GETTING THE NIGHT BUS IN INDIA
HOW AND WHY TO GET A SLEEPER BUS IN INDIA
**We were in no way paid or given anything for free in order to promote anything on this post. All views expressed are genuine and our own!**
Getting about in India can get very expensive. Distances between the main tourist highlights are huge, and consequently, the cost of train fares can add up to massive amounts. The train is, by far, the most popular mode of transport in India. However, the often overlooked sleeper buses can offer a more budget friendly, and just as easy alternative to long distance travel in India.
If you’re anything like us, part of the backpacking and travelling experience is moving around and changing plans as and when you feel like it. We love to get to a place and get a feel for it, before committing to any travel plans. If you rely upon train travel in India, this is really tough. But, with the buses, this becomes a reality. We often book the bus we need online, just one day before (or even the same day). That’s something that just isn’t possible with train travel (on some of the more popular routes, advance booking of perhaps weeks before is required).
So, we have compiled a guide containing all the information you’ll need to book your own sleeper bus trip in India! Here are all the answers to all the questions you might have about the sleeper bus in India.
WHAT DOES IT COST?
If you’re looking to get a first class AC2 or AC3 sleeper on the train, the sleeper bus is going to cost less. For the equivalent train fare, we found that the bus was about half of the price.
We booked a sleeper bus from Varanasi to Agra (12 hours, 372 miles), and paid around 800 rupees each. The train fare for an AC2 on the same route would have cost us 2000 rupees (we were trying to book very last minute). That’s over twice as much.
The rate varies depending on what seat/bed you choose. If you’re looking for a budget friendly option, then there are buses with seats as well as beds. These seats cost about 2 thirds what the beds do.
There are also variations on the bed types too. The top bunk tends to be a little cheaper than a bottom bunk (about 100-200 rupees less) and the window bed can be a little more than the aisle side bed (around 100 rupees cheaper). Randomly, on the bus we booked, the beds on the right hand side of the bus were about 100 rupees more expensive than those on the left side.
We chose a bottom bunk on the left side of the bus, and we paid 799 rupees each. The seats on our bus were the cheapest option at 575 rupees per chair. The most expensive bed – a window side bed on the right side of the bus – would have set us back 1099 rupees.
HOW TO BOOK
For all of our bus booking needs, we use redbus.in. We have found this to be, by far, the easiest and most stress free way to book any upcoming bus trip in India.
Redbus is a third party, online booking agency. On their website, there is a simple search function where you can type in your to and from destinations with the date, and it will display a list of all the available buses on that particular route. You can then view every individual bus company available.
Here you can view: reviews (there is an overall score for every company, and an option to view each individual review and previous customers comments), available seats (there is a seat map with upper and lower bunks, reserved seats, available seats and the exact price for every particular seat/bed), what kind of bus style it is (2+2, 2+1, or seats – more on this below), pictures (of the inside and outside of the bus), exact drop off and pick up locations (so you can search on a map and be sure of where to find your bus, and/or how much an Uber will cost from the drop off point to your hotel).
HOW IT WORKS
Once you have selected your bus and your seat/bed, there is the option to pay with debit card, credit card or PayPal. We found that when we booked with credit card, the amount was automatically converted from rupees into GBP£, as that is our local currency. I couldn’t find any way to disable this, so just paid the converted price. They will also send a confirmation text to a mobile number of your choice (this doesn’t have to be a local, Indian phone number) with a code that needs to be entered before completing the checkout process. They will then send you an email ticket and receipt, and you’re good to go! Overall, it’s a pretty easy and stress-free process.
Note: if your bus operator does not accept ‘m-ticket’, you will need to carry a print out of your email receipt to show the bus driver before boarding.
For all of this, redbus does charge a very small service fee. We paid about 50 rupees overall to book through them. This is a pretty small charge considering the information available on the site, and the ease of booking. So, we didn’t mind paying a small fee to book our sleeper buses in India.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Most of the sleeper buses in India are very similar. However, there are some variations. The main one being dependant on what kind of bus you book.
There are a couple of different things to look out for when you book: is the bus a 2+2 sleeper or a 2+1? The difference between the two is simply this – the 2+2 is two beds (‘double bed’) on either side of the aisle, and the 2+1 is simply 2 beds (‘double bed’) on one side, and 1 (single bed) on the other.
The A/C and seater parts simply mean that there are are conditioning (A/C) and also seats available on these buses too. Other buses may just be 2+2 or 2+1 sleepers, with no seater (which means there are no seats/chairs available, just beds).
Most of the buses will be new(ish), with varying amenities (see amenities below). However, there will be pictures of both the inside and outside of the bus available on redbus before you book!
How big the bed is depends on which kind you book, a double or a single. However, one thing is certain; if you’re tall, you’re going to be uncomfortable. I’m around 5’10/5’11 and I was too tall to lay down straight, and had to have my feet sticking out into the aisle to be comfortable.
The width of our ‘double’ bed that we shared was barely bigger than a standard single bed, but we did book a 2+2 sleeper, so this probably affected the width (to be honest, we were just being cheap at the time, and booked the cheapest sleeper there was). So, if you are sharing a double bed with someone, make sure that you’re comfortable being REALLY close to each other for a long period of time (and if you’re on the aisle side, try not to fall out. Seriously.).
All of the beds will come with some kind of curtain. The curtain is probably going to be pretty thin and flimsy though, so don’t count on a full nights sleep (more on that below) as the bright aisle lights may keep you awake. Bring an eye mask if you have one. The curtain will, however, give you a little privacy.
Some of the buses come with sheets, blankets and pillows. These may or may not be clean. Our bus boasted ‘clean sheets and bedding’, but I’m pretty sure they were very, very used. My top tip would be to bring some kind of pashmina or scarf to lay on the ‘clean’ pillow and don’t put your face anywhere near that dirty, old blanket.
If you’re not travelling with another person (and are travelling on a 2+2 sleeper, and don’t want to share a bed with some random stranger), the layout of the bus means that there is at least one single bed at the front of the bus. There are also chairs on some of the buses (seater).
If you’re a female and have to book a space in a double bed (as there are no available single beds or chairs), the booking system on redbus will make sure that if someone books the bed next to you, they have to also be female. It’s not ideal, but it does make it a little safer, I suppose.
Each sleeper bus in India will vary in amenities. Some more expensive ones will boast: wifi; charging sockets; reading lights; blankets and pillows; CCTV; free water and even a toilet.
I wouldn’t recommend counting on any of the amenities working though, so don’t rely on the wifi or charging points (and bring your own bottle of water). If they are there and working, great! If not, oh well.
They should all (at a bare minimum) at least have some kind of bedding and air conditioning.
There is a small summary on the left hand side (under the bus name) or you can find all of your chosen buses amenities by selecting the amenities tab.
THE REST STOP
Most of the sleeper bus in India will only stop the once through the night, for dinner and a toilet break. If your bus doesn’t have an onboard toilet, you should probably hold back on drinking that free bottle of water, as this is the only toilet break you’re going to get all night.
Ours was at about 10.30pm. However, it was scheduled for 11.15pm (I was very grateful for the early rest stop, as I really, really needed to make urine). You can find out where and when your bus will stop for it’s rest stop on the redbus website. Just know it might not be entirely accurate.
Our bus stopped at a ‘clean and hygienic’ pure vegetarian restaurant. We didn’t try the food, so can’t comment on whether or not eating it will make you violently sick the next day. However, we did find a small store selling snacks and crisps next door, so we spent a grand total of just 15 rupees on a few bags of snacks for dinner.
We also used the toilets, which were typical squat toilets (and were actually, surprisingly clean).
WILL YOU ACTUALLY SLEEP?
I won’t lie to you, unless you’re a really heavy sleeper, you’re probably not going to sleep very well. A lot of people talk about sleeper buses and trains as a way to save money on accommodation for a night, but in my opinion (and experience), the next day is almost always wasted due to needing a (very long) nap right in the middle of the day.
Having said that, I do actually think that the train is better in terms of sleep. I never seem to sleep particularly well on a sleeper bus (on the other-hand, Danielle slept really well on our Varanasi – Agra night bus. She literally slept between 11pm and 6am. Lucky bastard).
There are a number of things that seem to keep us awake on a bus. In India, the main thing definitely has to be the loud horns. All night, the driver was using his numerous different musical horns. Not just a little bit either – he was going to town with them. Holding them for 20 – 30 seconds at a time, and never leaving a gap of more than 30 seconds of silence between each burst of honking. It was relentless. There was a door between us and the drivers cabin, but that only slightly muffled the honks.
Another factor in the restless nights sleep is the driving. Whilst the roads in India are a lot better than some neighbouring countries (Nepal, for instance), they still aren’t incredible. I was also kept awake all night by the driver constantly slamming on his brakes HARD. He also had a habit of taking sharp turns and swerving at 50/60mph, which meant that I spent the entirety of the evening trying my best not to roll off the edge of the bed, and into the gangway.
(The slamming of the brakes was so bad that our backpacks, that were underneath our bed, slid all the way down to the bed in front of us by the time we arrived in Agra)
**Danielle says: if you’re short (like me), you’ll sleep an absolute dream. I don’t know what Brenna is complaining about.**
IS IT SAFE?
We felt really safe the entire time. There wasn’t any point we didn’t feel safe. When we got on the bus in the evening, all the people around us were very smiley and a little intrigued by us. They made us feel pretty welcome and safe. We left our backpacks underneath our bed (we were on the bottom bunk) and didn’t feel like anyone was going to touch them at all. We did sleep with our valuables and passports though, but that’s pretty common practice on any long distance transport. Overall, we didn’t feel uncomfortable at any point in time.
The driving doesn’t always leave you feeling particularly safe. It depends greatly on the bus operator you choose, and the driver you get given. But, sometimes the driving is a little insane.
Obviously, there is the usual constant honking to get used to, but there is also a lot of slamming brakes and serving at high speed. I found that it was best to just try and not think about it, as it causes a fair amount of anxiety if you’re constantly thinking about how the bus is being driven.
I’d say the biggest danger is the chance of crashing. A quick Google search brings up hundreds of results of bus crashes in India (I’d recommend not searching that before getting on the bus). In my honest opinion, if you’re at all worried about being in an accident, just take the train.
WHERE SHOULD YOU SIT/SLEEP ON THE BUS?
There a few different factors to keep in mind when booking your bed/seat on the bus.
There are a lot of different options. Here are my tips.
FRONT OF THE BUS
Much noisier – closer to the LOUD horn that will be honking all night long. On our bus trip, the driver also played very loud music the entire night (maybe to help keep him awake?). There was also a lot of people in the seats next to us that were on the phone at some crazy hours of the morning.
More comfortable – much less bouncier than the back of the bus. Try not to be over a wheel arch and you’ll be much more comfortable, and you’ll feel the bumps less.
MIDDLE OF THE BUS
Safer – allegedly the safest place to be on the bus. The front and back are much more likely to be the most heavily involved in any sort of accident. Therefore, the middle is safer.
More comfortable – there are no wheel arches in the middle fo the bus, so you’ll feel the bumps even less than at the front.
BACK OF THE BUS
Less comfortable – the bounciest part of the bus and the place where you feel the bumps more.
Less safe – more likely to be impacted if involved in an accident or crash. Also, further from the exits if something does happen!
Less expensive – these beds costs less than the same position on the bottom bunk.
Less comfortable – you’ll feel the swerves and corners more as these beds sway more (closer to the top of the bus), as the driver takes corners and swerves around potholes/cows/dogs/anything.
SEATS VS BEDS
Beds are more comfortable if you’re smaller, and you’ll be more likely to sleep. However, the seats are safer (if they have a seatbelt) and cheaper than the beds!
IS IT BETTER THAN THE TRAIN?
REASONS TO TAKE THE TRAIN
- The bus can drop you off in really random locations, far outside of town. We were dropped off in the middle of a motorway (freeway), between 3 lanes of traffic and a slip road at 6.30am. When we quizzed the driver he just kept smiling and saying “yes, Agra!”. We had to pay the one and only tuktuk driver (we didn’t have a sim card to book an Uber) that was there 600 rupees (our 12 hour bus fare only cost us 800 rupees) in order to get anywhere near the town. With the train, at least you are sure where you’re being dropped off, and can avoid anything like this happening.
- Equally, the bus can leave from some pretty random places, or not be direct. This can mean you’ll need to change buses. Depending on where you are headed, there are multiple bus departure locations, and this can get confusing if you’re not sure where exactly you need to be.
- No traffic, less chance of being late. Although the trains are often delayed, there are less variables that an affect the time of arrival. If your train is scheduled to arrive at a certain time, chances are it will probably arrive at that time. However, our bus actually was perfectly on time (it was scheduled to arrive at 6.30am exactly, and it did!).
- The train is much more comfortable. Speaking as someone who is a little taller than the average woman (5’11ish), it is really, really hard to sleep comfortably on a short bed. The beds on the trains always seem to be longer and more comfortable for me than anything I have ever experienced on a bus anywhere.
- Much safer in terms of potential accidents. The bus is much more likely to run into any kind of trouble (flat tires, breaking down at the side of the road in the rain) or accident than the train. Whilst trains do break down from time to time, the likely hood of being in an accident on the train is slim to none. On a bus, it is much more likely and depends on the driver and the roads and many other factors.
- There is a toilet! It may not be the cleanest toilet in the world, but if you really got to go, you can! On most buses, there isn’t that option, and you’re forced to wait until the rest stop, or your stop.
- In general, the train is a little bit quicker than the bus, and can shave off up to a couple of hours (depending on the journey). The train doesn’t rely upon road conditions, and is usually much more direct than the roads.
REASONS TO TAKE THE BUS
- You only need to get there 15 minutes early. When you get the train, you’ll need to get there around an hour early in some stations, just to make sure you can find your platform and your carriage location before boarding. With the bus, you just show up 15 minutes before and hop on.
- There is less chance of having things stolen on the bus. This is personal opinion, but with the bus, there is less chance someone is going to run off with your bag. There is usually space under the beds for your big luggage on the bus, and there is also no where for a potential thief to run if they do want to take your bag. On the train, in general, it is much more open, and anyone can walk through your carriage and have access to your bags. Obviously, we always slept with our valuable belongings, but if we do leave our big backpacks away from us, we always feel safer leaving them on the bus (not in the luggage compartment underneath the bus though – that can also (sometimes) be unsafe).
- It’s cheaper! The equivalent train journey can cost up to twice as much as the bus.
- You can book the bus the day before, or even the same day. Train travel has to be booked way in advance, and limits options for spontaneous backpackers like us. We like to book our travel as and when we feel the need to leave a place, so the ability to book the day before is a huge plus.
- Whilst they don’t rely upon road conditions and traffic, trains are often delayed. Our bus not only left perfectly on time, but it also arrived exactly when it should have!
My biggest piece of advice would be that if you’re at all worried about bus crashes and accidents, just take the train. It is a lot safer in terms of accidents, and for most people, you cant really put a price on safety.
OUR PHOTOGRAPHY GEAR
LAPTOP – Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch
SMALL CAMERA – Olympus OMD- E-M10 Mark II
ZOOM LENS – Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm Lens
DSLR BODY – Canon 60D
WIDE ANGLE LENS – Sigma 10-20mm Lens
DRONE – DJI Mavic Pro
ACTION CAMERA – GoPro Hero 7 Black Edition
MICROPHONE – Rode VideoMicro
CAMERA BAG – Lowepro Fastpack 250 AW II
So, that’s our detailed guide on how to get the sleeper bus in India! I hope this has been helpful, and you enjoy your next sleeper bus in India experience.
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