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How to survive a train in unreserved class in India

As you probably know, in India we took a little break from hitchhiking. On the one hand we thought that the country was huge and that we wanted to see as much as we could of it, on the other hand, we had already hitched more than 20,000 kilometers and we wanted to oxygenate ourselves a bit and finally because we also wanted to experience the favorite public transport of the Indians: the train.

After having been traveling India for more than three and a half months from north to south with buses and trains, trying to save the most on these transports, one thing remained clear: in order to achieve this you must travel whenever you can by train and, if your patience allows it, in the lowest class: the dreaded Unreserved.

Dinner sitting where the suitcases usually go!

 

We all have seen pictures online of those typical trains with very old carriages, advancing at just over 30 kilometers per hour, and with all the doors and windows open, not only because of the heat, but also because there are people everywhere, as if there was only a weekly train. Well, those images are lived in person and almost daily, taking a train without a reservation. Come and see!

 

    Difference between Second Seating and Unreserved

The first thing to keep in mind is the difference between the two lower classes. While both are in the same type of carriages, in the Second Seating the seats are numbered and when you buy a ticket, they assign you one. Therefore, you will never stand on the floor or have half of your body out the door.

Meanwhile, Unreserved class tickets are sold for unnumbered carriages, called General wagons, and of course, you can always have the pleasant surprise of being totally alone or what usually happens more often, that it is overflowing and there is no room for a single soul.

 

The price difference is quite big if you are traveling long term and wanting to save. Of the eight classes that there are, we only tried three: the Sleeper, the Second Seating and the Unreserved (abbreviated as SL, 2S and UR, respectively).

The truth is that the comfort/price of the Sleeper, in which you have a ‘bed’ for the journey, is very good. However, the ticket price in Second Seating is usually half the Sleeper one and the Unreserved is about 4 or 5 times cheaper.

Typical scene: people sharing the space of the suitcases as if they were double bunk beds.

 
To give you an idea, we took a train from Bangalore to Kochi, passing through Chennai, in which we made more than 600 km for 185 rupees (2.4 €). Blessed unreserved class!

So if you are looking to save every last penny, lowering obviously the comfort of your transports, you can do well taking Second Seatings and Unreserveds, and reading the advice that follows.

 

    Choose well your train

Never mind the class you are going with, it is important that you know that there are many trains covering the same distances but depending on which you take, it will have more or less stops, will take one route or another, there will be some types of carriages or others and the train will go more or less fast.

638 km for just over 2 USD (185 INR) … WHAT?

 
You should know that if you want to go in Sleeper class, you must take the ticket well in advance. To give you an idea normally a month before it is already full and they get you on the waiting list. For Second Seating there are usually tickets available even the same day the train departs, and in the case of Unreserved, until the minute before you can buy it without any problem.

It is important, then, that if you are going to take an Unreserved, think well which one to take to try to have the least number of people with you. If it’s a holiday or a long weekend, do not take a train that makes few stops and long distances, because Indians take advantage whenever they can to continue to discover their huge country or to visit distant family. If on the other hand, it is a working day do not take a train that has a thousand stops, since all the workers will be returning home or going to work.

Two of the many types of food that will sell you on the train!

 
All this information, and much more, you will find it in the fantastic web of India Rail Info. You can also read this post, where I tell you how to book tickets of any kind of class with a phone app and our first experience with train in India, which ended up delaying 15 hours!

 

    Tips to catch a (good) spot in unreserved

  • Arrive early (1 hour before minimum).
  • Look at which part of the platform the General carriage will stop. Usually they are at the beginning or at the end of the train but you can confirm it also in India Rail Info.
  • When the train is arriving, prepare yourself to get in because once the doors open, that is going to be the jungle. Find the rest or nothing that is free. If you go with someone else, it is better that a single person with less luggage quickly get in to take a place, and that the other arrives calmly in the crowd.
  • Eugenia sleeping in a looong night train in Second Seating.

     

  • If it’s all full, feel free to go up to sit or even lie on the top shelf, where the suitcases go. And do not feel uncivil about it, if you look around you will see that you are neither the first nor the last to do that.
  • If there is no place even there, wait for the train to start to go and sit on the same floor as most locals will do.
  • Finally, once the train has started the route wait for people to go down and when it clears a bit, find a place to sit if you have not done it yet.

 

    Last notes

  • If you get tired of going in the general car you can always talk with the so-called TC, which comes from the abbreviation of Ticket Counter, and ask if there are any sites free of any last-minute cancellations in higher class. If there are, three scenarios are opened: that he tells you to go there without paying anything, that you have to pay the difference of the ticket or that he sees the opportunity to get a bonus and asks for the first big amount that passes through his mind.
  • If the car is very full you also have the possibility of going to the handicapped carriages, which are really large and spacious and usually go empty. The TC will not tell you anything if he sees you sleeping there, but be aware in case someone with a disability gets in and needs the spot you are occupying.
  • The train’s 2S carriage as you rarely see it … empty.

     

  • If your trip is going to be long, you can either stock up on some food before leaving or buy each time the street vendors go by. And even if you are on a nighttime train, do not worry because every time there is a stop, they will offer you food even through the windows!

 
And that’s it. Traveling by train in India is an experience you should not miss. And even if you’re a bit lazy, try the Unreserved class too. Maybe it will not be the most comfortable and pleasant journey of your trip but it will undoubtedly be the most authentic!

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