Train travel in India beats flying — if you have time

train in India

Last Updated on June 3, 2023 by Ellen

After three months of traveling in northern India, and husband Theo’s bout with dengue fever, we decided to take a break. He found a good deal on a modern two-bedroom apartment in a southern beach area. So off to Tamil Nadu we went — by train. From Agra, that’s a great distance – 1,200 kilometers. And train travel in India beats flying — if you have the time, which we did!

We took a 30+ hour train ride over two nights on the Grand Trunk Express instead of flying from Agra to Chennai. It was awesome! I loved it. And I wish the world had more trains.

Why? Three practical reasons.

  1. Way cheaper than flights
  2. Two nights of hotel money saved
  3. Better for the environment

Tickets for this mega-train trip cost under $40 for two people — side berths with AC. 

We also saved money by sleeping on the train instead of a hotel – and we woke up in a new place (on the second morning).

And we used a lot less carbon than we would have if we’d flown. (I know diesel trains in India are not as efficient as electric trains in Europe. I also know these trains are better than the most carbon-intensive travel form, which are planes.)

Now that’s budget slow travel!

Train travel in India beats flying

There’s something about the sound of the train, the way it moves, its rhythm on the tracks, the landscapes floating by… that is dreamy to me. Romantic. Lovely.

However, there might be some things bother you, if you let them. I, personally, don’t get bothered by sharing space with other people. After all, it’s a train trip in a finite time period – it is not where I’ll be living long term.

What might bother you

Bathrooms are primitive. Toilets are dirty, even though I saw workers cleaning them every 12 hours on our 30+ hour trip. (I also saw them mop all car floors every 12 hours, which is important, since everyone is tracking everything out of the bathroom, where the floors are always wet.)

There are standard toilets and pit toilets at the end of each car. Sometimes there is toilet paper, but not always. In my experience, there has always been soap. Bring hand sanitizer regardless, and tissues for issues.

a toilet on a train in india

As husband Theo wrote on social media:

… A few of the less attractive India train aspects:

-Indian guys snoring, burping, farting loudly whenever the need.

-Talking, using cell phones, making on/off commotion at 3-4-5 am.

-Onboard lights, AC, berth curtains are frequent annoyances.

-The ‘shoving match’ at Indian ticket booths is always an adventure.

But no real complaints – hell, it’s a train, IN INDIA! 🤯  If we didn’t like it we’d do something else.

Theo, ‘Earth Vagabonds’ Facebook group

I can’t say it any better than him.

It can get chilly at night – especially if you sleep on the top berth under the air conditioning fan. Single women prefer the top berths because they feel safer.

And I would not recommend ‘sleeper’ class for more than a short jaunt without much luggage.

Peak inside the car

Theo took some pictures on one of our longer rides in Rajasthan. Below you’ll see inside a 2AC car.

We had the side berth on that trip, which I personally prefer. Theo would rather the regular berth on overnight trips because the ‘beds’ are a few inches wider.

You can also see down the aisle of the car.

Make sure you buy those tickets early! Indian train tickets sell out weeks – sometimes months – early.

For an excellent breakdown on the type of seats, cars, plus methods and times to buy tickets, visit the thorough guide by Soul Travel India.

There is always an attendant selling chai, and on longer trips, you can easily get food. At the longer station stops, hop off to grab a snack, or buy something from a vendor that hops on.

I highly recommend taking a train in India instead of a flight if you’ve got the time. It’s a budget slow travel experience!

Thanks for reading, “Train travel in India beats flying — if you have time.”

Other train adventures:

And don’t miss: How to plan a slow travel itinerary

2 thoughts on “Train travel in India beats flying — if you have time”

  1. WhirledTravellers (Chris)

    Thanks, that’s a good intro to Indian trains. Having traveled 1000’s of kilometers on them myself, I’d say if a person hasn’t been to the railway station to buy tickets and spent time on a Indian train, they’ve missed out on a big part of the real India. It’s certainly not for everyone, however!
    Where did you stay in the south? My wife and I spent 4 years in Pondy after we spent 6 months backpacking and checking places out.

    1. Hello Chris, we stayed in Chennai. I (Ellen) went to a 10-day vipassana retreat while Theo checked out Pondicherry. I’ll see it next time – we have five year visas so we’ll be back with more focus on the south. First time around was the north, Mumbai, and Kolkatta. And you can bet we will be back on the trains!

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