Saturday, September 18, 2021

How To Get Around in India

AsiaIndiaHow To Get Around in India

India is big and there are many interesting ways to travel, most of which can’t exactly be described as efficient or punctual. Plan a considerable amount of buffer time for any trip with a fixed date (e.g. your return flight) and try to remember that getting there should be half the fun.

Note that a Protected Area Permit (PAP) is required for travel to much of the Northeast (with the notable exception of Assam) and parts of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Jammu and Kashmir, Lakshadweep, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal. The easiest way is to apply for it along with your visa application and it will be added to your visa. Otherwise, you will have to visit a local Home Ministry office and deal with the red tape.

With plane

India’s size and unsafe roads make flying a viable option, especially as prices have fallen in recent years. Even India’s offshore islands and remote mountain states are served by flights, the main exceptions being Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh (although crossing from neighbouring states is fairly easy). Due to the aviation boom in recent years, airports have not been able to keep up with air traffic. Most Indian airports continue to function with one runway and a handful of gates. Queues for check-in and security can be quite long, especially in Delhi and Mumbai. India has recently built two new international airports in Hyderabad and Bengaluru, which are modern and well equipped. The airports in Mumbai and New Delhi have been upgraded. The newly built Terminal 3 in Delhi airport is the 8th largest terminal in the world.

In northern India, especially Delhi, heavy winter fog can throw off flight schedules, especially during Christmas and January, causing massive delays across the country. Flights to small airports in the mountains, especially to Leh in Ladakh (which is only accessible by air for most of the year), are unpredictable at the best of times.

Airlines

Domestic flights used to be the monopoly of state-owned Indian Airlines, but things have changed dramatically and now there are a whole host of competitors whose prices please the traveller.The main operators are:

  • Air India, India’s state-owned airline. Formerly two airlines, Indian Airlines (domestic) and Air India (mainly international). These merged in 2007. Air India has the largest route network in the country and offers excellent regional connections. Service is generally below average. Its service has been affected by pilot strikes several times in the past. Air India also operates the low-cost carrier Air India Express, which flies mainly on main routes and to international destinations in the Gulf region and Southeast Asia, and Air India Regional, which flies to obscure locations with small aircraft.
  • IndiGo Airlines – Low-cost airline connecting around 33 cities across the country. Their aircraft are new A320s, bought directly from Airbus a few years ago at most.
  • Jet Airways, full-service airline with very good coverage. Now flies to London (LHR) directly from Delhi and Mumbai and flies to/from Toronto via Amsterdam. Its subsidiary Jetlite, formerly Air Sahara, offers low-cost services.
  • Go Air, another low-cost carrier that connects around 22 cities across the country. It mostly flies from its base in Mumbai.
  • SpiceJet, a third low-cost airline, serves around 34 domestic destinations.
  • Air Asia India, newly established low-cost airline
  • Vistara ,newly established full-service airline

Keep in mind, however, that air connections in India are not particularly good given the enormous size of the country. Therefore, it is also not a bad idea to fly into a city and take the train.

Fares

The earlier you book, the less you pay. You will hear a lot about airline tickets at ₹500, but these are special fares for limited seats that sell out within seconds. In some other cases, the advertised airfare may not include charges such as passenger service charges, air fuel surcharge and taxes that are added subsequently. Nonetheless, you will get good fares from low-cost airlines. Tickets for small cities cost more than those for metros due to the patchy coverage mentioned above. Indian ticket prices have not yet reached the mind-boggling complexity that the Americans have, but they are getting there. As of now, you don’t have to worry about higher prices on weekends, lower prices for round-trip flights and lower prices for weekend travel.

There are two complications for non-Indians trying to buy airline tickets:

  1. Many airlines have higher fares for foreigners than for Indians. Foreigners (“non-residents”) are charged in US dollars, while Indians are charged in rupees. In practice, you can simply pretend to be Indian when booking online, as the check-in desk rarely if ever cares, but you still take a small risk if you do so. If possible, it is best to patronise the airlines that do not follow this practice.
  2. Many online booking sites and some of the low-cost carriers refuse non-Indian credit cards. Read the fine print before you start booking, or book directly with the airline or through a brick-and-mortar travel agent instead.

Check in

Check-in at Indian airports tends to be slow, with lots of queues and multiple security checks. A few tips to smooth your way:

  • Arrive at least two hours before departure if travelling from larger airports. (For domestic flights from smaller airports, 60 or 90 minutes before is fine). The new rule requires check-in to close 45 minutes before departure time and the boarding gate to close 25 minutes before departure. Although the initial boarding could take longer, this rule is now largely strictly enforced to avoid delays in flight departures.
  • Bring a printout of your ticket or a soft copy of your ticket and an official ID, otherwise you will not be allowed to enter the airport. You will be forcibly checked and matched by security staff at the airport entrance gate. If you do not have a hard copy or a soft copy, you can get a copy at the airline offices outside the airport entrance. Some airlines have moved to charging for this privilege.
  • Most older airports require you to screen your checked baggage before checking in, usually at a booth near the entrance. In high-security airports like Jammu, Srinagar or somewhere in the Northeast, even hand luggage must be screened. In fact, all hand luggage is screened by an X-ray scanner and also physically at the discretion of the security personnel.

Don’t hesitate to ask someone if you are unsure. Most airport staff are very helpful and will go out of their way to make sure you still catch your flight. There are separate queues for passengers travelling light (without checked baggage) and these queues are usually less crowded. Different airlines have different standards for hand luggage allowed, so you should be careful, especially if you are travelling with a budget airline. As a rule, the free baggage allowance on most airlines is 15 kg.

With train

Railways were introduced in India by the British in 1853, more than a century and a half ago. Today, India boasts the largest network of railway lines in the world and the railway system is very efficient, though rarely punctual. Travelling by Indian rail gives you the opportunity to discover first-hand the scenery and beauty of India, and is generally more economical than a domestic flight. It is one of the safest ways to travel in India. With classes ranging from luxurious to regular, it is 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, you can travel by night train and reduce the cost of staying in a hotel.

Regular trains

Trains come in many varieties, but the rough hierarchy from luxurious to normal is as follows:

  1. Rajdhani Express
  2. Shatabdi Express
  3. Duronto Express
  4. Jan Shatabdi Express
  5. Garib Rath Express
  6. Super fast trains
  7. Post/Express trains
  8. Fast passenger trains
  9. Passenger trains
  10. Local/suburban trains

The ‘Rajdhani’ & ‘Shatabdi’ trains are the most luxurious and fastest trains on Indian Railways. They are fully air-conditioned and have breakfast, lunch, evening tea and dinner included in your ticket price. Food is served at your seat during the journey. 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 trains that connect state capitals with the national capital, New Delhi, overnight. The ‘Shatabdi’ express trains are fast short-distance intercity trains that connect important cities in a region, e.g. two neighbouring state capitals, during the day. The “Duronto” express trains (introduced in 2009) are fast long-distance trains without stops that directly connect two important cities far away from each other. These trains have no commercial stops en route, only operational stops for maintenance and crew changes. The “Garib Rath” literally means “poor man’s carriage” and is a good option for those who want to use good facilities at low cost.

Luxurious trains

Although the history of luxury train travel in India dates back to the time of the Maharajas during the days of the British Raj, the modern history of this mode of transport 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 between the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation and Indian Railways to promote Rajasthan as a global tourist destination. The venture proved to be a great success with overseas travellers and more such train tours followed a few decades later.

Currently, there are 5 trains offering 12 distinctive journeys to major tourist destinations in India. Jointly operated by the Indian Railways and the respective state tourism departments, these luxury trains in India offer a wonderful way to experience the sights of India without having to worry about the hassle of travel and accommodation costs. The trips on board these trains are inclusive of accommodation, food, sightseeing, transport and porterage. Each of these luxury trains is equipped with state-of-the-art amenities like live TV, individual air-conditioning, restaurant, bar, lounges and cabins with electronic safes and attached bathrooms.

Below is a brief overview of India’s luxury trains:

  • Palace on Wheels, – The Palace on Wheels offer 7 nights / 8 days itinerary starting from US $ 520 and carry guests on a week long journey through royal destinations in Rajasthan. All destinations included in the itinerary are 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 in Asia, Maharajas’ Express is an internationally recognised and award-winning luxury train in India. Maharajas’ Express is also the latest luxury train to be launched in India. It has created a significant buzz in the global luxury travel segment due to its refined interiors, lavish décor, world-class facilities and impeccable service. It is the only luxury train to offer accommodation in a presidential suite that spans an entire carriage. Redefining the art of elegant travel in India, the Maharajas’ Express train offers 5 rail journeys to tastefully selected destinations in India. The itineraries include 3 pan-Indian programmes as well as 2 short trips to the Golden Triangle. The journeys offered by this luxury Indian train are named “Heritage of India”, “The Indian Panorama”, “The Indian Splendor”, “Treasures of India” and “Gems of India”. State-of-the-art amenities, elegant interiors, refined luxury and impeccable service along with technology like the pneumatic hydraulic suspension system add to the indulgence and class of this wonderful rail journey in India.
  • Deccan Odyssey, – The second luxury train to be launched in India after Palace on Wheels, Deccan Odyssey train journey covers destinations in two Indian states Maharashtra and Goa. The Deccan Odyssey train offers a week-long journey that takes in the mesmerising landscapes of the Western Ghats and Konkan Coast. The itinerary includes the coastal fortress town of Sindhudurg, the rock caves of Ajanta and Ellora, the beaches of Tarkali and Old Goa and Vasco. The Deccan Odyssey’s all-inclusive fare starts at US $425 per person per night for triple occupancy in peak season and US $315 for the same in lean season (April and September run).
  • The Golden Chariot, – The Golden Chariot is the only luxury train offering two train itineraries in South India. The itineraries are called “Pride of the South” and “The Splendor of the South”. While the “Pride of the South” itinerary includes destinations in Karnataka with a stop in India’s most famous beach destination Goa, the “Splendor of the South” itinerary offers tours to tastefully selected destinations across South India. Destinations visited during the 8-day Splendor of the South itinerary aboard the Golden Chariot include Bangalore, Chennai, Pondicherry, Thanjavur, Madurai, Thiruvananthapuram, Alleppey and Kochi. Both journeys include a dash of cultural sightseeing, world heritage sites, local interactions and wildlife.
  • Royal Rajasthan on Wheels – Equipped with modern amenities like 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 is India’s first privately operated luxury train. Honoured with the coveted World Travel Awards in the category “Asia’s Leading Luxury Train”, the Indian Maharaja takes its guests on a week-long adventure through several exotic destinations covering the vast expanse of western, central and northern India. On 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. The catering and hospitality on board is provided by the renowned Taj Hotel Group. To make the journey even more luxurious, facilities like a library, gym and beauty salon are available on board along with Wi-Fi internet and large screen live TVs.

Classes

Most countries offer two categories of services, but India has seven. In descending order of cost & luxury, they are:

  • Long distance
    • AC first (1A)
    • AC 2 stage (2A)
    • AC 3 stage (3A)
    • Sleeper Class (SL)
  • Short distance
    • AC Chair Trolley (CC)
    • Second Class Chair Car (2S)
  • Not reserved
    • General subjects (GS)

Not all classes are available on all trains: For example, chair cars are usually only found on short-distance trains during the day, while sleeper classes are only found on night journeys.

Different train types

Basically, there are five types of moves:

  • Passenger trains are slow trains that stop at all stations, even very small stations.
  • Fast passenger trains are passenger trains that skip small stations and offer the same fare system.
  • Express trains only stop at larger stations and are more expensive than passenger trains.
  • Superfast Trains skip some of the main stations and are even more expensive than Express Trains.
  • Rajadhani and Shadabdhi trains are elite trains that offer only air-conditioned coaches. They stop only at selected stations. The price is quite high as all the food is included.

Train fare

The average fare for a 200 km journey for different classes is shown below:

  • First class AC: ₹1,200
  • Two levels AC: ₹617
  • Three-stage AC: ₹430
  • AC Chair Car: ₹203
  • Threshold class: ₹120
  • Second class seat on the express train: ₹70
  • Second class seat on passenger train: ₹30

Ticketing

Trains tend to fill up early. Tickets can be booked up to 4 months in advance. The school summer holiday period – mid-April to mid-June – is high season for trains, which means you may need to book well in advance. Other festive periods, long weekends or public holidays may see a similar rush.

Booking tickets through the rail website can be a frustrating and character-building experience due to the poor user interface, frequent timeouts and crashes. Plan plenty of time and draw on your reserves of patience. Also be prepared for your money to be charged to your credit card or bank account and for the ticket not to arrive. You will then have to wait 3 days for the refund. Also try not to book normal tickets during 09:00 to 12:00 as the traffic on the website is much higher due to Tatkal reservation time and causes a much higher failure rate.

Tickets are also available at the counters of most railway stations. Rail passes called Indrail passes are also available. Details of facilities for tourists from abroad can be found on the official website of Indian Railways

One day before the departure date of a train, the Tatkal contingent seats become available. The Tatkal quota accounts for about 10 % of the total number of seats. This allows tourists who like to plan their trip in advance to book seats closer to the departure date for an additional fee. However, booking for this service online or in person is an even trickier business.

It is sometimes difficult to book Tatkal tickets online because the Indian Railways website is overloaded. Indian Railways has recently introduced an e-wallet facility that allows the user to deposit money on the Indian Railways website to expedite the booking of tickets. This facility reduces the time taken to book tickets as the user skips the processing time of the payment gateway. It is very quick to book tickets using the e-wallet facility. You also need IFSC code to transfer money to Ewallet, but now you can also pay using your debit cards, credit 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 the IFSC code using the IFSC code finder

Meals

Most long-distance night trains (though not all) have a dining car, and if you are in sleeper or air-conditioned class, you can buy meals on board the train. Dining car staff will come to your seat before meal time to take your order. However, most of the time the meals in the dining car are not really good in terms of quality or taste. The railway is concerned about the poor quality of meals in the dining car and efforts are being made to improve things, but don’t count on it just yet. If you’re fussy, take enough food for the journey, even for delays: Bananas, bread and candy bars are good basics to have. Bottled water, Coke, pre-packaged snacks or biscuits can be bought from the staff in the pantry, who are constantly passing them from one carriage to another. At most stations, hawkers selling tea, peanuts, snacks and even complete meals walk up and down the train. At most stations there will be vendors selling all kinds of edible things. So you can also go to the platform to look for food, but make sure you know well the stopping times of the train at that station. Note that on the most luxurious “Rajdhani” and “Shatabdi” trains, meals are included in the fare and served at your seat during the journey. There are no dining cars on Indian Railways except on selected luxury trains.

With taxi

There was a time when metered taxis were unheard of outside India’s largest cities, and if they could be found, getting one to take you to your destination and charge you the right price was a rare event. This situation has changed drastically for the better in recent years with many companies offering taxi services. Prominent among them are Meru, Ola, Taxi for sure and Easy Cabs. Uber can also be found in some cities in India.

Reliable pre-paid taxis are available at central locations in large cities such as airports or train stations, saving you both money and the hassle of negotiating. These pre-paid taxi ranks are managed by the local traffic police. Use this option wherever it is available to avoid inconvenience. However, beware of touts posing as pre-paid taxi operators. Always collect the receipt from the counter first. The receipt consists of two parts – one part is for your reference, the other part you have to hand over to the taxi driver only when you have reached your desired destination. The taxi driver receives his payment when he presents or shows this other part at the prepaid taxi counter. Be aware that the taxi driver may not know how to get to your destination and will not tell you 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 to an alternative destination offered by the driver (e.g. another hotel).

Normal metered taxis are usually more widespread.

With bus

Although you cannot travel across India by bus, buses are the second most popular way to travel across the states and the only cheap way to reach many places that are not connected to the railway network (e.g. Dharamsala).

Each state has its own public bus service, usually called “X Road Transport Corporation” (or XRTC) or “X State Transport Corporation” (or XSTC), which primarily serves intrastate routes but also has connections to neighbouring states. There are usually several classes of buses. The regular buses (called differently in different states, e.g. “Service Bus”) are extremely crowded and there is hardly any standing room (unless you are among the first on board), as reservations are not possible and they tend to stop in too many places. On the other hand, they are very cheap, even a 5-6 hour trip rarely costs more than 100 ₹.

In addition to ordinary public buses, there are also luxury or express buses, and most of them have air conditioning these days. Some state transport companies have even introduced “Volvo” brand buses on some routes, which are extremely luxurious and comfortable. These better class “express” or “luxury” buses have guaranteed seats (book in advance) and have a limited number of stops, so they are worth the small extra expense. However, even these better class buses rarely have toilets and occasionally have 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 can vary greatly. Be warned that many of the private buses, especially on long journeys, play music and/or videos at deafening volume. Even with earplugs, this can be nerve-wracking. Toilets are available in the major bus stations, but are overcrowded. Unfortunately, the bus industry is extremely fragmented and there are few operators serving more than 2 or 3 neighbouring countries. Travel agencies usually only offer seats on private buses.

However, long-distance bus companies such as Raj National Express and KPN Travels are currently starting to expand their operations across the country, following the example of the Greyhound service in the United States. Their service is good and they offer on-board entertainment.

Regardless of the class of travel, all buses suffer from the poor condition of Indian roads and the chaos of Indian traffic, which generally makes them slower, less comfortable and less safe than trains. Night buses are particularly dangerous, and for long-distance travel it is advisable to opt for sleeper trains instead.

It is recommended to book your bus ticket online for your own convenience. To search for available bus options between any routes and book tickets online, use Indian online travel portals like Redbus, Travelyaari, Buskiraya Makemytrip, etc.

With car

Our travel article Grand Trunk Road describes one of India’s most important roads, running east-west through the Ganges Valley and west through northern Pakistan to Kabul.

Driving alone

In India, people drive on the left side of the road – at least most of the time. You can drive in India if you have a local driving licence or an international driving licence, but if you are not used to driving on extremely chaotic roads, you probably won’t want to. The average city or village road is narrow, often littered with potholes and poorly marked. The National Highways are better, but they are still narrow, and Indian driving discipline is non-existent. In recent years, the central government has embarked on an ambitious project to improve the highways. The Golden Quadrilateral, connecting the four largest cities of Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata with four-lane highways, has been completed and is of a reasonable standard. Some of it is of international standard, but the same cannot be said of all of it. However, improving the quality of roads does not improve the way people drive, and it is very dangerous to drive on the roads in India because people drive as they please without regard to any rules (rules exist but are almost never enforced).

Driver hire with car

If you want to go by car instead, opt for a driver while you rent the car. Prices are quoted in rupees per kilometre and you have to pay both ways, even if you only drive one way. The driver’s salary is small (typically around ₹100-150 per day), so it adds little to the cost of hiring the car. The driver will arrange his own accommodation and meals wherever you travel, although it is common to give him some money to buy something to eat 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 big, boxy, with room for 5 passengers (including the driver) and a decent-sized boot. The Tata Indica (a hatchback) and the Tata Indigo (a small sedan) have replaced the Ambassador as the budget car of choice. Imported international models may be available at a higher price. 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 are equipped with a roof rack, so you can opt for a smaller vehicle for 2-3 people even if you have excess luggage. (Note: You may need to ask specifically for a vehicle with a roof rack).

There are numerous advantages to having a car and a driver.

  • A good local driver is the safest way to travel by car.
  • So you can safely take your bags and shopping with you wherever you go.
  • The driver often has some knowledge about local tourist destinations.
  • A car is the fastest and most reliable way to get from point to point. After the initial arrangement, you don’t have to spend time looking for another transport or haggling over the price.
  • You can stop anywhere you want and change plans at the last minute.
  • Driving in India is chaotic as traffic rules are routinely broken and it is best to have someone with experience of driving in India to drive you around.

It is rare to find a driver who 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 leaving your goods with him. If he shows any suspicious motives or behaviour, 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 snack or drink at a stop. They will appreciate this very much.

Your driver may in some cases act as a tout, offering to take you to shops from which he receives baksheesh (a kind of commission). This is not necessarily a bad thing – he can help you find exactly what you are looking for and at the same time supplement his meagre income a little. On the other hand, you should always assess for yourself whether you are being sold a more expensive product than you want. Also, those places that provide the driver with commissions (especially restaurants) are often not the best or most hygienic, so use your judgement. Avoid touts on the road posing as tour guides that your driver may stop for because he gets a commission from them; supporting them only encourages this unpleasant practice. The driver might ask for a tip at the end of the ride. Pay him a certain amount (₹100/day is usually enough) and don’t let him tempt you into paying too much.

If you hire a car for a trip to a remote destination, make sure you recognise the driver before getting out and write down the registration number and his phone number (almost all drivers have mobile phones). Touts in tourist areas may try to lure you into a fake car when you get out; if you fall for it, you are sure to get ripped off, and possibly much worse, such as sexual assault, if you are a female traveller.

Be wary of reckless driving when hiring a car with a driver. Don’t be afraid to tell the driver that you have time to look around and that you are not in a hurry. Indian highways can be extremely dangerous. Also make sure your driver gets enough rest and time to eat. If you are visiting restaurants, the driver may be eating at the same time (either separately at the same restaurant or at another place nearby). He may be willing to work non-stop for you as you are the ‘boss’, but your life depends on his ability to concentrate. So make sure your demands on the driver are reasonable; for example, if you decide to take your own food on the road, make sure you give your driver time to get lunch himself.

Avoid travelling at night. Indian roads are dimly lit, if at all, and more dangers lurk on the road after dark – even muggers if you are far enough off the beaten track.

With motorbike

According to a number of guides, the best possible way to explore India is to travel with a motorbike. When you ride through India on a motorbike, you get the closer look and feel of India with all the smells and sounds to it. There are companies that organise package tours or tailor-made tours for avid bikers and adventurous travellers to experience India on a motorbike. Blazing Trails Tours, Wild Experience Tours and Extreme Bike Tours are the well-known names in the market.

Another choice, popular with people who like to take risks, is to buy a motorbike. Not for the faint-hearted or inexperienced riders. In India, there are the highest rates of motor vehicle accidents in the world.

The Royal Enfield is a popular (some would say the only) choice for its classic looks and macho mystique. This is despite its high fuel consumption (25-30 km/litre), its supposed low reliability (after all, it is “classic” 1940s engineering that needs regular maintenance; you can find an Enfield mechanic in any city in India who has been working on this motorbike for ten, twenty, thirty years, performing miracles for about 100 ₹ per hour labour cost) and its supposed difficulty to handle (in fact, it handles beautifully, but for some, it may be a bit heavy and the seat high).

Or you can opt for the smaller but faster and more economical bikes. They can range from 100 cc to the newly introduced 220 cc bikes. The three most popular motorbike manufacturers are Hero, Bajaj and Honda. The smaller variants (100-125 cc) can get a mileage of more than 50 km/litre on the road, but offer less power if you choose to ride with a pillion on the highways. The larger variants (150-220 cc) are more powerful and you get a feel for the power, especially on the motorway – the mileage is lower on these bikes, somewhere between 35 km/litre and 45 km/litre.

Preferably, tourists should go for second-hand bikes instead of buying new ones. The smaller 100cc variants can be bought for anywhere between ₹15,000-25,000 depending on the year of manufacture and condition of the vehicle. The larger ones can be brought from ₹30,000.

Hitchhiking

Hitchhiking in India is very easy due to the enormous number of trucks on every highway and road. Most drivers do not speak English or any other international language; however, most have a very good sense of where the towns and villages are along the road. It is rare that any of them expect payment.

With the Auto-Rickshaw

The auto-rickshaw, usually abbreviated and referred to as a car and sometimes as a rickshaw, is the most common form of transport for hire in India. They are very convenient for short distance travel in cities, especially as they can meander through small lanes to avoid bigger cars stuck in traffic jams, but they are not very suitable for long distances. Most are green and yellow, due to the new CNG gas laws, and some can be yellow and black, with one wheel in front and two in the back, with a leather or soft plastic top.

If you take 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 you will be charged a higher price than normal. A metered fare starts at around ₹13 (varies by area) and includes the first 1 to 2 kilometres of the journey. Never get into an auto-rickshaw without either the meter being on or the fare negotiated in advance. In almost all cases, the driver will later charge you an exorbitant (by Indian standards) sum. A normal fare would be ₹11-12 for the first km and ₹7-8 per km thereafter. In most cities, auto-rickshaw drivers are provided with a fare card detailing the fares per kilometre. An observant tourist must check the meter reading against the fare card before paying. Auto-rickshaws have either digital or analogue meters, and the analogue meters may be tampered with. If the auto-rickshaw has an analogue meter, it may be better to choose a negotiated fare.

Ideally, you should speak to a local to find out what the fare will be for an estimated route. Higher fares may apply at night and for special destinations such as airports. Also bear in mind that drivers may have to pay bribes to join the queue at prime locations such as expensive hotels. The bribe is included in the fare.

Make sure the driver knows where he is going. Many autorickshaw drivers claim to know the destination without really having any idea where it is. If you know something about the place, ask them about it to filter out the liars. If you don’t know much about the place, get them to tell you in no uncertain terms that they know where it is. Because if they get lost and drive around, they will often ask for 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 fee.

Addresses

If you need to get somewhere, call ahead and ask for detailed directions. Remember that road signs in India are rare or non-existent outside cities. Postal addresses often carry directions such as “Opp. Prithvi Theatre” or “Behind Maruti Showroom” or “near temple / church / mosque / bank branch / police station / school” to make it easier to find. Unlike the western address system, the Indian system uses the plot or house number, street, road, followed by a landmark and the pin code of the place instead of street name and block number. To find a place, you usually have to do some searching, but you will always find someone in the area who can show you the way. Unlike many other countries, Indians ask passers-by, nearby shopkeepers or policemen for street addresses. So you can do the same, people will be happy to help you. Using Google Maps with GPS works well in most cases in major cities, but can sometimes be inaccurate due to misspelling of the street or incorrect positioning on the map.

Inner Line permit

Inner Line Permit is an official travel document issued by the Government of India to allow an Indian citizen to enter a protected/restricted area for a limited period of time. It is mandatory for Indian citizens from outside these states to obtain a permit to enter the protected state. The document is an attempt by the government to regulate movement into certain areas that are close to India’s international border. This is a security measure and applies to the following states:

  • Arunachal Pradesh – Permits are issued by the Secretary to the Government of Arunachal Pradesh. The permits are required for entry into the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh through any of the check gates at the inter-state border with Assam or Nagaland. Permits are issued in Arunachal Bhavan in all major towns. Permits are issued for specific districts. Therefore, plan the itinerary before applying for the entry permit for a district. Only locals and permit holders are allowed at the checkpoints at each district border.
  • Mizoram – Permits to enter Mizoram is issued by the Government of Mizoram. This permit is required to enter the Indian state of Mizoram through one of the checkpoints at the state border.
  • Nagaland – a permit is mandatory for a citizen of mainland India entering the state of Nagaland through any of the check gates at the inter-state borders.
  • Sikkim – permission is required for the recently opened “Nathu La” pass, which was an important Silk Road passage in the Middle Ages and is now part of the border between India and China. Foreigners are not granted permission. Only Indian citizens are allowed to cross this point. Other permits for high altitude regions like ‘Lachung-Lachen’ along with a high altitude lake called ‘Gurudongmar Lake’ can be applied for directly in Gangtok. Foreigners can be allowed to do so. Another point known as ‘Zero Point’ also requires permits.
  • Andaman and Nicobar Islands – Non-Indians need a Restricted Area Permit to visit the islands, but these are now issued on arrival at Port Blair Airport; if you plan to arrive by sea, you will need to obtain your permit before arrival, either in Chennai or when applying for your Indian visa. Indian citizens do not need a permit to visit the Andaman Islands, but permits are required to visit the Nicobar Islands and other tribal areas, and are rarely issued.