When talking about my experience travelling from Delhi to Agra I mentioned that it is worth booking train tickets as far in advance as possible in India. If you’re on a tight schedule or as soon as you know your plans it’s best to get that purchase out the way. It’s not fun missing out on something you were desperate to do or see (ahem, Holi) or having to stay somewhere longer than you would have liked because you left booking a little too late.
~ Sample second class unreserved or local train ticket
How to book
If you have an Indian mobile number you can book online using Cleartrip. This site is also particularly useful for bus journeys. If you don’t have an Indian number you can get around this by emailing them a scan of your passport, but the process is long. IRCTC is the official Indian Railways website where you can check trains but you can’t book with a foreign card, only Amex cards issued in certain countries.
The easiest options are with either a travel agent or at the ticket office at any of the major trains stations. Here you can book tickets for any train in the country. We found the latter to be the most reliable and the easiest option, especially when you’re anywhere outside of Goa where I’m now untrusting of any remotely dodgy looking agents – read on for why. You also have more of a chance securing seats (beds) by purchasing at a station as on most services there are tickets reserved under the Foreign Tourist Quota, or FTQ. Only foreign tourists can purchase these showing your passport, and sometimes a currency exchange receipt (although I have never been asked).
Don’t forget to check and jot down the information for the train you are looking to book. A form needs to be filled in before joining the squabble of queue jumpers at the counter!
~ Tickets bought at a station for reserved seats or beds looks like this, stating your name, class and seat number. This was issued after a train got cancelled to obtain a refund. Tickets booked with agents or online will be a print out confirmation
Don’t fall for this scam!
Do not listen to anyone in Delhi try to tell you that the tourist booking office is anywhere other than the top floor of the booking hall at New Delhi station!
My boyfriend, Adam, and I almost fell for one of the most obvious and read about scams when trying to buy our first train tickets.
Heading to New Delhi station and on the look out for the official tourist booking office, we found approaching the station a little confusing with the immediate entrance only being for vehicles. Despite all my research on scams to avoid, and being on high alert having been scammed before by a taxi driver, a tout almost caught us out.
Amongst the hustle and bustle, and probably looking like lost puppies, we were approached by a guy shouting in our faces “this way this way the station is this way!”. Trying to ignore him at first and manoeuvre our way over the road through the insane traffic, he comes after us and shouts louder “no no you go the wrong way, please the ticket off is this way!”. They’re good. They manage to sound like and convince tourists they are trying to be helpful and you begin to doubt yourself.
I’m not sure if this was all part of the plan but we spotted people walking up the traffic entrance so followed them too. You soon learn that there is one rule for Indians and another for tourists. We got shouted at by another man “no no you can’t go in here, just traffic!” At this point we were confused, frustrated and surrounded by people shouting at us. Why can’t we simply book a ticket out of here?! In the heat of the moment we listened to the first guy try to lead us to “the reservation office” a short distance to the right of the station.
We walked and walked some more, until we were a ridiculous distance away from the train station. When unsure we even checked with a policeman who also pointed us in the wrong direction! Another passer-by joined in and told us “yes the government approved reservation office is this way”. You begin to wonder how many people are in on this and if it’s even worth their time.
We eventually reached a shabby looking shop named “The First floor booking office” and realised our mistake. We spun on our heels and marched back to the station. We finally found the entrance, just 200 metres to left of where we have been, and let out a sigh of relief finally seeing the correct, official tourist booking office on the first floor.
~ Tip – if you reach this sign you’re heading the correct way to the tourist booking office at New Delhi station!