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Rail Travel India

"How to choose the right seats and berths"

"Rail Travel India" was last updated on April 21, 2012
All information below is subject to change

When taking the train in India for the first time, it can be overwhelming.

Millions of Indians take the train every day. India has enormous train stations, 'endless' platforms and there is some panic involved in finding the right train, and the right coach.

I personally couldn't relax before I knew I was on the right track.

This article is aimed at helping newbies finding their way on Indian railway stations. I will focus on sleeper class (SL) and second sitting (2S).

What are the differences between these two? How do they look like?

Which berth should I choose?

All of these questions will be answered here in this article.

Rail Travel India: Differences between 2S and SL
and How to Choose Berths

On short distances you can choose second sitting (2S). It's usually the cheapest option. I chose the 2S quite often. There was no air-con, only fan. The luggage can be stowed away in the upper shelf right above your head.

On short and longer distances you can choose sleeper class. You have 'beds' where you can sleep and relax. There are no pillows and quilts in sleeper class, so feel free to bring your own.

There are 5 types of berths you can choose from in sleeper class: lower, middle, upper, side upper and side lower.

The lower, middle and upper are faced horizontally in the train, while the side upper and side lower are faced vertically (along the windows).

Sleeper class on a train in Kerala, south India
Rail travel India: The different berths in sleeper class
Which one should you choose?

If you're scared of heights, lower berths would be the best option. Here you also get to sit next to the window. During daytime though you have to expect that strangers will come and sit on your berth. If you want to take a nap, it's not always possible.

If you choose the upper berths (upper and side upper), you can go to bed whenever you want. There's a short stepladder from lower berth to upper berth. If you know that you're a heavy sleeper and sleep in one position the whole time, upper berth can be nice.

I tried an upper berth once, but it was creepy to fall asleep because the train was driving fast and I was afraid to fall out of bed.

The middle berth can be a solution for travelers who are afraid of heights, but middle berth is seldom folded out during daytime because people want to sit on lower berth.

My favorite berth is side lower because during daytime you can sit on regular padded chairs. If you want to sleep, you can fold out the berth into a bed. You also get to sit right next to the window.

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Advantages and Disadvantages with
Second Sitting and Sleeper Class
Rail travel India

Second sitting 2S on Indian trains
Rail travel India: One version of Second sitting (2S) on Indian trains

  • It's cheap.

  • Even if there's no fan, you can open the windows and the fresh breeze will make up for that.

  • If you're lucky to get a window seat, you can see the beautiful landscape while sitting on the train.

    Second sitting on trains in Kerala, India
    Rail travel India: Another version of second sitting (2S)

  • Thousands of Indians take the 2S, and you will definitely get to know a few on the road. It's a social train ride.

The disadvantages about 2S and Sleeper (SL) is the noise, and all the bugs and cockroaches.

But if you have been in India for quite some time, this shouldn't bother that you that much. If you're taking an evening or night train in 2S or sleeper, the small bugs will of course be attracted to the lights above you.

If you're sitting in the aisle, they will definitely land on you, or eventually in your mouth while sleeping.

When it comes to the cockroaches I only saw the smaller ones, and they were crawling in the cracks of the walls and the 'bed'. It's better to close your eyes and pretend they're not there.

Another annoying thing that can happen on train travels is beggars. When I took the sleeper class from Alleppey to Kochi in Kerala, there was a albino beggar walking in the aisle, asking for money.

I have only experienced this once in sleeper class, so whether this is a 'typical' thing or not, I'm not sure.

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General tips and advice for
first-time train travelers in India
Rail travel India

Train station platform in Kerala, India
Rail travel India: Platforms in India
Arrive early at the train station. If you're in big cities like Delhi, Jaipur, Trivandrum or Mumbai I would suggest to arrive one hour before departure.


In the cities there are several platforms to choose from. Your goal is to find the right platform where your train leaves from.

The platforms are long (I'm not exaggerating), and it's not always easy to find your way around when thousands of people are around you. It can be overwhelming at first, so that's why you should take your time.

After you've found the platform, you need to 'calculate' where on the platform 'your' coach will stop. It's crucial because you only got a few minutes to find the right coach and get on the train before it leaves.

It's not the end of the world though if you don't find it, because you can walk across the coaches till you find your seat. But knowing where your coach will stop will save you a hell lot of time, and it can be tight to walk in the aisle with your backpack touching people's faces and irritating them.

So how do you find the right spot on the platform?

There are three ways of finding out:

  1. Almost every time I took the train in India, I asked the information desk.

    There's usually a queue/struggle to get to the information desk. There's no sense of queue system here – you just have to break through and be rude yourself. It can be frustrating when people are pushing you away from the queue, but my solution there is to use your backpack to push them away.

  2. Ask the half-sleeping officers at the train station, or the patrolling station officers. They usually know.

  3. Look for a writing board near the station chief's officer (usually on platform 1). There you'll find information on the incoming trains: which platform and which coach will land where on the platform.

    Example: If your coach is S1 (sleeper 1), and it says number 11, then you have to find number 11 along the platform.

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Didn't get the chance to buy a train ticket in advance?

No worries. You can buy train tickets at the railway station. Specify the route and class you want to travel in.

If you want to travel cheapest as possible, ask for General Quota. The seats in General Quota can't be reserved, but on the bright side you get really cheap tickets. With General Quota from Trivandrum to Varkala I paid Rs 21, and from Jaipur to Ajmer I paid Rs 50.

If you buy an unreserved train ticket, the coaches are the first and last of the train. You have to be prepared to stand because it's unreserved seats. If it's a short trip though it's worth the standing.

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Rail Travel India:
Can I get food on the train?

Yes, you can get food on the train. Workers on the train will frequently run and forth in the aisle, screaming "Kappi-kappi", "masala-masala" and so on.

A chai tea cost around Rs 10, and a hot masala dinner will cost around Rs 50. When the train stops at a station, there's usually people selling bottled water and Indian sweets. Make sure that the sealing of the bottle has not been tampered.

Is it safe?

I honestly didn't try any meals on board because they didn't look inspiring. I only drank chai tea, and I was fine after that.

A better (and safer) option is to buy snacks before departure, or get a quick bite at a restaurant before you leave.

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