I just finished up a 30+ hour train ride east all the way across India. What an awesome experience. It was quite comfortable actually. Being a tall person (especially by Asian standards) I usually dread these sorts of things. Transport in this part of the world is never designed for a lanky, long-legged westerner like me, and as such, it can be painful. But I was pleasantly surprised.
I spent a lot of time sipping chai, bouncing in and out of sleep and cell service, and enjoying the Indian country side as it whizzed by my window. As the sun set last night, I took some time to photograph life on the train as a way to show you what it's like. These photos are all from my iPhone just walking around the cabin and (Mom, cover your ears) hanging from the side of the train via the open doors. Ok I just stood in the opening, I never actually got outside the train, but having the doors open at 60mph is intimidating enough. I took a bunch of video on my phone too, which I'll chop up and share at a later date if I can figure out how to use iMovie.
I'm not going to lie. I booked sleeper class because it was cheap. $11 to get all the way across India. I sort of did it just to get the experience the first time, thinking I'll splurge later to an AC coach. I'm traveling this way all the time now. Not only is it cheap, but you get to you get to meet some really fun people. I don't think many westerners ride in sleeper. The people I was sitting with we're sort of intrigued that I was sitting in sleeper with them, and it opened up all sorts of conversations. And I didn't see another non Indian person the whole trip.
I met some interesting folks who gave me a few off the grid locations to go explore. That's the kind of stuff I love about traveling with the locals. Telling people that I was a photographer, they started throwing out suggestions of beautiful places to go see left and right, places that most people probably don't know about. You get to tap into the knowledge base of the local people who know their country better than anyone when you sit with them in tight quarters for 30hrs. Especially when you're out of place, because people approach you out of curiosity and ask you what you are doing.
I'll also say that it depends on your level of adventure. It would be pretty adventurous for some to ride in sleeper (Bathrooms? You mean the hole in the floor?). But chances are, if your backpacking around anyway, your already adventurous. Save the cash, gain the experience. Take the same transport as the locals.