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. 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 quite long, especially in Delhi and Mumbai. India has built two new international airports in Hyderabad and Bangalore, which are modern and well-equipped. Mumbai and New Delhi airports have been upgraded. The newly constructed terminal 3 in the Delhi airport is the 8th largest terminal in the world.
In northern India, particularly Delhi, heavy winter fog can wreak havoc on schedules, especially during Christmas Season and January, leading to massive delays across the country. Flights to small airports up in the mountains, especially to Leh in Ladakh (which is reachable only by plane for most of the year), are erratic at the best of times.
At one time, domestic flights were the monopoly of the government-owned Indian Airlines, but things have changed dramatically and now there are quite a few competitors, with prices a traveller’s delight.The main operators are:
- Air India, India’s state owned carrier. Air India has the largest network in the country and provides excellent regional connectivity. Service is generally below par. Their services have been quite a few times in the past been affected by pilots’ strikes. Air India also operates low-cost carrier Air India Express, which flies mainly on trunk routes and to international destinations in the Gulf and South-East Asia, and Air India Regional, which flies small aircraft to obscure places.
- IndiGo Airlines – low cost airline, connecting around 33 cities throughout the country. Their planes are new A320s purchased directly from Airbus a few years ago at most.
- Go Air, another low cost carrier connecting around 22 cities across the country. Mostly flies from their Mumbai base.
- SpiceJet, a third low cost airline, serves around 34 domestic destinations.
- Air Asia India, new launched low cost service airline
- Vistara ,new launched full service airline
In India, air connectivity is not that good considering its vast size, so flying to a city and taking a train is not a bad idea.
The earlier you book, the lower you pay. You will hear a lot about air tickets at ₹500, but those are promotional rates for limited seats which are sold out within seconds. In some other cases, the advertised fare may not include charges such as passenger service fees, air fuel surcharge and taxes which will be added subsequently. Nonetheless, you do get good rates from the budget airlines. Tickets for small cities will cost more than those for the metros, because of the spotty coverage noted above. Indian ticket pricing has not attained the bewildering complexity that the Americans have achieved, but they are getting there. You don’t have to worry about higher prices on weekends, lower prices for round-trips, lower prices for travel around weekends.
There are two complications for non-Indians trying to buy plane tickets:
- Many airlines have higher fares for foreigners than for Indians. Foreigners (“non-residents”) will be charged in US dollars, whereas Indians will be charged in rupees. In practice, you can simply pretend to be Indian when booking online as the check-in desk will rarely if ever care, but you are still running a small risk if you do this. When possible it’s best to patronize those airlines that do not follow this practice.
- Many online booking sites and some of the low-cost carriers reject non-Indian credit cards. Read the small print before you start booking, or book directly with the airline or through a bricks-and-mortar travel agency instead.
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 rarely on schedule. Travelling on Indian Railways gives you the opportunity to discover first hand the landscape and beauty of India, 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. If you are on a budget, travelling on an overnight sleeper train will reduce a night’s stay at a hotel.
Trains come in many varieties, but the broad hierarchy from luxurious to normal is as follows:
- Rajdhani Express
- Shatabdi Express
- Duronto Express
- Jan Shatabdi Express
- Garib Rath Express
- Superfast Trains
- Mail/Express Trains
- Fast Passenger Trains
- Passenger Trains
- Local/suburban trains
- Vande Bharat express
The ‘Rajdhani’ & ‘Shatabdi’ trains are the most luxurious and fastest trains on Indian Railways. They are completely air-conditioned and have breakfast, lunch, evening tea and dinner included in your ticket price. The food is served at your seat during travel. Most of these trains also have modern German designed LHB coaches which are extremely comfortable and luxurious The ‘Rajdhani’ Express trains are fast long distance overnight that connect regional state capitals to the national capital New Delhi. The ‘Shatabdi’ Express trains are fast short distance daytime intercity trains that connect important cities in a region, for example two adjacent states’ capitals. The ‘Duronto’ Express (introduced in 2009) are fast long-distance “point to point” non stop trains that directly connect, without stopping, two important cities that are far apart. These trains have no commercial halts on their way but only operational halts for maintenance and crew changes. The ‘Garib Rath’ literally means the chariot of the poor, and it is a good option for those who want to use good facilities at low cost.
Although the history of luxury train travelling in India dates back to the time of maharajas during the days of British Raj, the modern history of this mode of transportation dates back to 1982 with the introduction of India’s first luxury train Palace on Wheels. Palace on Wheels was introduced as a joint venture of the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation and Indian Railways to promote Rajasthan as a global tourist destination. The venture turned out to be a great success among overseas travellers and a few decades later more such train journeys followed.
At present there are 5 trains offering 12 signature journeys across major tourist destinations in India. Operated jointly by Indian Railways and respective state tourism departments, luxury trains in India offer a wonderful way to experience the sights in India without having to worry about the hassles of travel and accommodation. Journeys on board these trains are all inclusive of accommodation, dining, sightseeing, transportation and porter charges. Each of these luxury trains are equipped with state of the art amenities such as live television, individual climate control, restaurant, bar, lounges and cabins with electronic safe and attached bathrooms.
Mentioned below is the brief overview of the Indian Luxury Trains:
- Palace on Wheels, — The Palace on Wheels offer 7 nights/8 days itinerary starting from US $520 and carry the guests on a weeklong voyage across royal destinations in Rajasthan. All destinations included in the itinerary happen to be former princely states of Rajputana. The destinations covered in Palace on Wheels train itinerary are Jaipur, Ranthambore, Chittorgarh, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Bharatpur, Agra and Delhi and includes sightseeing of forts, palaces along with a dash of wildlife, heritage and cultural interactions.
- Maharajas’ Express, — Dubbed as the most luxurious train of Asia, Maharajas Express is an internationally acclaimed and award winning luxury train in India. Maharajas’ Express also happens to be the latest luxury train to be introduced in India. It has created significant buzz in the global luxury travel segment owing to its refined interior, intricate decor, world class facilities and impeccable service. It is the only luxury train which offers accommodation in presidential suite spanning over an entire carriage. Redefining the art of elegant travelling in India, Maharajas’ Express train offers 5 rail journeys across tastefully selected tourist destinations in India,. The itineraries include 3 pan-Indian programs along with 2 golden triangle short tours. The journeys offered by this Indian luxury train are classified as the Heritage of India, The Indian Panorama, The Indian Splendor, Treasures of India and the Gems of India. State of the art amenities, elegant interiors, refined luxury and impeccable service along with technology such as pneumatic hydraulic suspension system add to the pampering and class of this marvelous rail tour in India.
- Deccan Odyssey, — Second luxury train to be introduced in India after the Palace on Wheels, Deccan Odyssey train journey covers destinations across two Indian states of Maharashtra and Goa. The Deccan Odyssey train offers a weeklong journey which crisscrosses through the fascinating terrains of Western Ghats and the Konkan Coast. Included in the itinerary is the trip to coastal fortress town of Sindhudurg, Ajanta and Ellora rock cut caves, Tarkali Beaches and Old Goa and Vasco among others. The all inclusive tariff of the Deccan Odyssey starts from US $425 per person per night on triple occupancy basis during the peak season and US $315 for the same during lean season (April and September run).
- The Golden Chariot, — The Golden Chariot is the only luxury train offering two train tour itineraries in South India. The itineraries are named the Pride of the South and The Splendor of the South. Whereas the Pride of the South tour itinerary covers destinations in Karnataka along with a halt the India’s most prominent beach destination Goa, the Splendor of the South Itinerary offers tours to tastefully selected destinations across South India. Destinations covered during the 8 days itinerary of the Splendor of the South aboard the Golden Chariot include Bangalore, Chennai, Pondicherry, Thanjavur, Madurai, Thiruvananthapuram, Alleppey and Kochi. Both journeys include a dash of cultural sights, World Heritage Sites, local interactions and wildlife.
- Royal Rajasthan on Wheels — Equipped with modern amenities such as Wi-Fi internet, direct dial phones, Spa and satellite television, Royal Rajasthan on Wheels offer royal ride across destinations in Rajasthan along with stops in Varanasi, Khajuraho and Agra.
- The Indian Maharaja — This train happens to be the India’s first privately managed luxury train. Winner of the coveted World Travel Awards in the category of Asia’s Leading Luxury Train, the Indian Maharaja takes guests on a weeklong adventure through several exotic destinations covering the vast expanse of Western, Central and North India. Destinations included in the itinerary of this luxury train are Mumbai, Aurangabad, Udaipur, Sawai Modhopur, Jaipur, Agra and Delhi. The train is equipped with two dining cars serving fine Indian and Continental cuisine and catering and hospitality on board is managed by the prestigious Taj Group of hotels. To add to the luxury of the journey facilities such as a library, gymnasium and beauty parlour along with Wi-Fi internet and large screen live TVs are available on board.
Most countries offer two classes of service, but India has no less than seven to choose from. In descending order of cost & luxury, they are:
- AC First (1A)
- AC 2 Tier (2A)
- AC 3 Tier (3A)
- Sleeper Class (SL)
- AC Chair Car (CC)
- Second Class Chair Car (2S)
- General compartments (GS)
Not all classes are available on all trains: for example, Chair Cars are usually found only on short-distance daytime trains, while the sleeper classes are only found on overnight journeys.
Different types of trains:
Basically there are five types of trains:
- Passenger Trains are slow trains that stop in all stations including very small stations.
- Fast Passenger Trains are passenger trains that skip smaller stations and offer the same fare structure.
- Express Trains stop only at major railway stations and charge higher than Passenger trains.
- Superfast Trains skip some of the major stations and charge even higher than Express Trains.
- Rajadhani and Shadabdhi Trains are elite trains that offer only air conditioned coaches. They stop only at selected stations. The fare is quite high because all food is included.
The average fare for a 200 km distance for different classes is given below:
- First Class AC: ₹1,200
- Two Tier AC: ₹617
- Three Tier AC: ₹430
- AC Chair Car: ₹203
- Sleeper Class: ₹120
- Second class seat in Express train: ₹70
- Second class seat in Passenger train: ₹30
Trains tend to fill up early. Tickets can be reserved up to 4 months in advance. School summer vacation time — mid-April to mid-June — is peak season for the railways, which means that you may need to book well in advance. Other festival days, long weekends or holidays may see a similar rush.
Booking tickets from the railway website has vastly improved over the years. A lot of work has gone into the usability and responsiveness of the web site. Try not to book normal tickets during 9AM to noon, as traffic to the website would be much higher due to tatkal reservation time and cause much higher failure rate.
Tickets are also available from counters at most railway stations. Rail passes are also available, and are called Indrail passes. Details of facility available for tourists from abroad are available at the official website of the Indian Railways
One day before the departure date of a train the Tatkal quota seats become available. Tatkal accounts for about 10% of the total number of seats. This allows tourists who like to plan a trip as they go to book seats closer to the day of departure, for an extra fee. However booking for this service online or in person is an even more fraught experience.
It is sometimes difficult to book Tatkal tickets online because of excess amount of traffic on Indian railway website. Indian railway has launched E-wallet facility which enables user to keep money on Indian railway website for faster booking of tickets. This facility reduces the time of ticket booking because users skips the payment gateway processing time. It is very fast to book tickets using E-wallet facility. You may also need IFSC Code to transfer fund to Ewallet, but now you can also pay using your debit cards, credits cards, internet banking, etc. IFSC Code generally stands for Indian Financial System code which uniquely identifies bank branches in India, IFSC code is required to transfer money online in India. You can easily find IFSC Code using IFSC Code finder
Most long distance night trains(though not all) have a pantry car and if you are in the sleeper or air-con classes, you can buy meals on board the train. The pantry staff will visit your seat before meal timings to take down your order. However mostly the pantry car meals aren’t really good in quality or taste. The Railways are concerned about the bad quality of pantry car meals and efforts are underway to improve things, but do not count on it as yet. If you are finicky, bring enough food for the journey including delays: bananas, bread, and candy bars are good basics to have. You can purchase bottled waters, colas, packaged snacks or biscuits from the pantry staff, who keep circulating them going from one coach to another. At most stations hawkers selling tea, peanuts, and snack food and even complete meals will go up and down the train. Most stations will have vendors selling all kinds of edible stuff. So you can also get down on the station platform to look for food , but make sure you know well, the stoppage timing of the train at that station. In the most luxurious ‘Rajdhani’ & ‘Shatabdi’ trains, meals are included in your ticket price and served at your seat during travel. There are no dining cars in Indian Railways except in select luxury trains.
There was a time when the metered taxi was unheard of outside India’s largest cities, and when it could be found, getting one that would take you to your destination and charge you the right rate was a rare event. This situation has undergone a drastic change for the better in the past few years, with many online companies offering taxi services. Prominent among these are Meru, Ola, Taxi for sure, Picntic and Easy Cabs & TravelODesk. Uber too can be found in some cities of India. If you want to book it for short distance, it’s highly recommended that you book your cab with OLA & UBER because these companies can save cost of your travel but for outstation there are many cab companies, which are good options for your travel in India 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. These pre-paid taxi booths are managed by local traffic police officials, prefer to use this facility where ever available to avoid inconvenience. 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. Be aware that the taxi driver may not know how to get to your destination, and will not tell you this beforehand. This may result in the taxi stopping at various points during the journey as the driver gets out to ask for directions. Insist on being taken to your original destination, and not a substitute offered by the driver (e.g. a different hotel).
Normal taxis running by meter are usually more common.
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 (e.g. 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 intrastate 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 ₹100.
In addition to ordinary public buses, there are luxury or express buses available, and most have air-conditioning these days. Some state transport corporations have even introduced Volvo buses on some routes and these 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 toilet 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. Restrooms are available in large bus stations but are crowded. 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 rolling out their operations across the country modelled on the lines of the Greyhound service in the United States. Their services are good 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.
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 licence or an International Driving Permit, but unless you are accustomed 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 of Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata with four-laned highways has been completed and is of a reasonable standard. Some of it is of an international standard but that cannot be said for all of it. However, improving the quality of the roads does not improve the way in which people drive and it is very dangerous to drive on the roads in India as people drive as they like without regard to any rules (rules do exist but are almost never enforced).
Hiring driver with car:
Instead, you can opt for a driver while renting a 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 ₹100-150 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 travelling, 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 boot. However, the Tata Indica (a hatchback) and Tata Indigo (a small saloon) are 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, Mahindra Xylo and Toyota Innova. The larger vehicles are suitable if you are travelling in larger groups or have excess luggage. Many vehicles come equipped with a roof carrier, so one may opt for a smaller vehicle for 2-3 passengers even with excess luggage. (You may need to specifically ask for a vehicle with a roof carrier.)
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 further transport, or haggling over price.
- You can stop anywhere you like, and change plans at the last minute.
- Driving around India is chaotic as traffic rules are routinely violated, and it is best that someone with experience of driving in India drives you around.
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 (₹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, your car may be stolen and you may be sexually assaulted.
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.
Some people point out that the best way to experience India is on a motorbike. Riding a motorbike and travelling across India you get the closer look and feel of India with all the smells and sounds added. There are Companies which organise packaged tours or tailor made tours for Enthusiastic bikers and adventurous travellers 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, 25 km/litre to 30 km/litre, supposed low reliability (it is “classic” 1940s 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 ₹100 an hour labour 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. Three most popular bike manufacturers are Hero, Bajaj and Honda. The smaller variants (100-125 cc) can give you a mileage exceeding 50 km/litre on the road, while giving less power if one is opting to drive with pillion on the highways. The bigger variants (150-220 cc) are more powerful and one can get a feel of the power especially on highways – the mileage is lesser for these bikes anywhere between 35 km/litre to 45 km/litre.
Preferably tourists should go for second hand bikes rather than purchasing new ones. The smaller 100 cc variants can be purchased for anywhere between ₹15,000-25,000 depending on the year of make and condition of vehicle. The bigger ones can be brought from ₹30,000 onwards.
The auto-rickshaw, usually abbreviated and referred to as auto and sometimes as rickshaw, is the most common means of hired transportation in India. 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 ₹13(different for different areas), and includes the first 1 to 2 kilometres 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 would be ₹11-12 for the first km and ₹7-8 per km after that. In most of the cities, auto-rickshaw drivers are provided with a rate card that elaborately describes the fares on per kilometre basis. A careful tourist must verify the meter-reading against the rate-card before making a payment. Auto-rickshaws carry either digital or analog meters wherein the analog meters may have been tampered with. It may be a better option to go for a negotiated fare when the auto-rickshaw has an analogue meter.
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.