We outline the best transportation options as well as must-know information about getting around India.
India is immense. More than a country, it is considered a subcontinent. With major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore situated as far as 500-2,000 kilometres from each other, moving within such a large country can be a challenge for travellers.
Here are the details on the most suitable means of transport, as well as information about booking train tickets and hiring cars, taxis and tuk-tuks while travelling in India.
Travelling from city to city:
In a country as large as India, air transport is a good option for travellers who want to cover long distances over short periods. The domestic airline with the widest range of routes is Air India. It connects about 70 cities. Along with Air India, Jet Airways, SpiceJet, AirAsia and Indigo also service flights between major airports such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata. Flights between major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata have the busiest routes. The journey usually takes 1-2 hours and the economy class fares range from $50 to $200.
India has one of the largest rail networks on earth. Trains cover long distances and are reliable, affordable and comfortable ground transport in India. Travelling in air conditioned coaches is highly recommended for lesser crowds, better comfort and more safety.
There are three ways to book train tickets in India:
- At the stations. You can buy the tickets by filling in a pink paper with your personal information and the train you want to take. You can make both advanced bookings and same-day bookings at the station. However, getting a same-day ticket is almost impossible, unless you plan to travel in an unreserved coach. We don’t recommend travelling in an unreserved coach as it is often overcrowded and it’s likely that you may have to travel standing up.
- Booking online.You can book your tickets online through the official website of Indian Railways. Booking your tickets online is better than standing in long queues in stations.
- Booking through a travel agent. If you want to avoid the hassle of figuring out India's rail system yourself, you can book your tickets through a travel agent. This will likely cost you an extra fee of $5-$10. Make sure that you are aware of the fare to avoid being swindled by a tout.
There are also three types of train reservations:
- Standard reservation. This is the most common way to book a journey. Beware that seats allocated for standard reservations get filled very fast. You must book tickets at least 40-50 days in advance if your are travelling between major cities.
- Reservation against cancellation (RAC). When the seats allocated for standard reservations are all filled, you have the option to make an RAC. Note that you have to share your seat with another person in RAC seats.
- Tatkal. Tatkal reservations allow you to book your tickets for the next day journey. You can book tatkal tickets both online and at stations. The only catch is that the queues at stations are so long that the seats would most likely get filled before you get to the window. In online bookings, seats for busy routes get filled up within five minutes of the opening of the booking window.
For short and medium journeys, buses offer great flexibility. You can almost always find a seat when booking a day in advance. But longer journeys on bumpy roads may take a toll on your comfort level. For the most part, there are two types of buses in India: cheap, standard ones and costlier, air-conditioned tourist buses. These are operated by numerous bus companies. A good place to start searching for your bus options online is Bus India.
India public transport
- Types of transport. Almost every Indian city is serviced by city buses. They are affordable and frequent. However, it is unlikely you will get a seat, or worse, not even ample personal space to stand. City buses in most Indian cities don’t follow a set schedule. They are most commonly used by locals who know their routes and stops.
Local trains are more accessible than buses in cities like Mumbai but are no less crowded. Trains are cheap and are mainly used by locals for their daily commute.
Only Delhi Metro has an extensive subway network. Other major Indian cities also have metros but they are only operated on limited routes.
- Paying for transport. Individual train and bus tickets must be purchased using cash. If you plan to travel extensively through Indian Railways, you can buy an Indrail Pass which offers international tourists the flexibility of unlimited travel on any route. This pass doesn’t guarantee you a seat and you still have to make an advance booking. For intra-city travel, all cities with metro and local trains have their own passes.
- Getting to and from the airport. In every major Indian city buses connect the city centre with the airport. Private transfers, airport shuttles and taxis are other options to get to and from airports.
- Best app for getting around. The official Indian Railways app IRCTC Connect lets you book and cancel tickets, check your ticket status and get live location updates.
Taxis and Uber
Taxi. Taxis are available for private transportation in cities. Different cities have different types of taxis. In some places, like railway stations and airports, there are prepayment booths that ensure you won’t pay more than the stipulated fare. If you hail a taxi from the street, insist the driver re-starts the meter. Otherwise, it’s best to negotiate and agree to the fare for the trip in advance.
The tuk-tuk, commonly known as auto-rickshaw or simply auto, is a cheaper alternative to taxis and is ideal for moving within cities. Beware of the auto-driver persuading you to book a hotel or buy goods from a specific shop, however.
Uber. Uber is available in major Indian cities.
India car hire rental companies
It is unlikely you would want to drive in India’s chaotic traffic. However, if you plan to do so, car rental desks for major car hire services like Avis, Budget, Hertz, Sixt and Thrifty are available at the major airports in India.
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You can book a private transfer in all major Indian cities for hassle-free transfer from the airport to your drop location.
Here are a few options in popular cities: