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Impossible for Foreigners to Make Online Indian Railways Reservations?

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Jodhpur Train station
Izzet Keribar/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

Ouch! My head hurts. I've just tried for almost an hour to make an online reservation with Indian Railways and have given up. I known I'm not the first person, and I'm sure I won't be the last.  The system has become so over regulated and burdensome, it makes it almost impossible for foreigners to make online bookings.

There are two obstacles.

  1. Needing an Indian cell phone (mobile) number.
  2. Not being able to pay with a foreign credit card.

Indian Railways can't seem to make up its mind whether or not it will accept foreign credit cards. Initially it was yes, then it was no, then it was yes again, and now it's no again. I only discovered Indian Railway's latest rejection of foreign credit cards after getting through numerous system time out errors, to at last reach the final stage of ticket booking -- the payment.

Undeterred, I decided to try booking through a travel portal. There are three travel portals that I know of that handle Indian Railways reservations -- Makemytrip.com, Yatra.com, and Cleartrip.com.   For some strange reason, Cleartrip wasn't showing the train that I wanted to travel on. So, since I'd just reserved a flight with Makemytrip using my international credit card, I thought I'd also use that website to make my train reservation.

That's when I discovered the new registration requirement. No matter what travel portal you use, accounts must be verified by Indian Railways. To complete this, both an email address and Indian mobile number are required.   Fortunately, I do have an Indian mobile. (If you don't, you can still set up an account but it's a lengthy process that requires you to email Indian Railways with your passport details).

It took me around 30 minutes to complete the verification process, including waiting for a verification code to be sent to my phone.  I found the train and completed the reservation details in under five minutes. But then, when I went to pay for the ticket, I discovered that Makemytrip doesn't allow foreign credit cards on rail bookings either.  I was surprised, because I'd had no trouble paying for my flight with my international credit card.  No doubt, Indian Railways has something to do with the rule.

(Cleartrip is the only website that does accept some international cards, but it was useless to me because it wasn't showing my train).

The whole process has left me irritated and annoyed. Apparently, the local post office now does train bookings, so I guess I'll go and try my luck there tomorrow. I do realize that I'm one of the fortunate ones who has the option of doing this because I live in India. I can only imagine the angst that this new system is causing foreigners who don't live in India.

The Ministry of Tourism has set a goal to dramatically increase the amount of foreign tourists that come to India. Yet, the government presents foreign tourists with insurmountable difficulties simply to reserve a train ticket. It's not exactly encouraging tourism, is it?

What have other people's experiences been like? What problems have you encountered with the system? Share your Indian Railways reservation problems here. (It feels good to have a rant).

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