I had to travel from Bangalore to Delhi after a long while and this time decided to give this long distance train journey another chance after many years, given the air tickets had become expensive by the time I planned my travel. The uncertainty around travel, and the need to get confirmed ticket on or before scheduled date led me on a search about how to book Tatkal ticket reliably, and this post is a result of that experience.
I was able to book a ticket in Karnataka Express only 20 days in advance of journey got me a WL14/GNWL34 status which means waiting list 14 at the time of booking and historically overall 34 members in waiting list before my time of booking. I was somehow hopeful that it will get confirmed, but the waiting list status was not moving up at all. So I decided to give Tatkal booking a try. Before that I had gone onto various websites to find out about railway quotas, probability of getting confirmed tickets given certain waiting list numbers, and so on. I will list these in another post sometime.
Before booking Tatkal, I needed to brush up my knowledge of new railway booking codes, and learn from the masters of railway travel and booking on tips and techniques of booking online a Tatkal ticket. This article on firstpost was quite useful in giving an up-to-date overview and I used both the magic autofill bookmarklet mentioned here as well as keeping session open in another browser.
Given that there was much mystery, awe, and outright fear and uncertainty associated with booking a Tatkal ticket, I decided to spend 1-2 days in trying to do some practice, and thought I might as well confirm and pay if I am successful in booking the ticket. My travel date could be advanced by 2-3 days and was flexible in that sense as long as I didn’t delay it beyond a certain date.
IRCTC website speed: the opposite of above train’s speed
From my experience of various websites including YouTube videos giving Tatkal booking tips, here are my observations:
1. Many of those articles are older and I think anything before 2011 can be ignored totally, as there have been changes in Tatkal booking after that. The changes include change of Tatkal booking timing to 10 am, as well as booking allowed only 1 day in advance of travel date.
2. Almost all of these articles and YouTube videos are providing some kind of autofill mechanism/tool/bookmarklet/software which will allow you to fill up the passenger details like name, age, birth preference etc in the booking form once, save it, and then click a button etc to fill those details at Tatkal booking time. The extra field during Tatkal booking is the type of identity card and its number. I am a fast typist and so for me having the voter id card number already filled was the main usage of the autofill technique, without worrying about making typing mistake under time pressure. Any of these tools should work but make sure you test them once. The magic autofill worked on the normal booking form by filling all the fields except the voter id etc (which is not there in normal booking) so I was somewhat confident that it will work on the Tatkal booking form also.
3. Also, based on my experience, the autofill tools are more useful for more than 1 passenger booking. I don’t think it takes that much time to fill up one passenger details, so even if you don’t use such a tool, the gods of Tatkal booking will not frown upon it! The voter id was the somewhat complex field, and I could have filled that by doing copy paste rather than typing it. Many other fields are prompted by browser itself if you have filled them before so for only 1 passenger booking, an autofill tool is not such a great advantage.
Day 1: The Tatkal Booking Experience
Here are some observations of actual Tatkal search and booking, and some rough timings I was able to notice upto the minute:
1. On day 1 of practice cum booking, I logged onto IRCTC railway booking website website about 15 minutes before 10 am assuming that there may be rush of logins at 10 am. I spent the time till 10 am getting used to the speed (or lack of it) of the website where every click results in 2-3 minute delay before the next page loads.
2. I did not try doing search for Tatkal option before 10 am, as I had read in some website comments that doing Tatkal search before 10 am gives an error and then it keeps you out or logs you out. Using the time on this website as reference, I clicked on Find Trains for Tatkal about 5 sec after 10 am. It took 2-3 minutes for trains to show up and then I clicked on II AC radio button against Karnataka Express. I was able to get to available (AVL) status of 15 seats (out of total 20) in II AC in Karnataka Express train number 12627 by 1005 am. That meant that things were going well so far and I had a chance of confirmed booking if I was able to do the form filling and payment in another 5-6 minutes or so.
3. The passenger booking page opened and I used magic autofill to fill up my passenger details including the voter id number. By that time the available seats had gone down to 9. Then I clicked on the payment button.
4. It was on payment page that I made a mistake due to inexperience. Having booked a ticket few days back where I had used HDFC bank option, I clicked on HDFC Bank assuming it will show the credit card payment page, but it was for netbanking and I had no use for netbanking. In futile attempt I clicked back button hoping it may take me back to passenger details page, but as expected it logged me out.
5. Then I logged in again, tried booking in Rajdhani Express this time (which has 44 Tatkal quota seats in II AC, see end of post how I found that), and I could see few available seats there too. But by the time I reached payment it has gone into CKWL5 (CK means Tatkal quota) and WL5 means waiting list 5. Now I was in two minds whether to book this ticket, and then try again next day. But the problem is I have no way of knowing it will be confirmed till the charts are prepared about 4 hours before train starts, and if it does get confirmed by then, I may end up having 2 Tatkal tickets on different days and a Tatkal ticket cannot be refunded. So the uncertainty was not worth it and I had 2 more days when I could repeat the same procedure of Tatkal booking, so I cancelled it at payment page.
Day 2: Tatkal Booking Reloaded (or Revolution?)
1. On day 2, I again tried Karnataka express, and this time I found that after the passenger details page, the next pages were showing up much faster compared to the usual 2-3 minutes page load time. So it showed me the number of available seats at 15, then at 11 on further pages, and then on payment page it still showed it as 11. This time, I made no mistake in payment pages and interestingly the SMS confirmation from bank about payment arrived first, about a minute later the SMS confirmation from IRCTC also arrived about the booking, and finally the webpage itself showed me the confirmation of booking. By 1023 am, I had the final webpage showing payment and ticket confirmations.
2. The impression I had got after reading various websites that a Tatkal booking has to be finished within 2 minutes of 10 am is not correct at all. A single page load takes 2-3 minutes and there are 4-5 steps/clicks and pages till payment confirmation, so it will take a minimum 15-20 minutes to book a Tatkal ticket in my experience. I also knew that my father had booked a Rajdhani Express from Bangalore to New Delhi using Tatkal using the physical reservation counter, so the online reservation experience is not all that different.
At the station before boarding the train, I checked my coach reservation chart and found a large number of bookings were Tatkal booking. The other II AC coach had lot of HO (Head office) quota bookings and few Tatkal too. This possibly confirms the grapevine that railways are deliberately selling more Tatkal tickets since these result in more revenue given extra charge for Tatkal tickets. This is confirmed by a webpage I saw which saw an official circular too though I don’t have link to that now. This another news confirms attempt by railways to earn more by giving more preference to Tatkal compared to normal ticket holders in clearing waiting list, but this measure was rolled back.
A few tips which might be useful for Tatkal booking
1. Have a reliable, trusted internet connection, but I don’t think having a 4 Mbps vs. 1 Mbps will be a deciding factor. In case of any delays in page loads, you will know that it is because of ‘natural’ slowness of IRCTC website rather than your internet connection.
2. Keep the computer preferably light without many other running applications which may slow it down just at the wrong time, or maybe show pop-ups or such distractions; so the chance of machine freezing up, slowing down, or distracting you are minimized.
3. You don’t need to make each second count, but taking a fundamentally wrong step where you get logged out may be the end of your Tatkal booking attempt. A re-login can take 3-4 minutes easily and doing the train search again takes another few minutes, so in case it happens for you and you desperately need to travel next day, try to go for the most available Tatkal (CK) quota in whichever class it might be. E.g. you can switch from II AC to III AC since the Tatkal quota for III AC is lot more than for II AC. Or try even sleeper class if that works for you.
4. This point of keeping the IRCTC login session alive is based on my understanding from this article I referred earlier too. On day 1, I used the single browser/main IRCTC login itself to keep the session open. I kept doing some search of trains etc before 10 am. On day 2, I opened another browser Chrome where I clicked on it every 2-3 minutes to keep the session open. I can say for sure that it did not result in any problem at least. It showed me the same logged in page IRCTC with my name on top. The full URL for me at the time of first/main IRCTC browser login is given below, and I pasted the same into Chrome 2nd browser to keep the session alive.
Basically, what I found is that even though the article advises to copy-paste and replace session id, you DON’T need to copy paste from above and do replace of session id etc. Just login into main/first browser, and after successful login copy paste the full URL (similar to above) into a different browser. So if your main browser is Firefox, the 2nd browser cannot be Firefox. It can be Chrome, IE etc. It will show the same logged in page on 2nd browser too, and you can keep refreshing it every 3 minutes or so. What I found is that if I refresh it every 2 minutes, it is too short a time for next page to load up most of the time. So I really doubt IRCTC will log you out in 2 minutes of inactivity if their webpage itself takes more than 2 minutes to load most of the time!
5. If your booking if for more than 1 passenger, then using an autofill tool like magic autofill may be useful.
Happy Tatkal booking. Let the force be with you!