I was 12 years old when I traveled solo in the sleeper class of an Indian train. I was unattended by an adult on this overnight journey from Amravati to Mumbai. I can safely and happily say no untoward incident happened with me (a solo traveling girl child) in Indian railways.
If you are still wondering if it is safe to travel by train in India? My answer is, Yes, traveling by train in India even though risky at some levels, is safer if you travel in a reserved compartment. Staying cautious is the key. If you are a female traveling solo or with a child then try to get an upper berth where you are at a safe distance from the (unwanted) touch of passers-by.
Of course, there is much more to train travel in India than what I have just mentioned.
Now that I am a mother, I am not very sure if I will be as daring as my own parents and send my kids to travel solo in the train.
I asked Amandeep Kaur (an avid traveler who loves train journeys and is also the author of this post) to give her tried and tested tips on safe traveling in Indian trains.
Here is what she says.
I have been traveling in trains in India since I was a child and I have been traveling solo for years now. I haven’t faced any major issue and have found it quite easy and safe to travel by train in India.
Train travel in India is crowded, often messy and loud, but a complete enriching experience in its own.
Here are my tried & tested 13 awesome basic safety tips for traveling by train in India.
1. Wear suitable clothes
To be on the safer side, avoid expressing your personal fashion sense while traveling in train.
Dressing modestly in loose fitting clothes, keeping your shoulders and legs covered would minimize stares and unwanted attention that is common for foreigners and solo women travelers.
Preferably opt for something that local women wear so that it’s easy to blend in.
While choosing your train travel clothes, keep in mind the weather and class you are traveling in. During summers, Sleeper coaches (Non-AC) can get very hot.
During boarding or de-boarding a train, the crowd gets very pushy and too close for comfort.
I would highly recommend clothes which cover your cleavage for personal comfort from unwanted stares and “not so accidental” touches.
Avoid wearing too much jewelry and other expensive accessories.
Though sheets and blankets are provided in AC coaches, for overnight journeys I always carry a cotton dupatta/stole with me so that I can cover myself up with something that I am sure is very clean and smells familiar and comforting.
Read more on How to Dress in India: the Ultimate Dos and Don’ts.
2. Safety on station
When you reach the station, look for the display board that lists the train name, number with its arrival time and platform number. If in doubt about train arrival, platform number, etc, ask the officials at the enquiry counters or railway police or the shopkeepers at the platform.
Reach your platform well before time as Indian platforms tend to get very crowded with passengers, people who have come to bid farewell to the passengers, people who have come to receive the passengers, red uniformed porters and hawkers.
A common sight in India is people crossing the railway tracks to reach the platform on the other side. This is illegal and should not be done.
Use the foot over-bridge if you have to cross to the other side.
Don’t keep your belongings unattended anywhere.
Tickets are not usually checked at the station before you board the train.
You must have your ID card with you to show to the ticket examiner.
Enquiry counters, washrooms, waiting rooms and other facilities like chemist shop, book shop etc can be found easily on Platform 1 at most of the stations.
‘Women only’ waiting rooms are there at most of the stations.
The Good news is that the CRIS reservation system used by the Indian Railways uses an algorithm where a single woman traveling is always preferably given a seat where there’s a family or other women near her compartment.
3. Travel Light
All stations are not equipped with lifts and escalators. These are installed only at major stations. So, it’s advisable to travel light.
If you need the services of Porter/Sahayak (commonly known as Coolie) for carrying your luggage, you will find them on the platforms wearing the quintessential red-shirt, a copper-badge on their arms. They charge a fee according to the weight of the luggage. The going rate is Rs.100 per luggage.
Trivia: ‘Coolie’ is a colonial-era racist term. Now called as Sahayaks, they don’t mind being called a coolie. Perhaps it makes them feel like megastar Amitabh Bachchan whose movie ‘Coolie’ was a blockbuster.
Keep your money, cards, ID proofs, phone and other important documents in a separate bag/pouch and keep it close to you all the time.
Don’t keep all your money in one place. Keep a separate change of money with you that you might need in order to use washrooms at the stations or to buy something.
PRO-TIP FOR TRAIN TRAVEL: I always travel with only one backpack so that even if I need to use the washroom at such places, I can carry it inside with me.
Don’t forget to pack your First Aid kit. This post by a wanderlust doctor will give you a good insight into what you need to pack.
4. Know your train and seat
Usually, there are many display boards at the platform displaying the train number and coach number due to arrive at the designated place on the platform.
Look for the board displaying your coach number and wait at that place.
Sometimes, getting on or off the train may seem like a hassle due to the crowd as there is no queue to board the train. Just stand your ground, push a little if you have to and find your way.
As soon as you board, find your seat, place your luggage under your seat or nearby and settle down.
Also, look around for emergency exit so that in case of an emergency you know where to go.
You may sometimes find someone else occupying your seat, tell the person politely that you have a reservation for it. In all probability, the person would leave.
You may be approached by people wanting to exchange seats, do it only if you think there is a good enough reason and your comfort is not compromised.
Know your AM and PM – Once while traveling by train, I witnessed an incident, where two persons were arguing for a berth, both claimed to have a reservation for it. Later on, it came to light that one man had booked the train for the wrong date as it starts late at night around 12.30 a.m. The ticket he had purchased was for the previous date, the day that had just ended.
5. Stay connected
Always keep your phone and power bank charged. Indian train compartments have common power points for phones.
Use your phone to stay updated about the train schedule during the journey as stations are not announced in trains, unlike many other countries.
Once while traveling, I lost my phone and never got it back. Since then, I keep a diary with me where I note down all the emergency numbers and contacts of people I may need to contact.
Keep a friend or family member updated about your journey and schedule etc so that if you don’t reach a place on time, they can raise alarm.
6. Railway staff/ attendant
After settling in my seat, I look for train attendant so that I know in case of an emergency, complaint, etc, whom to contact.
Sometimes sheets/blankets are already placed on your berths and sometimes you have to ask the attendant for it so it’s good to know the person responsible for it.
They usually have a seat near the washroom so in case you are a woman traveling alone, you know if it’s a staff or a random person hanging around.
While traveling at night, I make it a point to use the washroom before the other passengers finally retire to sleep as most of the lights are shut out at night.
It is not compulsory to tip the train attendant. However, many people tip anywhere between Rs.20 to Rs.50. Read more about tipping in India in this post.
7. Stay aware and appear confident
Don’t get too lost in your devices that you are unaware of what is happening around.
Even if you are a woman traveling alone for the first time in a train in India, appear confident. It’s not as scary as you may have heard. Don’t let this fear stop you from experiencing the real India.
8. Food and drinks
Most of the long route trains have pantry cars where food is cooked and served to the passengers after you place an order to the attendant.
You have to pay for the food you order.
Food is already included in the train fare for Rajdhani, Shatabdi, and Duronto trains.
Many trains don’t have panty cars. While traveling in such trains, you can buy eatables from the vendors at the stations during the journey.
There’s a lot to choose from depending upon the area you are in. You can get pakoras, samosa, idli, bhajiya, kulcha, poori-sabji, wafers, biscuits, cold drinks etc.
There are many options to order food online during your journey and it gets delivered on your seat in train such as railmitra.com, railyatri.in, railrestro.com, ecatering.irctc.co.in at the stations covered by these.
Through these websites or their apps, entering your PNR/ journey details you choose your meals, place order, pay online or cash on delivery and have your meals delivered on your seat.
Dominos has started delivering pizza at some stations.
Avoid taking any eatables from strangers.
I prefer to carry home-cooked food and water bottle with me.
In case you feel like striking a conversation with co-passengers, limit it to general topics and don’t disclose personal information that may put you in an uncomfortable situation.
If you like your privacy, it’s better to have a book with you to read or pretend to be busy with something all the time. A headphone is super helpful to avoid unwanted conversations.
Sometimes people initiate conversations even if you are not interested.
If I do not feel like interacting with someone, I just reply in one word. If the person still doesn’t get the hint then I make a phone call to some friend that I haven’t talked to for long.
If you are a female foreigner traveling solo, I would suggest you avoid conversations with men traveling without any female companion or family, unless you are yourself ok with striking a conversation.
It’s not that men traveling without female companions are a threat to your safety, it’s just that there are high chances of you getting unsolicited attention for the whole journey.
10. Avoid travelling during major festivals
Plan your journey in such a way that you don’t have to travel on major festivals of that place.
Trains get way too overcrowded and it gets difficult to even board the train.
It has happened to me once while traveling to Roorkee (Haridwar) from Patiala. When the train arrived, it was full already and the platform was so crowded that I was unable to board the train despite having a reservation.
People, especially men were pushing to board the train and I didn’t feel like risking my safety.
If you have to travel during such period, travel only by AC Class.
11. Be aware of the rules of railway
Smoking and consuming alcohol is not allowed inside trains and neither on the railway station.
Do not carry inflammable articles with you while traveling.
Littering the stations is also an offence.
Traveling standing on the footsteps/door of the train coach is an offense. You may still find some people doing all these things despite the rules.
12. Avoid getting down the train in between stations
Sometimes trains stop midway (where there is no scheduled halt) to let other trains pass.
It may also stop for more than the scheduled time at a particular station.
Stay inside the train and avoid getting out just to stroll.
13. Prevention of sexual harassment in trains
Many incidents of sexual harassment in trains have been coming into light. It is a serious punishable offense.
Railways and government are taking preventive measures for this and to make train journey safe for female passengers.
If you face any such situation, you don’t need to stop the train to visit a police station for registering your complaint, you can approach train ticket examiner or railway police personnel on duty in the train.
There is also a helpline number for safety during train travel. You can contact 182 (all India security helpline number) for safety issue during your journey. Click here for detailed information about all railway helpline numbers.
14. Female travelers should opt for Upper Berth
In addition to all the safety tips mentioned above, women traveling solo or with other females in groups should opt for upper berths or berths together in a cabin/coach while booking the tickets.
I don’t prefer side upper or side lower seats because that’s right next to the passageway.
15. Metros & local Trains
The Metro railway system and service are operational in 12 cities in India. These are Delhi, Gurgaon(Haryana), Noida (UP), Lucknow (UP) Kolkata(WB), Chennai(TN), Bangalore(Karnataka), Mumbai(Maharashtra), Nagpur (Maharashtra) Jaipur (Rajasthan), Kochi(Kerala), Hyderabad(AP) and Ahmedabad (Gujarat). The Kolkata Metro rail is the oldest metro service in the country.
While traveling in local trains (Mumbai) or metro trains, use compartments designated for women only, especially during rush hours.
I have met many amazing people while traveling by train.
During my recent train journey from Udaipur to Jaipur, I met a Belgian couple who were traveling in India. The girl wanted to have a gemstone called ‘watermelon tourmaline’ for her wedding ring. It is a stone having shades of watermelon and that’s why it is called so.
Their search for the same had brought them to Jaipur.
Our conversation mainly revolved around travel and Indian culture. They both were surprised to know that many Indians were fluent in English and many Indian women were choosing to travel solo.
Most educated Indians are bilingual. Amongst the urban elite though, there is a disdain for regional languages. That’s unfortunate.Amish Tripathi
Hope these tips come in handy and you enjoy train travel in India.
If this is your first trip to India you will find these posts helpful:-
- 30 Breathtakingly Beautiful Destinations in India that you should not miss visiting!
- Varanasi has a historical, Spiritual, and academic connect. Here are 11 Top Things to do & Places to Visit in Varanasi, India.
- Golden temple is located in the city of Amritsar in the state of Punjab in India. It is also known as Darbar Sahib or Harmandir Sahib. It is among the holiest places for Sikhs. Read my 2600 words detailed post: India’s Golden Temple in Amritsar: The Only Guide You Need
- Bhang on! An Awesome Guide on having Bhang in Varanasi, India.