My AC first class train journey from Delhi to Mumbai Rajdhani occurred some time in 1986. It so happened I could not get the confirmed ticket as my berth was still wait listed (these were early days of train reservation system) and reaching the platform I was told either to cancel the journey as they won’t allow a wait listed passenger to board or there is a berth available in First Class AC. I checked with TT and got the berth (Of course I had to give a long explanation to my manager later as even he was not entitled for the same). It was a coupe (2 berths) and my co-passenger was a sikh navy officer in Eastern Naval command. He knew the system well and as train moved he changed into pyjamas immediately and started talking to me. I had a good journey time with him as the man was jovial . We had evening tea and then after or so this guy opened the whisky bottle and we had 2/3 pegs each. In Rajdhani train meals are included as a part of the journey and I was floored when liveried dressed waiters started serving us food with one putting a proper napkin (as they do in restaurants) and then this four course meals was served with a proper cutlery. Shear by chance I could not travel in Rajdhani – first class AC after that as prices were too steep and Rajdhani train was only plying between Delhi and Mumbai/Kolkatta. Now they have extended it at other places. Also first class AC fares were sort of same as Air fare of the day so one did not look at this option but in late 1990’s when I got a job in Chennai and had to travel to Delhi, I was finding with 2 kids in the family, airfare was cornering a fair chunk of your salary and decided to try this AC First class route. Railways don’t charge for kids less than 5 years of age and only half if a child is below 12 years and it comes to neat net saving. I don’t know but whenever I opted for AC first class I could get the place readily and traveled on Tamil Nadu and GT express first class a number of times. Now if you are not traveling in Rajdhani – first class AC loses its charm as meals options reduce drastically; but ticket prices also reduce. Still from comfort and relaxation point of view it is worth all its money. Depending on the number of seats you book you get a coupe (2 berths) or cabin (4 berths). With each berth one gets two bed sheets, blanket, pillow and a hand towel for your personal use during the journey and one is not required to pay for it (whereas I remember one is required to pay for it if one is traveling in 2 Tier AC).
Full wide berth to yourself as you watch the speeding scenery outside (fields, cities, villages …) and depending on the train/cabin you also get a wash basin hidden under a small table inside. Earlier there used to be full coach of AC Ist class but seeing the low popularity of this service I have seen now many trains are offering these berths only in half coach and half coach they have converted into 2 Tier AC with a partition in the coach itself. One could get even shower facility in some of the trains, but so far I have never used it. Shatabi – first class AC, also I have tried once (Delhi to Agra on corporate account) which is called Executive class but due to day time journey one does not get a berth but a good spacious chair you get. There are 4 seats (2 on each side of aisle – like in a plane) and service was good and coach was almost empty. Then the era of low cost airfares erupted in early 2000’s and I almost forgot about this choice when recently due to rise in airfares, I decided to explore this option again. There is no saving compared to airline cost but kids with their impressionable age and if one is going to holiday why not spend a day in the train and I used it twice in the span of last year on AP Express (Delhi – Hyderabad) and Sampark Kranti (Delhi - Hyderabad) circuit. The single ticket was around 3K (with service charge) per person on these trains. On Rajdhani it would be around 3800/person/sector and in railways they charge extra 1.5 – 2% if you use a credit card. Folks including me enjoyed the experience and I feel if meals option can be improved a notch better everyone would enjoy it more. It was all very comfortable. Toilet is available to you most of time (as there are no queues outside) and they keep liquid soap in there. In AP express they had some timer fixed in this cabin with the air freshener can as after some minutes interval this thing would squirt the whiff of spray, but there was no cabin wash basin. In Samparak Kranti which was my last travel journey took 26 hours whereas normal duration is 24 hours. We started from Nizammudin Delhi station at and via Jhansi first stop (), Bhopal (), Nagpur () we covered the distance in almost constant movement as in the night Ballarshah junction came. The train window gives you a vantage point to observe humanity in action at platform and with Khatak Khatak of train wheels noise, rolling bed, a book in your hands it is quite relaxing. I am a bit hooked to this mode of travel if I get a chance (time and opportunity) and traveling with family. On your own if you are traveling alone then for this option you may have to leave it to chance that your interests match with your co-passengers. My recommendation to native Indians is forget this Royal express where you pay obscene amount of dollars, and get booked for days, enjoy the royal treatment on day basis by traveling in first class AC. I would love to book Hyderabad – Delhi Rajdhani sector but so far have not succeeded. The reason being it runs only 4 days in a week and more importantly they have clubbed it with Bangalore – Delhi Rajdhani and Hyderabad being an intermittent stop one does not get 4 berths quota (it is always 2 from availability point of view) as preference is given to Bangalore passengers. So folks if you have an option to spare a day, can book 2 or 4 berths in one go, try Indian Railways AC first class. Top recommendation is Rajdhani and then other super fast long distance trains. On Brownies points while traveling in aircraft I always envy folks sitting in business class the way they get pampered and their high brow pseudo impressions. This AC first class travel allows you to be in top of the world for a full day and knowing fully well my existence and fickle nature of fortune, I never put smirk on my face. Believe me. Next on my wish list is to travel in this series of 2431/2432 Rajdhanis – Delhi to Trivandrum , in First Class AC (1A) a 46.5 hours journey one way costing around 5400/- with train running three times in a week. An additional bonus is it on Mumbai – Goa Konkan Railways route, so should be quite fun.
Recently tried this new train First AC Nizamuddin Secunderabad Duronto/2286 express which is a non stop service from Delhi to Secunderabad and in Indian parlance non stop, super fast takes only 22 hours. We got into train which started at dot 3:50 pm in the afternoon and droped us at Secunderabad at 2 pm next day. 24 seats and the coach with 3500/+ per ticket ticket was fully. Journey was smooth. Coach was new as this traiin was recently introduced in April, 2010. AC was tip top and for a change no fans were installed on the roof. The guy kept on coming with food, first water Bisleri bottle, then high tea of cheese sandwich, a Haldiram Kachori and sweet and tea (one could ask for sugar less in a separate flask), followed by Frooti and later soup, meals which was topped by an icecream. Morning refreshments started with bed tea at 6:30 am, breakfast at 8am and lunch at 12 pm. A first class journey. Waiting for my next break for Hyderbad to Delhi sector.