Updated on March 15, 2016 by Asher Fergusson
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I think traveling on trains through India is a must for everyone at least once. Often the tickets sellout early so I recommend booking ahead of time on Cleartrip.com. When you’re actually on the train and cruising through the countryside it can be an exhilarating experience. It is definitely my favorite way to go apart from flying. I recommend only going on 2AC or First Class because otherwise it will be too cramped and potentially too hot. I find that sleeping on trains is very easy but it’s important to keep an eye on your bags or lock them. The train staff often come through with water, chai, snacks and fried foods. It is best to avoid everything unless it’s packaged like bottled water and packaged snacks. Trains mostly only stop at a station for about a minute so it’s important to know where your stop is and be ready to get all your bags off before you get to the desired station.
2) Train Stations
Train stations are the one thing I don’t like about traveling on trains in India. They generally stink of urine and can have dubious characters hanging out there as well as insane taxi drivers who almost fight each other for your business. One important thing that I wish I’d known when leaving the station is to act like you know where you are going and walk straight out without looking left and right. Otherwise you are likely to be pounced upon by a mob of hungry taxi drivers. Always outside the stations are little shops with snacks that I recommend going to, buying something and then asking them the best way to get to your destination and see if they recommend a driver. This will give you the best chance of not being scammed or tricked. Also it’s good to watch out for the driver taking you to a different hotel or destination than what you asked for because they often have deals with hotels if they bring in new customers.
The airplanes of India are the same as in all parts of the world. This is obviously the best way to travel long distances thoughout India. The tickets are usually quite affordable and can get you to almost every major destination across the country. Mainly regional flights are routed through Delhi which can be infuriating because a journey that should have been 2 hours turns into an all day event. Check out my blog about how to get cheap flights.
The Indian airports can look and feel exactly the same as a Western airport if they’ve been built within the last couple of years. Otherwise they can be a bit seedy or look like a converted army base. They can be aggressive in not allowing you to take pictures around airports so watch out for that. Also when you are organizing a taxi to your hotel I recommend getting the hotel to send their driver to pick you up (if you can afford it) or get a fixed price taxi. Avoid just walking out of the airport without a plan. The drivers know you’ve just come from the West and smell money so they can quote absolutely outrageous prices for a 10 minute journey.
Buses can be an okay way to travel through India but nowhere near as pleasant as the trains. As you may be able to imagine the Indian roads are generally mayhem with vehicles zig-zagging like there’s no tomorrow. I recommend going on the bus only if it is less than 5 hours and is a nice “AC” bus. One perk is that it’s usually super cheap like Rs 200 for a 5-hour journey.
6) Bus Stations
All the bus stations I’ve been are usually busy places with literally hundreds of buses coming and going. There can be beggar’s hanging around there who may ask for money (I never give them anything.) They also have places for chai and snacks. It can be tricky finding your bus so asking for help usually solves that dilemma.
Cars (with a hired driver) are a great way to travel short distances through cities especially if it’s AC and the windows are closed. The noise and pollution is generally obnoxious in every Indian city and so if you have the money this is by far the best way to get around. You can usually organize a driver though your hotel and they should be able to get to any address in the city. As soon as the journey becomes more than an hour or two it can be extremely tiring and dangerous especially at night when trucks are driving like mad men.
8 ) Auto Rickshaws
The auto rickshaws (aka “auto’s”) are the best way to get around a town if you’re on a tight budget. They are extremely cheap (as long as you can bargain the driver down.) So what are the drawbacks? They are open to the air to receive the pollution, noise, flying objects and if you have a crash with a truck then you’d be history. That being said I ride on auto’s all the time but use ear plugs, sunglasses, and a cloth to breath through to avoid breathing the pollution.
9) Bicycle Rickshaws
Bike rickshaws are kind of an amusing novelty and can be a fun way to explore the narrow streets of new town. When you think about it, it is rather cruel to have this skinny little boy pedal a bicycle with you sitting in the carriage behind and I think they are actually illegal but in certain cities they still persist.
10) Travel time
I believe you will enjoy your journey most if you remain well rested and don’t get exhausted. Travel is tiring in general but travel in India is probably about 3 times as tiring as it is in the West. This is because, depending how you choose to get around, you will be bombarded by so much sensory stimulation. For this reason I recommend traveling no more than 5 hours in one day unless it’s a train where you can comfortably lie horizontally and sleep.
11) Travel pricing
Obviously traveling by plane is the most expensive. Trains are the next most expensive if you travel 2AC or First Class (First Class is generally double the cost of 2AC but you get your own compartment!) Buses are cheap. Rented cars especially if they are AC are nice but can be very expensive. Auto rickshaws are cheap but the drivers love to scam you so the trick is to walk and go to the next driver and then the prices will quickly lower. Bike rickshaws are super cheap.
12) Travel Comfort
If you are going for a super comfortable journey and have a good budget then flying and renting AC cars is definitely the way to go. Trains are a great second choice and are extremely affordable compared to flying. Taxi’s and buses are uncomfortable if they are any more than an hour or 2 journeys.
13) Travel Pillow
I love to sleep. If I don’t have my pillow it can be more difficult so if you’re like me I suggest you bring a small foldable pillow. I don’t care if you’re laughing at me right now :). I have happily slept many hours in trains, planes and automobiles thanks to my little pillow. It is also useful when going to hotels, especially the cheaper ones that have pillows filled with cardboard!
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