To book tickets, and check out trains, go to http://www.indianrail.gov.in/.
Click on “Train Running Information” and then “Find your train”. Seat61 also has awesome information, I suggest reading the page on India carefully before attempting to buy tickets. There are 3 types of trains in India. 1, The super express costs the most but is the most comfortable, is called Shatabdi and Rajdhani, and operates only between major cities from state to state. 2, The regular express trains stop at most major cities and town, have mid-range prices and very long routes. 3, The cheapest, slowest, most uncomfortable trains stop at almost all villages, have shorter routes, and serve mainly the poor local populace (not for foreigners). The super express has 2 classes and always gets to go first on the tracks. I travelled on the non-air-conditioned class on the Shatabdi between Saharanpur and Delhi and it was very comfortable because it wasn’t crowded. The regular express has many classes (AC1, AC2, AC3, Sleeper, etc.). If you are a woman travelling alone on a budget, I recommend booking the cheapest AC class but it depends on where you’re going. I took the Sleeper class from Mumbai to Goa and it was fine because it was not crowded at all and the ticket agents seemed to have booked all the foreigners in the same car. However, it’s usually really really crowded on train routes in northern India so it would be better to book an AC class when travelling in the north. However, if you are travelling with several men, then any class would be fine as they can shield you from others in the train. For women travelling alone, please read my blog on Groping.
There are many online booking agents specifically for domestic flights in India. I flew one-way with JetLite from Kochi to Delhi for $100 CDN (April 2009).
Buses are everywhere. Just ask locals and you’ll be able to get to that small town, village or remote area you’re interested in. If you see a paved road, a bus is likely to come by at some point. If not a bus, then the local rickshaw. If not, then the oxcart. see also “Bus to Joshimath”.
The Delhi train station has a ticket counter just for ladies and when I was there, the ticket agent refused to serve anyone until all the guys left the queue so all the women started yelling and eventually, all the guys left. I was headed for Saharanpur and got to the train station around 1:45pm. The ticket agent said that only S2 seats were available so I bought one but it was so crowded and people kept squeezing which got worse with every stop. At one point, I said to the guy next to me that he was cutting off the circulation in my leg (for real) so he moved over slightly. Thank god I had a window seat. When I got there, my Indian friend told me that what one normally does is, buy the S class ticket (since they’ll tell you there’s nothing else left) but go to a higher class compartment that is a lot less crowded, and when the ticket collector comes, just pay the difference and the penalty which is only 20 Rs (April 2009). If you want to take the Shatabdi between Delhi and Saharanpur, it only stops at/goes from the train station that’s 4 km outside of Saharanpur. It does not serve the train station in the town itself.
I got to the Gorakhpur train station with a reservation but I needed to change the date. The ticket office turned out to be a 7 minute walk down the street to the left where there was a long stretch of wall. Like Delhi station, there was also a ticket window for women only. I didn’t have enough money for the ticket I wanted so I had to walk back to the train station where the ATMs were. The guy at the ticket office said there was only one ticket left so I have to hurry back with the money. When I got to the ATM, there was a line up and the guy who came out of the ATM said there was no more cash in the machine and the one across the street was out as well. I asked someone where there was another ATM and he said there are some in town but pretty far, about an hour’s walk. I must have had the look of sheer panic on my face because another guy came up to me and said that he was going to the ATM in town on his motorbike and he can give me a ride. His name was Anoop and he was a student of engineering at IIT Gorakhpur. He was also from Gorakhpur. He said that the machines are out of cash because of the elections. I had no idea why elections would cause empty ATMs but I didn’t ask. The ATM in town was really far and had a really long queue. There were 25-30 people in front of us. After we got money, he drove me back to the ticket office and gave me his contact info in case I got stuck in Gorakhpur. What a nice guy! I went back to the ticket office and the guy had reserved the ticket for me but he asked what took me so long? I said, “there are elections going on, didn’t you know?”
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