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Tips to survive a long-distance train journey in India | © Val Shevchenko / Shutterstock
Tips to survive a long-distance train journey in India | © Val Shevchenko / Shutterstock
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11 Life-Saving Tips to Survive a Long Railway Journey in India

Picture of Aditi Mukherjee
Updated: 31 August 2017
Asking travelers to describe their journey through the daedalion country would, without a doubt, spring evocative memories. India, at least for people from other continents, is confusing. The Indian railway, for example, is an adventure in itself. The 19th century organization has not changed much, making it a time capsule. From friendly co-passengers offering food and wanting to exchange life stories, to the lavatories, the Indian railways are not for the weak-hearted. Here are some life-saving tips to survive a long railway journey in India.

Bargain with the coolies

At every Indian railway station there are groups of licensed luggage carriers called “coolies.” They are easy to spot because of their bright red shirt uniform. If you do need to take a coolie’s help, make sure you decide on a price first. Also, always remember to bargain on the price a coolie quotes.

It’s best to bargain with coolies (luggage carriers) at any railway station
It’s best to bargain with coolies (luggage carriers) at any railway station | © Santhosh Varghese / shutterstock

Be careful what you eat

The Indian railway has its own canteen that makes and sells food on the trains. But, as soon as a train stops at a station, there will be a bevy of vendors bringing their food and drinks trying to sell you some snacks. Although they look delicious, it’s best to avoid most of them. Diarrhea is never a happy occurrence, especially if it occurs on Indian railways.

It’s best to avoid too many snack items that vendors sell at railway platforms
It’s best to avoid too many snack items that vendors sell at railway platforms | © AjayTvm / shutterstock

Railway toilets

This inevitably leads to lavatories. The Indian railway toilets are not gender specific and are usually left unwashed for an entire day or two. There’s usually an “Indian style” toilet and a “Western” one. The Indian style has a flat toilet on the floor and one needs to squat to use it. The Western one, of course, is a simple commode. But, balancing yourself on a train that’s furiously rocking back and forth is a challenge.

Railway lavatories are usually not too clean
Railway lavatories are usually not too clean | © Yosanon Y / shutterstock

Carry your entertainment with you

Indian railway is much slower than trains in other countries, especially compared to Europe and Japan. Due to the kind of construction the railway’s main line has, the trains cannot pick up great speed even if there’s no traffic. In such case, having a way to entertain yourself will be life-saving. A book is probably the best option, because it doesn’t run on batteries.

It will be a long journey, so carry some entertainment with you
It will be a long journey, so carry some entertainment with you | © Konstantin Dyadyun / Unsplash

A battery-operated night lamp

People on trains generally don’t do much apart from eating, talking, and sleeping. So, if you’re a reader, you might face trouble keeping the lights on after 9 p.m., while others are on their way to fixing beds and snoring. So, carrying a battery-operated portable night lamp is a good idea. That way, you won’t disturb anyone while continuing whatever you were doing.

Even if co-passengers switch the lights off, you can continue reading/watching
Even if co-passengers switch the lights off, you can continue reading/watching | © StockSnap / pixabay

Carry soap or disinfectant

Remember what we said about Indian railway lavatories? Well, the trains in general are not super clean. On a long journey on a train in India, it is best to carry soap and some sort of disinfectant. Fortunately, those are available at every platform. So, even if you forget or run out, you can get bars or paper soaps that work just great.

Carrying soap or some kind of disinfectant is a good idea
Carrying soap or some kind of disinfectant is a good idea | © 422737 / pixabay

Feels like a hostel

The Indian railway could make you realize what living in a hostel would feel like, except this one is a narrow, chugging hostel with strangers around. Apart from the sinks inside the lavatories there are two more on either side of each truck that almost 70 people share. So, in the morning, you will see everyone scurrying to reach the sink to brush their teeth. Word of advice: either go early in the morning at 6 a.m., or later after 10 p.m.

Indian railways have bunk beds and there’s 40-70 seats in each truck
Indian railways have bunk beds and there’s 40-70 seats in each truck | © Radiokafka / shutterstock

Ear plugs and eye mask

Sleeping in a truck with about 70 people is a daunting idea. But, once you brave through that in your head, snores and cries can ruin your peaceful sleep in the rocking train. Someone just a couple of feet away could be snoozing rather loudly, or a toddler could burst into tears for reasons only the child knows. In such a helpless situation, ear plugs will be of great benefit.

Amid 40-70 co-passengers, it’s best to carry ear plugs and eye mask for better sleep
Amid 40-70 co-passengers, it’s best to carry ear plugs and eye mask for better sleep | © Yosanon Y / shutterstock

Carry a camera

While traveling on Indian railway you are bound to cross the countryside with endless green fields, and catch a moving peek at India’s hinterland. Carrying a camera to capture the beautiful landscape would be a nice idea.

Indian long-distance trains usually pass through the country’s beautiful hinterland
Indian long-distance trains usually pass through the country’s beautiful hinterland | © Aditya Mopur / flickr

Friendly co-passengers

Indians are a curious and friendly community. So, even if you are minding your own business don’t expect others to do so. Don’t be startled or confused if and when someone strikes up a conversation with you. It usually starts with exchanging information about each other’s destination. In no time, you will be sharing food and stories with them. By the end of your trip, you could have made a friend for life!

Don’t be startled if families around you offer food and try to start conversations
Don’t be startled if families around you offer food and try to start conversations | © Rolling Okie / flickr

Power back-up

For the ones who rely on their phones quite heavily, carrying a power back-up is absolutely necessary. Although there are charging points in trains, you might need to wait for quite a while before your turn comes to use the power point.

To avoid waiting in a queue, bring your own power back up
To avoid waiting in a queue, bring your own power back up | © rawpixel.com / Unsplash