This guide covers the process of booking Indian trains online. I have written a separate guide here covering how to book trains when in India (in particular describing how you should take advantage of the tourist quota).
Booking trains online
Whilst planning my trip around India I wanted to book a couple of trains before I left the UK as the trains can get booked up months in advance. Booking trains may seem a rather daunting process to the first timer so I thought it would be useful for me to give you some help if you’re trying to do the same thing.
I booked my trains using www.cleartrip.com which is easy to use once you are registered, although it did take me a week to register and required much patience!
How to register for clear trip
1. Go to www.cleartrip.com and search for the train you want to book.
2. Once you have found the train you wish to book click on ‘check availability & book’. It will then show whether places are available, RAC or Waitlisted (for a better understanding of RAC and Waitlisted, click here). Click ‘book’ to go to the next page and confirm the details.
3. Once you enter your email address on the next page you will get a message saying ‘sorry, you cannot proceed with this booking’. Click on the button ‘Register for an IRCTC account now.’
4. In the popup box that appears you will need to enter your details to create both a cleartrip and an IRCTC account. You will be asked for your Indian mobile number – don’t worry if you don’t have one, just enter your mobile number, whatever it is! The zip-code field won’t accept UK postcodes so just enter a random 6 digit number and select the state name ‘others’. Once finished, click ‘Register.’
5. Once you register IRCTC will email you a one time email OTP code, and will also try to send you a one time mobile OTP by SMS to the mobile number you entered – but this will fail as it only works with Indian mobile numbers.
6. In order to obtain the one time mobile OTC, you will need to email IRCTC customer care (firstname.lastname@example.org) asking them for the SMS OTP. In this email you need to quote your IRCTC username and attach a copy of your passport. You may experience a little difficulty obtaining this code (they sent me the wrong code 3 times!) – but eventually they will provide you with the code you need.
7. Once you have the code, click here to go to the cleartrip activiation page, or if you prefer, go to your IRCTC registration email and click on where it says ‘Verify for partner website and Activate your account please click here’
8. A cleartrip page will then open where you can enter both your ‘Email OTP’ and ‘SMS OTP’. This will then link your IRCTC account and cleartrip account together so you can book trains!
“FINALLY” I hear you sigh!
Bookings for long distance trains open 120 days before departure and intercity trains open 90 days before departure.
You can only book direct trains and not journeys that involve a change of train.
Is it worth booking RAC or Waitlisted tickets?
In my experience RAC and Waitlisted tickets only work if there are only 1 – 2 people on the wait list in front of you and if there are more than a couple of weeks to go before your departure date. If however there are 10+ people on the wait list you may wish to investigate whether you can take advantage of the ‘tourist quota’ when you arrive in India.