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Train Stuff in India

everything you need to know about train travel in India

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The lowdown on toilets in trains

A huge advantage of trains over buses is that they have toilets - you don't need to wait for the driver to pull into a shady highway restaurant for you to do what you have to do.  Unfortunately, the standard of cleanliness in the toilets of Indian trains leaves a lot to be desired.  Here, I introduce you to the glamorous world of train latrines.

Train toilets are located at the extreme ends of every coach, except on suburban trains where they are nonexistent.  There are usually four toilets to a coach,  though some coaches might have three.  With the exception of some First AC Sleeper coaches on some of the newer Rajdhani and Duronto Express trains, there is no separate room for showering.  

The standards of cleanliness of train toilets declines by class.  After all, the lower the class you're travelling, the more people you have in a coach, and by consequence, the more people per toilet.  Here is the average person/toilet ratio in the various classes - this may vary based on the exact type of coach your train uses.

Class of Travel Passengers per Toilet
First AC Sleeper (1A)

4.5-8

Executive Class (1A) 14-18
Second AC Sleeper (2A) 10-13.5
Three-tier AC Sleeper (3A) 16-18
AC Sleeper Economy (3E) 19.5-20.5
First Class Non-AC (FC) 8.33
AC Chair Car (CC) 18-19.5
Sleeper Class Non-AC (SL) 18-20
Second Sitting (2S) 27

There are two types of toilets in each coach, a western-style toilet and an Indian-style squat toilet which is essentially a hole in the ground.  In most trains, waste from the toilets is discharged straight onto the tracks.

    

   
Clockwise, from top-left: The entrance to a toilet in a First AC Sleeper coach; a western-style toilet in a (different) First AC Sleeper coach; an amusing sign in a toilet on the Udaipur Express; an Indian-style squat toilet in a Sleeper Class Non-AC coach.

If you're new to the world of squat toilets, balancing yourself on one in a moving train can be quite an experience!  Be very careful with stuff in your pockets like your keys, wallets, mobile phones etc.  An inadvertent slip and you can watch them whiz effortlessly down the chute, never to be seen again.  Having said that, the squat toilet is often more hygienic than the western-style toilet as it requires less physical contact.  If you would rather stick with the western-style toilet, it might be worth investing in a set of toilet seat covers.

Finding toilet paper in train toilets in uncommon, especially in the lower classes.  You might find a roll of toilet paper if you're travelling First AC or on one of the Shatabdi, Rajdhani or Duronto Express trains, but don't count on it.  Carry your own, or use the toilet the Indian way. Toilets of newer-design AC coaches also have bidets, which considerably helps the "process".

Train journeys can be very long, with the longest journey possible on a single train spanning 87 hours.  While I suspect you might not be this adventurous, your travels might take you on some long journeys, and I have been asked whether it is possible to take a shower (or bathe oneself) in the train.  

Technically, this is possible, but this isn't something I would ever attempt in a train.  Firstly, unless - as mentioned earlier - you are travelling in the First AC Sleeper coach of one of the Rajdhani or Duronto Expresses, you will not find a dedicated shower room, which means you'll have to use the toilet.  There is no shower head there, so you'll have to use a bucket or mug to wash yourself.  With no water heating, you just have to go with whatever the temperature of the water is.  Toilets are small, with very little space to hang your stuff.

So, would you really want to fumble around in a small - probably dirty and smelly - room, trying to wash yourself with metallic-smelling water, with a good chance of stepping into the toilet itself?  It would be much simpler to reach your destination and have a nice shower there.

Last updated on 14 November 2013.