Lonely Planet is good for many things, but what it lacks is attention to detail; especially when it comes to transportation. One of the most important things to have on a trip through India is a good sense of transportation, and the Indian railway system is your best choice. Providing the vague but helpful “Getting There and Away” sections, Lonely Planet does do its homework, but when you want to get down to doing going or leaving, the traveller’s bible falls short on the “How?”. Here’s the answer to the last part of the Five W’s.
There are two ways to ensure you have legitimate train tickets in India. These are also the easiest way to get them.
A) Online Tickets – To buy tickets online you will need to register for an account – a contact phone number is needed. You can buy tickets within India only. These tickets are called e-tickets or electronic tickets. A very helpful and reliable site to use is ClearTrip. You are able to see a few days after your planned travel date to compare availability and times. You can select your preferred berth/seat type and see the number of people that are wait listed ahead of you. You will need to print your e-ticket confirmation as proof of purchase along with your passport on board. Credit Cards are the only method of payment and purchases online are prohibited. The site is closed between 8am and 10am everyday. There is a Rupee 20 charge for each booking. For cancellation policies please visit ClearTrip Trains for facts about your tickets.
The IRCTC is the official Indian Railway website, however, the site is usually overloaded with users and is not the easiest site to follow. Registering for an account for this site is also mandatory for electronic ticket purchases.
B) The International Tourist Bureau (ITB) is the only other legitimate place to purchase train tickets in India. Just like Lonely Planet says “Don’t be fooled there are no other government organizations that are strictly for tourists” the ITB is solely catered to visitors travelling by train. * You must have your passport on you. ** You can not buy tickets for friends joining you on your travels, only in-person purchases are allowed. *** There are only four locations for ITBs in India at the time of research (one in New Delhi, one in Chennai and two in Mumbai).
New Delhi ITB Location – Do not listen to any touts trying to tell you that the Tourist Bureau is under construction and has been moved to another location. The official ITB is in the New Delhi Railway Station near the front entrance. If you arrive via metro you will arrive at the back of the station so you will have to walk over the tracks to the front of the station. Signage is poor and is only spotted once making on the overpass.
WARNING – The DTTDC is mythical. There may be one official site, but when ever other tout has an office claiming to be an official DTTDC it is painstakingly difficult to get out of the office. Touts will tell you everything to get a sale and an important rule of thumb to remember is **** If the Indians speak negatively about a business or location to you then it is most likely the right place you are looking for. ****
For more information on how to use the IRCTC site go here.
Kudos to Flickr for the image.