Our train ride in India
When traveling through India, taking a train is a must-do. A night ride on Hampi Express from Bangalore to Hospet Junction fitted perfectly into our itinerary. As this was our first time using a train in India, we were a little concerned and searched for some latest first-hand information; without much success.
Hence, we decided to sum up our experience starting with booking the ticket, catching the train and arriving in Hospet, the closest train station to the famous Hampi ruins.
Booking the ticket
Recently, tourist quota for Indian rail has been established. We found contradictory statements on whether to book in advance or not. We decided to book online to avoid the hustle around buying tickets on a busy railway station. An excellent website full of useful information about train travel in India is www.seat61.com/India.htm.
Creating an IRCTC account
Before booking anything, you need to create an account and register with your data at www.irctc.co.in. Follow the exact steps at seat61, and you’ll be alright.
They will ask for an Indian phone number to send an activation code. If you don’t have one, send an email with a scanned copy of your passport to firstname.lastname@example.org and ask them to activate your account. We wrote three reminder emails stating the subject number from the first message and sent a DM via Twitter to @IRCTC_Ltd until, eventually, our account was activated about two weeks after we had registered.
There are several quotas and classes on Indian trains. Again, check seat61 for detailed information. We booked general quota tickets for Hampi Express in First AC Class. IRCTC website accepts foreign credit cards. You can cancel and manage the booking directly through it. In our opinion, there is no need to use a travel agency.
Because our plans changed slightly a few days before our trip, we had to cancel another planned train ride. 75% of the original ticket price was refunded to our credit card without any problems.
Good to know: If you choose the general quota, booking about 2-3 months in advance is essential. Seats sell out quickly.
There will be no departure time stated on your ticket. The trains are numbered and have names (e.g., 16592 Hampi Express), and each train has the same schedule every time. Check the IRCTC website or indiarailinfo.com for departure times. Also, you’ll be assigned a seat/berth number just a few hours before departure. Don’t look for it on your ticket.
Tip: After booking or shortly before the journey, download the Indian Rail App. It turned out to be quite useful.
Catching the train
The Hampi Express train leaves from Bangalore City railway station (Krantivira Sangolli Rayanna railway station, SBC). The station has two entrances. From the main entrance, you’ll access platform 1 and will have to use the bridge to get to the other platforms. The second gate leads to platforms 7 and 8.
There is a big display in front of the station, showing the platform number of your train. Remember the train number and check the platform after arriving at the station.
Good to know: The information about the platform for our train shown in the app was not correct.
We arrived at the station about 1 hour before the scheduled departure of the train. That was a little early. Locals come approximately ½ an hour before departure. Count in for traffic. During rush hour, which in Bangalore is the whole day between 6 am and 10 pm, a 5-km trip can take 20-50 minutes.
Patience is essential when taking a train in India. As we arrived, our train was about to be on time. With every 5 minutes, the delay increased. In the end, we departed about an hour late.
A word of advice: The Bangalore City railway station is clean and safe. Everything is clearly marked, so you’ll find the way quickly. However, be watchful and don’t let anybody offering help take your luggage.
We were a little confused about the coach’s order of our train, as we couldn’t find the information anywhere. So, we asked locals waiting on the same platform. The AC couches are usually in front of the train. On some platforms, there are AC waiting rooms close to the area where the AC coaches halt. The coach order is displayed a few minutes before arrival on small LED signs hanging from the platform ceiling.
On the train
Indian Rail App turned out to be convenient. You can check the seats that have been assigned to you using your PNR Number a few hours before departure. That way, you don’t need to squeeze in front of the reservation list, which is pasted close to the entrance door on the train. For what is more, when we checked out our list, we didn’t find our names on it.
The app also shows live train status with delays and approximate arrival times. On a night train, you can set up your alarm and relax until the morning. When online, it also shows distance and exact time to your destination.
We booked a ticket for the first AC class. The name shouldn’t mislead you. It is all, but fancy. The coaches are old, and the AC does not necessarily work all the time. Blankets and pillows are provided. They were clean, but we still recommend to bring a sort of light hut sleeping bag (we use these: www.cocoon.at/products).
In the first class, there are 4 bunk beds. The compartment can be closed from the inside. On the train, we never felt unsafe.
Toilets are a big issue. If somehow possible, try to avoid them.
Tip: Girls, this device may be handy. However, practice beforehand with pants you plan on wearing to avoid major mishaps.
Arriving at Hospet
Hampi is backpackers’ heaven. Therefore, the station is full of touts. If possible, arrange a pickup by your hotel/guesthouse.
Go ahead and book a ticket for a train ride in India. Put your prejudices behind you, and you’ll have fun! Besides, Hampi Express will bring you to more remote destinations, which cannot be easily reached by plane.