the proud owner of a ticket
If you download the Indian Railways app, your ticket will show up in there too.
Tap the list, and your ticket will open up for you to show the train conductor when he comes around the train.
Booking on Cleartrip
Booking on Cleartrip is straighforward. You will need to open a Cleartrip account and have the details of your Indian Railways account.
Go to http://www.cleartrip.com and select to Search and book IRCTC trains
Select ‘Search and book IRCTC trains, then select your options
You will need to enter your Indian Rail details, then select the train you wish to book. The number of seats available are listed.
From here, the process is simple although you will be prompted for your IR details as you make your payment. Any tickets you book will be available and usable in the Cleartrip app.