I’m getting a bit tired of all the changes, but what to do? Some time back, many people welcomed Indian Railways’ decision to let Cleartrip and MakeMyTrip (and probably some other agents) handle online train bookings. This was an especially good thing for people who wanted to book from overseas or who simply didn’t have a mobile phone in India.
It’s still easier to use Cleartrip or MMT for some bookings even if you have a mobile, but because of linking every transaction with IRCTC, the system has become much slower and more dysfunctional. Best times to book are really early in the morning or late at night (but not between 11:30PM and 12:20AM or between 8AM and 10AM, when online booking isn’t available.) This is supposed to help prevent fraud, as unscrupulous travel agents try to buy up tickets to resell at a higher price.
Tatkal (emergency quota) booking opens at 8AM the day before, and for many trains, you really have to be there right at 8AM or even earlier, or you won’t get a seat. What this means is that if you need a Tatkal ticket, you have to physically go to the station to book it. No more sitting in the comfort of your hotel room and booking it.
Incidentally, you need to carry your passport when traveling in any a/c class. They seem to be getting more vigilant about checking, at least on many routes. Of course, some TTEs just don’t want to bother about it. You may also need it for booking reservations at the station.