Q. Are there any discount passes available for tourists and what is an IndRail pass?
IndRail passes are issued by IR to foreign (i.e., non-Indian) nationals and Indians residing outside India. The pass allows unlimited travel on all regular IR passenger services during its validity (reservations must be made separately). The pass can be purchased for 1st class, A/C sleeper (2-tier or 3-tier) or A/C chair car class, or 2nd class, for varying durations ranging from a half-day pass up to a 90-day pass. A pass for one class is also valid on the lower (i.e. less expensive) classes of travel.
Fares differ for adults and children. Adult fares are approximately $90 for a 1-day pass, $370 for a 15-day pass, and $550 for a 30-day pass. (Please check with a travel agent or Indian Railways web site for current prices.) Payment must be in US dollars or other foreign currency, and identification in the form of a passport or other document is required. Travel agents outside India who deal with IR can help make reservations in advance of the pass-holder’s journey to India; or else reservations may be made later in India.
The main advantage of an Indrail pass is the convenience of not having to buy separate tickets for all segments of your journey. It also saves you some money with first class or AC travel (although not as much as it used to do) over buying all the tickets and making reservations separately, especially if you intend to travel a lot. The passes or shorter durations are less of a bargain than the ones for longer durations. You also get access to the Tourist and VIP quotas for reservations, and an Indrail pass usually makes things much smoother at a India Tourist Guide or Tourist Booking Counter at a railway station.
You can ask your travel agent who issues you the IndRail pass (usually a GSA or general sales agent of IR) to make the reservations for your journeys if you know the details. You will not get the seat and sleeper details immediately, and you will have to check at the starting railway station in India, or at the foreign tourists’ counter at major stations (e.g. the International Tourists Bureau at New Delhi station), for confirmed seat and sleeper allocations.
Some GSAs give you vouchers which you then have to exchange for the rail tickets and reservations in India. Others will simply issue you a receipt. It is recommended that you confirm your reservations early and often! You can also reserve your journeys after you arrive in India. Of course, if you want you can also travel unreserved with the IndRail pass.
IR recently announced the Explorer Pass which is supposed to be something like an IndRail pass but available to Indian citizens and residents. IndRail Passes Confirmation/ Re-confirmation, Indian Railway Pass .
Q. What are Circular Journey tickets?
Circular Journey tickets may be purchased for any custom route starting at one station and going through a number of others before ending at the starting point. Applications have to be submitted in advance at a railway station and may take a few days to process. Specific routes have to be specified between any consecutive pair of stations on the route you intend to take, in case there are multiple possible routes. The zonal timetables list the ‘standard’ circular journeys, which can be booked directly without much trouble. However, for any custom route, the route first has to be approved by the Commercial Manager at the booking station.
Check the zonal timetables for details on restrictions and time constraints. Stations cannot be visited twice on the same journey, which makes this less useful if one plans to use one town as a base for touring. (There is also an odd rule about the distance one way to the farthest station from the station of origination being at least 15% more than the distance the other way.)
There is no minimum period of stay required at any point of a circular journey. The trip has a specified total duration within which all travel must be completed, but how the time is distributed among the intermediate points is up to you. A circular journey also allows up to 8 breaks of journey. If you are considering using a circular journey ticket, remember that if your route schedule is such that your train changeover takes less than 24 hours at an intermediate station, it is not considered a break of journey, which means that with careful planning you can often get a day to spend at an intermediate point without its being counted as a break of journey.
Earlier the fare charged was the telescopic discounted fare based on the total distance of the journey, but now IR computes the fare as twice the fare for half the total distance of the circular route. With this and considering the trouble involved in applying for a circular ticket, in many cases it may be simpler instead to buy the corresponding regular tickets for all legs of your journey. There are some advantages to a circular ticket, however. The journey can be split over more days than with the corresponding ordinary tickets (total distance divided by 150km to get the number of days); also, one can break journey at 8 places instead of just twice on each ordinary ticket.