On Booking an Indian Train Ticket from Abroad

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Well that was an interesting challenge, and quite a waste of time!

Basically if you don’t own an Indian mobile phone number, and perhaps also an Indian bank card, prepare yourself to do many unsuccessful attempts before managing to buy the ticket, but no worries it should eventually work.
The easiest way to do so is:

  • Register on Cleartrip.com  here, or sync your IRCTC Account if you already have one; Screen shot 2013-01-23 at 16.06.54
  • In my case, I luckily have a couple of friends in India, and I asked one of them if I could use his phone number in the registration. You’ll need this as you’ll receive codes on your email address and phone number provided to confirm the registration, and a third password for your IRCTC account (careful though, this is different from your Cleartrip password).
    If you’re not so lucky to have someone in India you can ask to, then here’s what they suggest you to do:

    1. Sign in to your existing IRCTC account or register for one. (Note: If you dont have a 10 digit mobile number and a 6 digit zip code, please enter dummy 10 digit phone number and 6 digit zip code)
    2. Post registration, send a copy of your passport to care@irctc.co.in with your username. IRCTC will send your Mobile OTP over email. Your email OTP will come to your registered Email Address.
    3. Activate your account by clicking here and enter the OTPs sent to you by IRCTC.
    4. Continue with your booking
  • In the area of address and zip code, you’ll see they ask you for a 6 digits one: not to worry though, I entered my Italian address, selected ‘other’ in the State Name dropdown menu, and added 2 random digits to my normal zip code. Luckily it worked!
  • Go on choosing your route, enter the passengers’ details, and you will find yourself at the payment page. And here is when I started having some problems.
    Payment Options on Cleartrip.com
    Payment Options on Cleartrip.com

    First of all, if you have AMEX you should be fine. However I don’t, and I don’t even have a Credit Card, so had to try with my two humble Debit Cards.
    On Cleartrip, I tried both my Italian and British cards, one Mastercard and the other Visa Debit, but none of them worked. So I tried LOADS of other attempts in the much more complicated IRCTC website, where they have many more weird options of payment to chose from, without any success. I wrote to the customer service explaining my frustration, and they were actually very quick in replying – even though their answer was to try on Cleartrip.com, as they only accept AMEX, and Cleartrip accepts other International Cards. (Didn’t they imagine I had already tried that option for God’s sake?!?)

    Fine, went back on Cleartrip.com and tried again the payment with the Mastercard, after repeating the whole process for the 12000th time. But you know what? It worked!
    Why didn’t it work before with the same exact details? I have no idea. I arrived to the point of belief that it is all a random process, they like to tease you for a few hours and then, if they want, they finally let you buy the stupid ticket.

Now, remember that it is possible (and quicker) to buy tickets at the railway stations and other tourist offices around India with no problems at all, except for a hectic queue at times. However, I had to get this in advance as it will be to Allahabad, where the Kumbh Mela takes place, and on the busiest date ever. I didn’t want to risk not to get on the train, but in any other occasion I definitely suggest to buy the tickets once you are physically there.

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