How To Travel With Your Dogs By Train In India: A Detailed Guide
I recently traveled with my two dogs by train from Bangalore to New Delhi and I'm writing this detailed guide on the process involved in traveling by train with dogs in India.
Thanks to social media and the growing popularity of the pets-being-family sentiment, we pet-parents now can be relieved that we can travel across the country with our dogs. And the best and the most economical way to travel with your pets is the good ol' train! And trust me, traveling first class in the train is a whole experience of its own. It's like having your own private 'chalet' on the train where you, your co-traveler and your dogs have all the privacy in the world! However, as romantic as the idea of traveling with your dog/s sounds, it's not without its share of formalities, procedures and confusion. Since I was going to embark on first such journey of my life, I did my research, followed pieces of advice scattered online and in dog communities and learned the rest as I went. So here's everything I know about traveling with your pets -- in my case two dogs -- on the Indian railways so that you can also do a train journey with your dogs successfully and with minimum hassle. And the best part is that you only have to learn this process once. The second time you do this, it'll still involve as many steps, but then, you'll know exactly what to do.
Why do you want to travel with your dogs?
First things first, first evaluate why you want to travel with your dogs. Here's a few questions to ask yourself before you decide to travel with your dogs in the train.
Are they fit and happy enough to travel?
Is it the best option for you to take them along or will they be better off in the care of someone while you finished your business and came back.
Is the duration of the stay long enough to justify all the hassles and costs involved in getting the dogs to travel along?
Can you afford this trip? (Scroll to the bottom to see the associated costs of train travel with your dog/s)
For me, I was going to travel for months, first to stay put in one place and then to travel to the Himachal while my dogs stayed with relatives nearby, and it was unthinkable for me to leave them in boarding facility or with a friend for that long. Besides, I just simply like having my dogs around everywhere and having them with me affords me the possibility of extending my trips without worrying about them.
A) Booking the train tickets
Once you're absolutely convinced that you want to take your dogs along, the first step in the process is to book the train tickets.
1. Book the tickets well in advance
Given that the Indian Railways have millions of passengers traveling everyday, the trains are crowded and getting a confirmed ticket is rarely a sure thing, especially when it comes to the higher classes. Since the only option to travel with your pets in the train is by booking the First Class or 1A Class Tickets, know that there's only one or two 1A coaches in the entire train and hence limited availability of tickets. Here's the steps to book the train tickets.
2. Make sure the train you want has a First Class Coach
Not every train has a first-class coach. If the route you want to travel on doesn't have a train with a First Class Coach, unfortunately you cannot travel along with your dogs in the train.
(But you can put them in the luggage compartment in a process that's similar to putting them in an airline hold. More information on that here, but my post is specifically for traveling *along* with your pets as your co--passengers in your coupe or cabin.)
3. Book early to get a confirmed ticket
So book as soon as you can. Anywhere between a month or 20 days before the journey, you should be able to get a confirmed ticket, but even if you get a "Waitlisted" ticket say upto 5, chances of clearing are high. Apps like ConfirmTkt give you the probability of having your WL confirmed in % terms. When I booked my tickets, the WL number was 4 & 5 and showed a 77% chance of confirming, but within 1 week of the journey, the tickets got confirmed.
4. Need to book minimum 2 train tickets
While you can travel with your dogs in the first class compartment, you either need a coupe (a two-person cabin) or a cabin (seats 4) only when everyone else in the cabin is traveling with you. You need to book at least two tickets to get a coupe.
When booking the ticket on IRCTC, choose the "Coupe" option under preferences.
If you're 3 or 4 members, you will by default get allotted a cabin which seats 4. If you book only one ticket, it's not guaranteed you'll get a coupe and mostly you'll get a cabin where you'll not be allowed to board the pet if the other passengers in the cabin are not with you.
Once your tickets are booked, you can sit back. If they're confirmed, great. If not, keep an out on the waitlist by checking your PNR regularly. You can cancel a waitlisted ticket upto 48-hours before the train departure without incurring any charges except the processing fees. (You can even cancel a confirmed ticket within 48 hours, if needed.) As the dates come closer, the WL should move up.
Note: You cannot book Tatkal tickets on first-class
How to book 2 tickets if you intend to travel solo?
If you're a solo traveler but still want to take your dog along, you can still do that. If you want to split the costs, one option is to find another person using a group or networks who is willing to travel on the same route to travel in the train along with you. How about finding another dog parent using a Facebook group like this?
But even if you don't end up finding someone else or want to travel solo, here's what to do. Book tickets for two using your name and a "made up" name - say your brother or a friend. You can still follow all the next steps and get into the train as usual. But when the TT comes to check your tickets and sees that the coupe is booked for two, but you're the only one, you can make up an excuse about the other person's sudden <insert exigency> on why they couldn't travel on the nth hour. As long as you've paid for 2 tickets, you have all the rights to be on the coupe. In rare cases of an overcrowded train, the TT may allot the 2nd seat in your coupe to someone else, it's not fair or completely above-board, but hey if they're okay with sharing the space with you and your dog, what's the problem right?
Note, you can only travel with your dogs in a train with a confirmed ticket.
B) Preparing paperwork to travel with dogs in the train
The Indian railways are kind enough to allow animals onboard but this allowance is based on the assumption that the pet is vaccinated, is in a healthy enough state to travel, isn't aggressive, and doesn't suffer from an infectious disease. A vet's certificate validating all of this is needed.
Get a "fit to travel" or health certificate by your vet 24-48 hours before the journey
Take your dog/s to the vet 2-3 days before the scheduled date of travel. Note: this is important as the health certificate is valid only 24-48 hours before the departure of your train. So for example, if you're traveling on a Friday, the health certificate should've been issued latest by Wednesday.
The vet will conduct a general checkup of the pet and if the dog is healthy, has their vaccinations up-to-date, they'll issue this health certificate for a fees. Cessna in Bangalore charges Rs.1000/dog for the health certificate but many other small clinics will do it for 400-500. Note if the vaccination is not up-to-date, you can get the dog vaccinated on the same visit and request the doctor to adjust the dates and still issue the certificate as it's just a formality. (Our puppy was behind on her booster shoots but she got one on the day of the issue of the health certificate and in the certificate the vet adjusted the date by a week prior :P)
C) Request the reservation officer to allot a coupe
This is an additional step in the formalities to complete to travel with your dogs in the train which basically aims at securing a coupe in the train. I'm not entirely sure if this step is needed as if you're 2 people booking the tickets who have already specified your preference for a coupe in the booking step, you'll get it. But sometimes, depending on the traffic on the train, a coupe may not be guaranteed. For context, every 1A coach only has around 3-4 coupes, rest being cabins. (You can check the layout of your train on the ClearTkt app to get an idea of the breakup between coupes and cabins.) While it's unlikely that you will not get a coupe by default, still this additional step makes sure you maximize your chances of getting a coupe allotted since a coupe is the only way you can travel with your pets if you're two or one person.
The step basically involves:
1) Write a letter to the reservation officer of the relevant railway station. Mention your date of travel, PNR, details of your pets etc. Here's a format of letter requesting the coupe you can use for inspiration.
2) Print it out, sign it and take a copy of Aadhar cards of all the people traveling on the same PNR along with the vet issued health certificate and a copy of their vaccination records of your dogs.
3) Go to the reservation office of the originating station of the train 2 days before the journey. In case you cannot go to the reservation office two days or a day before the journey, go there on the same day of the journey 4-6 hours before the departure time and well before the train chart is prepared.
4) Locate the department of "Emergency Quota" and drop your documents in a designated box, tray or to a railway clerk in the department.
Note: For the above step, you can only go to the reservation office of the station from where the train originates and not a station that's on the way. So for example, if your journey is from Bangalore, but the train started from Kochi, the above process needs to be done at the reservation office of the Kochi railway station. If this is not possible, then skip this step and just keep your fingers crossed for a coupe! Or to eliminate the risk of not getting a coupe, book 4 tickets to get a confirmed cabin.
Now that you've done this, there's not much else you can do but wait and get excited about the journey. Whether or not you get a coupe is something you'll only know on the day of the journey. From my interactions with every person who's done this trip, noone has been denied a coupe if they followed all due process.
D) What to pack for the train journey with your dogs
Noone told us this but packing right for the trip will make all the difference in making it comfortable and safe for both yourselves and your dogs.
Here's what to pack for a train journey with the dogs:
Poop scooper: Yes, it might be cumbersome to lug around a weird-looking poop scooper on this journey but it'll be needed as your dogs will want to relieve themselves on the platforms or worse IN the train! It'll be useful even at the destination of your journey so why not?
Dog bed: Your dog's bed will help giving the dog a familiar place to sleep in an unfamiliar surrounding. It also helps with absorbing the jerks of the train.
A stack of newspapers: You really need newspapers for laying out on the floor, soaking up any accidents, and lining the bed linen during meals etc.
Plenty of light food and fruits for the dogs: While the trains do sell food on-board, the choices are limited and not necessarily the healthiest. Ideally, you should feed your dogs very little food before and during a train journey to minimize chances of a stomach upset or nausea. Nevertheless, you should carry your dogs' treats, chew toys, and maybe even fruits like banana and packaged yoghurt for the trip as most of these things will not be available in the train or any station.
Dog tags: If your dogs don't already have them, please make sure they have collars with tags displaying their name and a phone number in case they're lost or have an accident.
Bedsheet: If you plan to have your dogs sleep on the berth, ( they're wide enough to allow a human and a dog to sleep alongside), carry your own sheets as a courtesy.
E) Buying a train ticket for your dogs at the railway station on the day of the journey
Just buying your train tickets, arranging the documents of the dogs and requesting the railways to allot a coupe isn't enough! There's one last and crucial step to ensure your dogs get to travel on the train with you. You have to buy them a ticket too! Yes, all dogs traveling on a train - whether along with their owners or in the luggage bogey are treated as "luggage" and need to have their own "luggage ticket". At the time of writing this, these tickets need to be booked in-person (and in-canine) at the railway station, but there's news that IRCTC will soon allow online booking of pet tickets! But until then, once your tickets are confirmed and you've been allotted a coupe (congrats!), you need to be at the railway station to buy the luggage ticket for your pets. Here's how:
Get to the station at least 4 hours before the train. (Trust me, this is important. We got there barely an hour before departure thanks to some serious miscalculation of the Bangalore traffic and nearly missed the train! (Imagine that, after all the hoops we jumped to travel with the dogs!) There could be queues at the luggage counter, you may not find it easily, it might take a while to navigate to your platform, etc. so be the proud Indian dad here and get to the station 4-5 hours before the train departure.)
Keep a copy of your Aadhar cards, dogs' vaccination records and/or the vet-issued health certificate on you. (Very important!)
Once at the station, locate the 'Luggage booking' room (ask the coolies/shopkeepers for directions) and take your dog/dogs there. If it's just 1 dog, one person can go with the dog while the other waits with the luggage. But if it's 2 or more pets, ideally both travelers can go to the luggage desk to expedite things.
Present your dogs along with all the documents. (Heh) They'll weigh your dog and charge accordingly. The official charges are around Rs. 80 per kilo, but sometimes, they don't weigh the dog and levy a standard flat rate of Rs. 1100 per dog which is what we paid without having our dogs weighed. (And oh since we didn't have an Aadhar card copy on us, they also made us go back outside the station and take a copy and come back!)
That's it. Once you have your "luggage ticket, you're aaaalllll set. Follow to the last step.
F) Getting into the train and settling with your dogs
You've got your tickets confirmed, have a coupe and luggage tickets. All you need to do is keep it all carefully, ensure you have everything for a comfortable journey, withdraw some cash from the ATM as you won't have network to pay online for all the food and tea on the train. If you're running late, best to enlist a coolie to help you navigate to your platform. Trust me, managing your luggage and a nervous dog can be a lot!
Here's a few good-to-follow practices once you've boarded the train with your dogs:
1) Spread some loose newspapers on the floor as protection against "accidents" - some dogs can get travel sick.
2) Make a note of all the stations well in advance using an app like ConfirmTkt. To help your dogs do their business, you'll need to get off at stations with a halt time of ideally 5 minutes or longer
3) Use poop scooper to pick up your dogs ' poo and newspaper to soak the pee - Please DO NOT leave it on the station.
4) Keep the dogs leashed outside of your coupe to not inconvenience the other travelers. It's a privilege to be allowed to be on public transport with your dogs. If you want people to be kind to dogs and carers of dogs, the onus of being a responsible pet parent lies on you.
The cost of traveling on the train with your dogs
While traveling with dogs by train may be the most economical option given the other alternatives namely a road trip or a pet-friendly airline, it still comes with its own additional costs that should be factored in when deciding the trip.
Here's a rough calculation:
Cost of train tickets: A first class ticket costs between Rs. 4000-6000 depending on the length of the journey and the train class. For context, a Bangalore To New Delhi first class ticket on the Karnataka Express which covers around 2100km costs about Rs. 5500 per ticket.
Cost of health certificate: A fit-to-travel health certificate costs around Rs. 500-1000 per dog depending on the vet. It cost me Rs. 500 per dog.
Cost of the dog 'luggage ticket'- The luggage ticket costs around Rs. 800-1500 per dog based on its weight and journey class. It cost me Rs. 1200 per ticket.
Cost of the travel to the railway officer: I mention this as a cost head because you'll need to pay cab fare/fuel charges etc if you're making a trip to the railway station just for this. Add another 500 here. Do not pay any bribe at any point!
Cab to the railway station: Don't forget to factor in incidental costs like making photo copies (Rs. 100), coolies (if you have luggage) and a cab that will let you travel to the railway station with your dog. More often than not, most cabs will not allow a dog onboard so your best bet could be taking an auto rikshaw instead. Additionally, there's some pet cabs launched in the city so research and book one well in advance to avoid last minute hassles. (Unlike us.)
Misc costs: These could be costs of making copies of documents, coolie charges, food and beverages on the train, tips etc. Consider another 500-1000/per person for these.
All in all, a travel for 2 people and 2 dogs in a First Class coach in a train from say Bangalore to New Delhi should cost around Rs. 20,000 in total. Give or take a thousand.
That's it, you've put in a lot of sweat, blood and money on making traveling with your dogs in a train a reality! Now sit back and enjoy the beautiful journey. Watch as your dog watches this new world that has suddenly opened as the train snakes past hamlets, crosses rivers, and scratches the surface of real India.
Happy and safe travels to you and your dogs!