When I was in India (Winter 2011) the website that I used the most was ClearTrip.com because I could book flights, hotel rooms, and Train Tickets all on one site and it was really convenient.
While perusing the incredible train website The Man in Seat Sixty-One (seriously, if you are going to travel by train anywhere in the world, check out this guy’s unbelievable website), it was brought to my attention that India Rail has changed the rules and it’s a little harder for foreigners to use ClearTrip to book train tickets…
- Registration is now a bit trickier than it was… Cleartrip’s registration process used to be simple. But as of early 2012, IRCTC has insisted that anyone using Cleartrip must also sign up for an IRCTC account. The Cleartrip website bundles the registration for a Cleartrip account and for an IRCTC account together, so you only need to use the Cleartrip website but will end up with two linked accounts. However, IRCTC requires you to enter an Indian mobile phone number to which an activation code for the IRCTC account will be sent, and you probably don’t have an Indian mobile phone. But don’t worry, there’s a workaround for this, by emailing their customer care department with a scan of your passport. This is all to do with stopping the illegal re-sale of train tickets. So to buy Indian train tickets online, follow this step by step process carefully:
- Step 1: Go to www.cleartrip.com and select Trains at the top. Start an enquiry for the journey you want to book.
- Indian long-distance trains open for bookings 120 days before departure (extended from 90 days in 2012), you cannot book before bookings open. Some shorter-distance inter-city trains open less than 90 days ahead, for example Delhi-Kalka & Kalka-Simla generally open 30 days ahead.
- Remember that Cleartrip will only book direct trains, it can’t book journeys involving a change of train. So you’ll need to book Delhi to Simla as two separate trips, for example, Delhi to Kalka then Kalka to Simla. You’ll need to select a class, see the explanation of the different classes here. AC2 or for daytime journeys, AC Chair car, is the normal class used by most western visitors.
- Step 2: In the search results, find the train you want and click ‘Check availability & book’. A pop-up appears asking for your email address. Enter it.
- Step 3: It now asks you to register for an IRCTC account (if you haven’t already got one).Enter your email address as the user name for Cleartrip
Enter the user name you want to use for your IRCTC account, 3 to 10 characters without any spaces.
Enter a dummy 10-digit mobile number e.g. ‘01234567890’.
Enter a dummy zip-code e.g. ‘123456’ as it won’t accept UK-style postcodes.
Change ‘India’ to ‘United Kingdom’ or wherever you live. Change ‘state name’ to ‘Others’ at the bottom of the list.
When finished, click ‘Sign in or register’.
- Step 4: Now check your emails, as you will have been sent a confirmation email by IRCTC with subject ‘SUCCESSFUL REGISTRATION of [your user name] for IRCTC Bookings’. It contains an Email OTP (Email One Time Password). You’ll also have been sent an SMS message with the equally vital SMS OTP, but obviously you won’t get this, as it will have been sent to a +91 Indian version of the dummy mobile phone number you entered. You may also get an email from Cleartrip, asking you to change your password – do this right away, this is easy enough.
- Step 5: Now send an email to IRCTC customer care (firstname.lastname@example.org, or try email@example.com) quoting your new IRCTC user name (remember that it’s case-sensitive), attaching a scan of your passport, and asking them to send you the SMS OTP by email. The passport scan must be less than 1Mb in size and emailed as an attachment, not embedded in the email. You’ll receive an immediate automated reply, and you’ll eventually receive an email from their customer care team with the all-important SMS OTP. Some people receive this within 24-36 hours with no problem, others spend a week having to badger them with chase-up emails – but just do what you have to, but get them to send you the necessary SMS OTP! Ignore any comments in the email from IRCTC about only accepting Amex cards, as you’ll be using Cleatrip with Visa or MasterCard, won’t you!
- Step 6: Now pay attention, this is important! Go back to the ‘SUCCESSFUL REGISTRATION of … for IRCTC Bookings’ email. Look for the link a little way down the email that says ‘In order to Verify for partner website and Activate your account please click here’, and click it. To save you the bother of looking through your emails, this is the link you need, at least until they change it: www.cleartrip.com/trains/irctc/account/activate. Do not use any other log-in page or train booking page until you have activated and linked your IRCTC and Cleartrip accounts on this specific activation page.
- Step 7: A Cleartrip activation page now opens, enter your IRCTC ‘Email OTP’ and ‘SMS OTP’ one-time passwords to activate your IRCTC account on the Cleartrip website and at the same time permanently link your Cleartrip and IRCTC accounts.
- Step 8: You can now proceed with bookings using Cleartrip.com and foreign Visa or MasterCard credit cards. I have successfully registered at Cleartrip this way, and bought Indian train tickets with my UK-issued Visa card. Feedback is appreciated!
- Some people sail through this process without a problem, others seem to have problems. However, one possible source of these problems has been identified. If you get the error message ‘Mobile OTP invalid. Please correct your mobile OTP‘ you may have been too hasty, and started the process for buying a ticket, expecting to activate your account during that process. This in fact generates a new account, overwriting the original account for which the OTP you’ve just been sent is valid. So don’t do this. When you received your OTP from IRCTC, activate your accounts atwww.cleartrip.com/trains/irctc/account/activate precisely as explained above, before trying to buy any tickets.
I know that this sounds like a lot of trouble, but if you are planning to do a lot of travel by train in India, it is SO worth it to be able to book a ticket from a web cafe or hotel and print up the ticket without having to queue up at the train station and just proceed directly to your train.