Being at the end of a four months stint across most of Northern India, I feel obliged to share a bit of technical tips to make your trip in this kaleidoscopic country a bit less daunting, and much more rewarding.
As the biggest problem in India is the human number, the crowds and the mess, I want to introduce a few websites which may help you avoid almost totally the unpleasant hassle you may face when pushed from all sides at every ticket counter in the country. Of course, a bit of advanced reservation is required.
Indiamike.com is possibly the most updated source of information on every corner of the Subcontinent. Organized In many message boards dedicated to different areas, states or topics, it is the best because it comprises a large number of Indian users who help navigate and overcome the obvious language barriers. You will not be able to purchase your tickets here, but the wealth of information you will find is enough to make it my number one Indian consultant. Most likely you will not have to open up a new thread as most of the general information is already there, so just search for it.
Cleartrip.com and makemytrip.com are, or at least used to be until last March, the handy solution for online rail bookings. You probably already know that India has an extensive railway system, one of the best in the world. What you may not know, however, is that it is extremely hard to book the tickets you want on the dates you need because booking is open nationwide: this means that anyone, anywhere in India can book a seat or berth on any train on any route in the whole country!! This makes things very hard when it comes to confirm your seat or sleeping berth. Furthermore, if you have ever experienced an Indian railway station ticket counter at least once, you may know better that, besides the customers’ hassle, you will have to fill up forms, sometimes present photocopies of your passport and visa, and have to deal with impolite clerks that will give you a few seconds before turning to the next screaming customer. For all these reasons, these two websites provide a reliable and fast way to get confirmed tickets online or check for routes and availability, without paying an agent’s fees.
Unfortunately, as of late the Indian railways website has required to link your cleartrip or makemytrip account with theirs, creating a lot of nuisance for international travelers. To top it off, ticket purchase with international credit cards has been blocked on and off. Ask an Indian friend to help you with his bank card and pay him cash, or forget altogether and go to the agent.
Seat61.com as always this is the best resource for railway travel worldwide. The India section has very updated and useful information for the most important train routes, timings and reliable agents you can contact from abroad to arrange your train tickets well in advance – my suggestion if your time in India is limited, and you want to optimize it before you arrive in the country -.
Planning too much may not be the best for independent travel; however, when India is concerned it is strongly recommended to avoid losing more time later. Do it at least for the main stops of your trip. The satisfaction of walking into a busy Indian railway station and head directly to your platform when everybody else is squeezing and screaming in line qualifies as one of those moments that, according to the Mastercard’s famous commercials, you cannot buy with money.
Do you have any other useful suggestions for online resources to help making an Indian trip easier?? Please feel free to share in the comments below…