Getting around in India
There are many different modes of transport available in India, and you’ll get to experience a variety of them during your trip. For all forms of local transport in India, a flexible attitude is definitely necessary. When it comes to punctuality and creature comforts, the transport in India is very different to what we experience in the UK. However, the roads and rails will provide some of your most eye-opening and exciting moments.
Many of our bite-sized trips involve journeys by private car. As you’ll be travelling independently during your holiday, you travel by air-conditioned car rather than minibus. The type of car will differ according to the size of your party and the nature of your itinerary. For example, if you’re travelling through the Himalayan foothills, you might find yourself in a jeep as these vehicles are fit for mountain roads. You can expect the ride of your life – bumpy but brilliant! Your friendly drivers are likely to speak only basic English, so you might need to employ the handy international language of mime to get chatting. We’re sure you’ll be laughing and joking in no time.
The Indian Rail Network is mind-boggling, spanning the full length and breadth of the country. Travelling by train is chaotic and full of surprises but what it lacks in comfort, it definitely makes up for in experience. Families will share their home-cooked meals, and everyone will want to chat. At every stop, local traders will hop on board selling chai, pakoras and other snacks.
The day trips by train are more comfy as you’ll often travel in A/C chair class which is generally only available between tourist destinations.
We book 2 A/C sleeper carriages (or 3 A/C) on overnight trains. These are both 2nd class air conditioned carriages, with either two tiers of sleeper beds, or three. These are not private booths, but open carriages with seats that fold down into beds. The comfort level is pretty minimal, but the experience is unforgettable. It’s not possible for us to book first class, simply because these carriages are frequently overbooked and people are often turfed out if Indian dignitaries decide to take the train. However, 2 A/C and 3 A/C are the best place to meet people and soak up the atmosphere. We suggest bringing a blanket or sleeping bag liner, and perhaps a padlock to secure your bag.
There are also a couple of scenic train journeys in India, involving toy trains that crawl slowly up the mountainsides, giving you wonderful views along the way. One of these trains works its way up to Shimla, the summer resort for the Raj, and another winds through the tea estates surrounding Darjeeling. These are a great way to admire the views at a leisurely pace, although the seating is a little cosy to say the least.
India is vast country, so taking a domestic flight offers you the chance to do a journey in a couple of hours that might otherwise have taken a whole day (or longer!) by bus or train. It might not be as authentic as an overnight sleeper train, but it will get you from A to B a whole lot faster. India has a handful of domestic airlines, some more reliable than others. Flights on the less organised airlines can often be delayed or cancelled altogether, but years of experience has taught us which airlines, routes and connections generally run according to schedule, so we’ll only book these flights for you. Of course, flights can change due to unexpected circumstances, but we’ll keep you up to date with any changes beforehand. Once in India our local partners will do their best to solve any issues you might have.
Auto-rickshaws & taxis
For the shorter transfers, for example from your hotel to the airport/railway station or vice versa, it’s often best to take a taxi or auto-rickshaw. These are very easy to arrange locally and it’s more economical (and fun) for you to book one locally. Either ask your hotel to arrange this, or if you want the true Indian experience, hail one on the street.
When you’re staying in the towns and cities, we recommend using auto-rickshaws to get around as an inexpensive and authentic mode of transport. From your rickshaw seat you’ll get to experience the city like a local resident, as the majority of people in urban India use these to get around.
The cost of these short journeys will often vary depending on your haggling skills. It’s always best to agree the cost before you get into the tuk tuk, and make sure you don’t always accept the first price if you think it sounds higher than it should be. Tuk tuk drivers take a lot of pride in their rickshaws, so you’ll often find them spotlessly clean and decorated on the inside!
India is the perfect place to explore on foot; wandering the streets is the best way to be able to take it everything this exciting country has to offer, including discovering some of the best Indian food and drink as you go. We also recommend making use of public transport as it’s cheaper, enables you to meet some locals and get a real feel for life in India. It’s worth trying at least one train journey in India. The experience from the waiting room at the train station to eventually arriving at your destination is typically Indian and great fun. It’s the perfect way to meet the locals, save on plane fuel and a nights’ accommodation (if travelling by sleeper train), plus there’s usually the chance to try Indian train food for breakfast! A cup of chai after a bumpy night’s sleep is just the ticket. You can also opt for cycle rickshaws which are environmentally friendly and a great way of supporting the local community.
Some of our favourite tales of India
India is a land of extremes, which is what makes it so fascinating! Here are things we love about India, as well as some things to be aware of while there.
Are you ever too old to travel? Our Rickshaw Rambler, John doesn't think so. At the age of 70, he embarked on a trip to India.