Experiencing India's colourful rail travel
Travelling by rail in India is not only a fantastic way to see the landscapes, but it’s a thrilling insight into the country’s colourful culture. It’s undoubtedly chaotic (this is India, after all) but that’s all part of the charm.
Our product manager for India, Phil Ellis, has been lucky enough to travel to India many times, so he’s a bit of an expert when it comes to the train system. Read on to discover his favourite experiences when it comes to travelling by rail…
The adventure begins…
Travelling by train in India is always my preferred method of transport as there’s so much to see both on board the train and out the window (and open carriage doors!). Personally, I believe you’re really missing out if you don’t travel by train for at least one portion of your journey.
“I've seen people arriving with carts full of live fish...one man even turned up with a double mattress on his head”
In India, your rail journey starts before you even set foot on the train. Once you arrive on the platform, the adventure has already begun. The platform is alive with activity and interest and it’s so easy to get lost in the moment when you’re waiting for the train. I’ve seen people arriving with carts full of live fish to take to the market, vessels of water balanced on their heads, empty coffins – one man even turned up with a double mattress on his head and duly pushed it onto the roof of the train.
Do as the locals do
Travelling by rail is a brilliant way to ‘do as the locals do’ and you’ll share the journey with Indian commuters and families, so you really get an insight into daily life. The carriages are comfortable with padded seats and air conditioning. I quite often find people like to spark up conversation with me as a way to practice their English. They like to ask questions and make recommendations for my journey – it’s also a great opportunity to ask questions back. You might even be invited to join a game of cards. Conversations nearly always end with the exchange of telephone numbers as they want to keep in touch!
Then there are the vendors. When the vendors pass through, you’ll have the chance to buy food and drink or even clothes and other more strange items. I always say the vendors on the train are like a live performance show; it’s really interesting to see them at work as they are constantly jumping on and off trains when you reach new stations.
A taste of India
When it comes to long journeys, for me, it’s always about the snacks. If you’re the type to want to try as many different foods as possible when you’re travelling you’re sure to enjoy the selection on offer at the train stations and from the vendors on board the trains. Vendors on the train are famous for preparing fresh treats in front of you.
It often depends on what season travelling in and what region you’re passing through as to what food is on offer. Popped rice is one of my personal favourites. They add raw onion and spices and shake it together in a metal tin like a bartender mixing a cocktail, before pouring it into a newspaper bowl. Honeycomb is also popular – depending on the region you’ll either get fresh honeycomb or freshly grated coconut with a selection of spices added. One thing that is generally served across the whole of India is India Chai or Chai Masala. It’s served in small disposable terracotta cups which I hate throwing away as they’re like little pieces of art.
Plan your Indian rail journey
With rail routes covering so much of the country, it's easy to add a rail journey into your India itinerary. All of our northern India tours will include at least one journey by rail, whether it's a local service taking you towards Ranthambore National Park on India's Golden Triangle, an express to Delhi on Wild India or a scenic 'toy train' route into the Himalayan foothills.
If you'd really like to immerse yourself into India's rail culture, our Great Indian Rail Journey includes six train trips, ranging from an air-conditioned express to Agra, to a memorable ride on a UNESCO-listed steam railway.
We'll organise all your tickets in advance, and show you where to go and sit on each train. All you need to do is sit back and soak up the experience.
An adventure in India isn't complete without an epic train journey, discover more of this wonderful country on our escorted tours.
Phil has a love for wildlife and often finds himself being drawn back to Africa to search those ever-active plains. He recently returned from visiting the gorillas and chimpanzees of Uganda – a life-affirming experience and one which created memories that’ll never fade.
Phil | About the author
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