India's major domestic airline, the government-run Indian Airlines, has an
extensive network. The country's international carrier, Air India, also
operates domestically on the Mumbai (Bombay)-Delhi, Mumbai-Kolkata (Calcutta),
Delhi-Kolkata and Mumbai-Chennai (Madras) routes. Deregulation has radically
improved service and swollen the number of secondary operators, though several
have gone belly up recently.
The Indian Railways system is deservedly legendary and Indian
rail travel is unlike any other sort of travel on earth. At times it can be
uncomfortable and frustrating, but it's also an integral part of the Indian
travel experience. You should try to pick up the key points of Indian train
etiquette as quickly as possible, otherwise you'll find yourself hopelessly
attempting to defend your own private space. There are a number of different
classes and a number of different trains: you want express or mail trains, but
try all the different classes just for the hell of it. The Indian reservation
system is labyrinthine and worthy of anthropological study, but be patient
because it's one of the few bureaucracies in the country that actually works.
When booking tickets, take advantage of the tourist quota allotment if one
exists. You'll find it easier to reserve a seat this way.
Buses vary widely from state to state, but there is often a
choice of buses on the main routes - ordinary, express, semi-luxe, deluxe,
deluxe air-con and even deluxe sleeper. Government buses are supplemented by
private operators on many routes. Private buses tend to be faster, more
expensive and more comfortable and can make a lot of sense on longer jaunts.
Bus travel is generally crowded, cramped, slow and uncomfortable. This is the
good news. The bad news is the rugby scrum you often need to negotiate in order
to board, and the howling Hindi pop music which blares from the tinny speakers.
Buses are the only way to get to Kashmir and the best way to get to Nepal from
Uttar Pradesh; they are generally faster than trains in northern Bihar and in
large areas of Rajasthan.
You can hire a car and driver very easily, but you need nerves
of steel and excellent karma to consider driving yourself. Cars are usually
rented on a daily basis and come with a limited number of kilometres per day.
You'll probably be responsible for the driver's expenses, so be sure to clarify
how much this is to be each day before you set off. If you're planning a long
trip, it's wise to go for a short spin with your prospective driver just in
case you don't like his braking ability.
Motorcycling around India (especially on an Enfield Bullet)
has become a popular pastime, though it's a hazardous endeavour and not for the
amateur two-wheeler. Bicycles are a great way to get around towns and can
usually be hired for a pittance. Long-distance touring, however, is not for the
faint-hearted or the weak of knee. If you're thinking of bringing your own
bike, think twice about bringing your state-of-the-art 10-speed unless you want
it to be poked, probed and perved at every time you stop.
Local transport includes buses, taxis, auto-rickshaws,
cycle-rickshaws and tongas (horse-drawn carriages). Taxis may have meters, but
don't expect them to be working in more than a handful of cities. Three-wheeled
auto-rickshaws are generally half the price of a taxi and allow the passenger
much better inhalation of diesel fumes. Cycle-rickshaws have all but
disappeared from the centres of major Indian cities but are still an essential
part of the transport network in smaller towns. Be sure to agree on a fare