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Travel Guide > Asia > India

India Getting around

  
 
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India is big and there are lots of interesting ways to travel around it, few of which could be described as efficient or punctual. Flights get cancelled, trains are delayed by hours or days, buses show up late if at all leading it to be colloquially referred as following the IST (Indian Standard Time) for anything that delays. Allow considerable buffer time for any journey with a fixed deadline (eg. your flight back), and try to remember that getting there should be half the fun.

Note that travel in much of the North-East (with the notable exception of Assam) and parts of Andaman and Nicobar, Jammu and Kashmir, Lakshadweep, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal will require obtaining a Protected Area Permit (PAP). The easiest way to get one is to request it along with your visa application, in which case it will be added to your visa. Otherwise, you will need to hunt down a local Ministry of Home Affairs office and battle with bureaucracy.

Addresses

If you need to get anywhere, call in advance and ask for detailed directions. Postal addresses are often stated in terms of other landmarks, as in "Opp. Prithvi theatre" or "Behind Maruti Showroom", etc. Unlike the western system of address, the Indian system uses municipal ward number, plot number, house number, land mark and the location instead of street name and block number. Finding a place will usually involve some searching, but you will always find someone out on the streets to guide you. Unlike many other countries, Indians usually do ask passers-by, nearby shopkeepers or cops for guidance on street addresses. It is usually safe to ask a cop or traffic-policeman for guidance.

By plane

India's large size and uncertain roads make flying a viable option, especially as prices have tumbled in the last few years. Even India's offshore islands and remote mountain states are served by flights, the main exceptions being Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh (although crossing over from neighbouring states is fairly easy). Due to the aviation boom over the last few years, airports have not been able to keep up with the air traffic. Most Indian airports continue to function with one runway and a handful of boarding gates. Check in and security queues can be terribly long, especially in Delhi and Mumbai. India has recently built two new international airports in Hyderabad and Bangalore, which are modern and well-equipped. Mumbai and New Delhi airports are being upgraded.

In northern India, particularly Delhi, heavy winter fog can wreak havoc on schedules. Flights to small airports up in the mountains, especially to Leh in Ladakh (which is reachable only by plane for most the year), are erratic at the best of times.

By train

Railways were introduced in India in 1853, more than one and half a century ago, by the British and today India boasts of the biggest network of railway lines in the world, and the rail system is very efficient, if not always on schedule. Travelling on Indian Railways gives you the opportunity to discover the Indian landscape and scenic beauty first hand and is generally more economical than flying domestic. It is one of the safest ways of travel in India. With classes ranging from luxurious to regular, it's the best way to get to know the country and its people. Most train passengers will be curious about you and happy to pass the time with a chat. Travelling on a train or strolling through an Indian railway station while waiting for your train, is in itself an important part of discovering India. If you are on a budget, travelling on an overnight sleeper train will reduce a night's stay at a hotel. Thus travelling on trains in India is highly recommended.

By taxi

In central locations of big cities like airports or stations reliable pre-paid taxis are available and will save you money as well as the bargaining hassle. However beware of touts who would claim themselves to be running pre-paid taxis. Always collect the receipt from the counter first. The receipt has two parts - one part is for your reference and the other part you will need to handover to the taxi driver only after you reach your desired destination. The taxi driver will get his payment by submitting or producing this other part to the pre-paid taxi counter.

Normal taxis running by meter are usually more common.

By bus

While you can't take a cross-country bus-ride across India, buses are the second most popular way of travelling across states and the only cheap way of reaching many places not on the rail network (eg. Dharamsala).

Every state has its own public bus service, usually named "X Road Transport Corporation" (or XRTC) or "X State Transport Corporation" (or XSTC) which primarily connects intra-state routes, but will also have services to neighbouring states. There are usually multiple classes of buses. The ordinary buses (called differently in different states, e.g. "service bus") are extremely crowded with even standing room rarely available (unless you're among the first on board) as reservations are not possible and they tend to stop at too many places. On the upside, they're very cheap, with even a 5-6 hour journey rarely costing over Rs.100.

In addition to ordinary public buses, there are luxury or express buses available, and most have air-conditioning now-a-days. Some state transport corporations have even introduced "Volvo" brand buses on some routes which are extremely luxurious and comfortable. These better class "express" or "luxury" buses have assured seating (book in advance), and have limited stops, making them well worth the slight extra expense. But even these better-class buses rarely have toilets and make occasional snack and bathroom breaks.

Private buses may or may not be available in the area you are travelling to, and even if they are, the quality could vary a lot. Be warned that many of the private buses, especially long-distance lines, play music and/or videos at ear-splitting volume. Even with earplugs it can be nerve-wracking. Do not expect public restrooms at all, or even most, bus stops. Unfortunately, the bus industry is extremely fragmented and there are few operators who offer services in more than 2 or 3 neighbouring states. Travel agents usually only offer seats on private buses.

However, long distance bus operators such as Raj National Express and KPN Travels are currently beginning to roll out their operations across the country modelled on the lines of the Greyhound service in the Unites States. Their services are excellent and they provide entertainment on board.

Regardless of class of travel, all buses have to contend with the poor state of Indian highways and the havoc of Indian traffic which usually makes them slower, less comfortable and less safe than trains. Night buses are particularly hazardous, and for long-distance travel it's wise to opt for sleeper train services instead.

By car

Driving on your own

In India driving is on the left of the road — at least most of the time. You can drive in India if you have a local license or an International Driving Permit, but unless you are used to driving on extremely chaotic streets, you probably will not want to. The average city or village road is narrow, often potholed and badly marked. National Highways are better, but they are still narrow, and Indian driving discipline is non-existent. In the past few years the Central government has embarked on an ambitious project to upgrade the highways. The Golden Quadrilateral connecting the four largest cities with four-laned highways is nearing completion and its roads almost reach international standards. But it is still some time before the drivers adapt to the new roads, so if you are a foreigner, you'll be wise to put off your plans to drive on Indian roads for a few years.

Hiring driver with car

Instead, if you desire going by a car, opt for driver while renting the car. Rates are quoted in rupees per kilometer and you will have to pay for both ways even if you are going only one way. The driver's salary is so low (typically around Rs 100 to 150 per day) that it adds little to the cost of renting the car. The driver will find his own accommodation and food wherever you are traveling, although it is customary to give him some money to buy some food when you stop somewhere to eat. A common rental vehicle is the legendary Hindustan Motors Ambassador, which is essentially an Indian-made copy of the 1956 Morris Oxford: it's large, boxy, with space for 5 passengers (including driver), and a decent-sized trunk. However, the Tata Indica (a hatchback) and Tata Indigo (a small sedan) is now replacing the Ambassador as the cheap car of choice. Imported international models may be available at a premium. If the number of people travelling together is large, popular rental vehicles are Tata Sumo and Toyota Innova.

There are numerous advantages to having a car and driver.

  • A good local driver is the safest means of car travel.
  • You can keep your bags and shopping goods with you securely wherever you go.
  • The driver will often have some knowledge of local tourist destinations.
  • A car is the quickest and most reliable means of going from point to point. After the initial agreement you needn't spend any time finding travel, haggling over price, etc.
  • You can stop anywhere you like, and change plans at the last minute.

It is rare to find a driver that speaks more than a few words of English. As a result, misunderstandings are common. Keep sentences short. Use the present tense. Use single words and hand gestures to convey meaning.

Make sure you can trust your driver before you leave your goods with him. If he shows any suspicious motives or behavior make sure you keep your bags with you. Conversely, if your driver is very friendly and helpful, it is a nice gesture to buy him a little something to eat or drink when stopping for food. They will really appreciate this.

Your driver may in some cases act as a tout, offering to take you to businesses from which he gets baksheesh (a sort of commission). This isn't necessarily a bad thing - he may help you find just what you're looking for, and add a little bit to his paltry income at the same time. On the other hand, you should always evaluate for yourself whether you are being sold on a higher-cost product than you want. Also, many times, these places that supply commissions to the driver (especially restaurants) may not always be the best or most sanitary, so use your judgement. Avoid touts on the road posing as guides that your driver may stop for because he gets a commission from them; supporting them only promotes this unpleasant practice. The driver might ask for a tip at the end of the trip. Pay him some amount (Rs 100/day is generally sufficient) and don't let him guilt-trip you into paying too much.

If you rent a car for a trip to a remote destination, make sure before getting out that you will recognize the driver and write down the license plate number and his phone number (nearly all drivers have mobile phones). Touts at tourist areas will may try to mislead you into getting into the wrong car when you leave; if you fall for this you will certainly be ripped off, and possibly much worse such as sexual assault if you are female traveller.

Be wary of reckless driving when renting a car with a driver. Do not be afraid to tell the driver that you have time to see around and that you are not in a hurry. Indian highways can be extremely dangerous. Make sure also that your driver gets enough rest time and time to eat. In general as you visit restaurants, the driver may eat at the same time (either separately at the same restaurant or at some other nearby place). He may be willing to work nonstop for you as you are the "boss", but your life depends on his ability to concentrate, so ensure that your driving demands are reasonable; for example, if you decide to carry your own food with you on the road, be sure to offer your driver time to get a lunch himself.

Avoid travel at night. Indian roads are dimly lit if at all, and there are even more hazards on the road after dark — even highway bandits if you get far enough off the beaten track.

By motorcycle

Some people point out that the best way to experience India is on a motorbike. Riding a motorbike and traveling across India you get the closer look and feel of India with all the smells and sounds added. There are Companies which organize packaged tours or tailor made tours for Enthusiastic bikers and adventurous travelers for a safer motorbike experience of India. Blazing Trails tours, Wild Experience tours and Extreme Bike tours are the known names in the market.

Another choice, popular with people who like taking risks, is to buy a motorcycle. Not for the faint of heart or inexperienced rider. India boasts the highest motor vehicle accident rate in the world.

The Royal Enfield is a popular (some would say, the only) choice for its classic looks and macho mystique. This despite its high petrol consumption, 27 kms/liter, supposed low reliability (it is "classic" 1940's engineering after all and requires regular service adjustment; you can find an Enfield mechanic who has worked on this bike for ten, twenty, thirty years in EVERY town in India, who will perform miracles at about a dollar an hour labor cost), and claimed difficulty to handle (actually the bike handles beautifully, but may be a wee heavy and seat high for some).

Or, one can opt for the smaller yet quicker and more fuel efficient bikes. They can range from 100 CC to the newly launched 220 CC bikes. Two most popular bike manufacturers are Bajaj and Honda. The smaller variants (100 CC - 125CC) can give you a mileage exceeding 50 kms/liter on the road, while giving less power if one is opting to drive with pillion on the highways. The bigger variants (150 CC - 220CC) are more powerful and one can get a feel of the power especially on highways - the mileage is lesser for these bikes anywhere between 35kms/liter to 45 kms/liter.

Preferably tourists should go for second hand bikes rather than purchasing new ones. The smaller 100 CC variants can be purchased for anywhere between Rs. 15000 to Rs. 25000 depending on the year of make and condition of vehicle. The bigger ones can be brought from Rs 30000 onwards.

By auto-rickshaw

The auto-rickshaw, sometimes abbreviated as "auto" and sometimes as "rickshaw", is the most common means of hired transportation in India. Most residents usually refer to them as a "three wheeler." They are very handy for short-distance travel in cities, especially since they can weave their way through small alleys to bypass larger cars stuck in travel jams, but are not very suitable for long distances. Most are green and yellow, due to the new CNG gas laws, and some may be yellow and black in color, with one wheel in the front and two in the back, with a leather or soft plastic top.

When getting an auto-rickshaw, you can either negotiate the fare or go by the meter. In almost all cases it is better to use the meter -- a negotiated fare means that you are being charged a higher than normal rate. A metered fare starts around Rs 10, and includes the first kilometer of travel. Never get in an auto-rickshaw without either the meter being turned on, or the fare negotiated in advance. In nearly all cases the driver will ask an exorbitant sum (for Indian standards) from you later. A normal fare for 10km of travel within the city would be about Rs 50, which is around a dollar and a few cents. In most of the cities, auto-rickshaw drivers are provided with a rate card that elaborately describes the fares on per kilometer basis. A careful tourist must verify the meter-reading against the rate-card before making a payment.

Ideally, you should talk with a local to find out what the fare for any estimated route will be. Higher rates may apply at night, and for special destinations such as airports. Finally, factor in that auto drivers may have to pay bribes to join the queue for customers at premium location such as expensive hotels. The bribe will be factored in the fare.

Make sure that the driver knows where he is going. Many autorickshaw drivers will claim to know the destination without really having any clue as to where it is. If you know something about the location, quiz them on it to screen out the liars. If you do not know much about the location, make them tell you in no uncertain terms that they know where it is. This is because after they get lost and drive all over the place, they will often demand extra payment for their own mistake. You can then tell them that they lied to you, and wasted your time, so they should be happy to get the agreed-upon fee.

Transport Companies in India

Airline Air India
India's state owned carrier. Formerly two carriers, Indian Airlines (domestic) and Air India (mainly international). These have merged in 2007, the airline is still in transition. Air India has the largest network in the country and provides excellent regio... more
in India
Airline Go Air
low cost which now offers additional products: Business class at economy fare (GoBusiness), Flexible travelling product (GoFlexi). Mostly flies from their Mumbai base.
in India
 
Airline IndiGo Airlines
another low cost airline, connecting around 20 major cities throughout the country. Their planes are new A320's purchased directly from Airbus a few years ago at most. As usually with low cost carriers, tickets should be purchased well in advance to get the ... more
in India
Airline Jet Airways
full service airline with very good coverage. Now services London (LHR) directly from Delhi and Mumbai and flights to/from Toronto and New York via Brussels. Their subsidiary Jetlite formerly Air Sahara, operates as a value carrier; i.e. some food and beverag... more
in India
 
Airline Kingfisher Airlines
full service, but with high fares. Their service is excellent. Kingfisher Red, formerly Air Deccan, was once India's largest low-cost carrier, but prices have increased since the Kingfisher takeover. Still handy for direct flights to small towns ignored by ... more
in India
Airline SpiceJet
a third low cost airline, has fairly good network between bigger Indian cities as well as prices comparable to those of IndiGo. Their planes are similarly brand new, the main difference being these are B737-800's and -900's.
in India
 
Train Palace on Wheels
amp;mdash; This train covers important tourist attractions and historical sites in Rajasthan.
in India
Train Deccan Odyssey
amp;mdash; This luxurious train transports its guests on a weeklong journey through some of the best places in Maharashtra and Goa.
in India
 
Train Golden Chariot
amp;mdash; This train takes travellers on a weeklong journey through Karnataka and Goa.
in India
Train Royal Rajasthan on Wheels
This new train covers the most important sites of Rajasthan. This train has all the facilities which Palace on Wheels has along with International Spa center and other facilities.
in India
 
These are just 10 of 14 Transport Companies in India. Show more.




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