“They don’t stop when you go to get on them.”
“They cram as many people in as possible so there’s no room to breathe.”
“They’re crawling with cockroaches so you’ll never be able to sleep.”
Those were just some of the things I heard about trains in India before traveling there, and yes, trains do exist like this. While traveling with G Adventures through India and Nepal, thankfully I didn’t have many or any experiences like these ones since we weren’t in the lowest class of cars available. But even being in the better class of cars, I was still concerned about what these were going to be like. I mean, first class, second class, or third class, are much different in a country like India in comparison to a country like Canada. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised.
While on our tour through India, we took a train from Agra to Jhānsi on our way to Orchha and Varanasi to Gorakhpur on our way to Nepal. Then we had the chance to experience the overnight/sleeper train from Jhānsi to Varanasi, which took about 13 hours.
Our regular trains were only about four to six hours, and both were clean, included meals, and were rather peaceful (see above photo). Of course, with the exception of having to run onto our train from Varanasi to Gorakhpur, and locals staring at us and taking photos as we slept, I like to look at these experiences as all part of the adventure!
But the sleeper train had our group of eight a bit uneasy. We didn’t really know what to expect, and although I had taken a sleeper train in Thailand, India is a very different country. I had all sorts of images running through my head, from metal beds, to bugs and weird ungodly smells, but thankfully, my experience wasn’t this unpleasant.
The bunks were organized in little blocks which consisted of eight beds each. There were three on each wall (a top bunk, a middle bunk, a bottom bunk) and then two on the end (a top and bottom bunk). Each bed had a sheet and blanket, and you could put your bags underneath your beds (some people suggested to bring a lock to secure them).
Thankfully, my sister and I had the end beds, but although we didn’t need to climb up to the very top bunk, we still had a rather uncomfortable night. The beds are uncomfortable, and the train made several stops where entire families would turn on all the lights, get up, and in true Indian fashion, talk as if there was no one else around them trying to sleep in the middle of the night.
There also wasn’t food on the train, other than a few people coming through the aisles with chai (tea) in the early morning. Thankfully, I had some protein bars in my bag to hold me over before I got off, and our guide managed to buy us samosas at one of the stops from a vendor standing on the tracks, but I would suggest bringing some snacks of your own to hold you over!
The bathrooms were what I was most concerned about, but to be honest, in comparison to other bathrooms I’ve experienced in India and in Asia in general, they weren’t as bad as I had imagined. They definitely weren’t clean, didn’t smell like roses, and had no toilet paper, but nothing that wouldn’t come as a surprise in India.
In the end, we survived the 13 hour journey and despite my terrible and uncomfortable sleep, I was glad we had a chance to experience the sleeper train. I’m a firm believer in trying everything once, and now that I’ve tried this experience, I don’t think I’m in any rush to do it again. I’m also glad that I had this experience with G Adventures, because I didn’t have to worry about booking/reserving tickets, figuring out how to board the train, etc. Group travel isn’t normally for me but in a place like India, even riding the train can be a stressful experience, so for me, this was the most comfortable way I could experience India by train.
For those looking for more tips on riding the sleeper train in India, check out these great articles I found:
- How to Survive the Sleeper Trains in India by The Travel Hack
Staying Sane on a Sleeper Train | An India Travel Experience by Rickshaw Travel
- Five Tips for Traveling India by Train by BootsnAll
Featured photo credit: Gerardo Diego Ontiveros