Transport and Driving in India
Getting around in India can be an adventure and a challenge. In such a vast country, finding the best ways to travel will play an important role in letting expats make the most of their time.
From modern metro systems in Delhi and Kolkata to old-fashioned rickshaws, transport in India is extremely varied, and the selection can be overwhelming.
Expats who want to interact with the locals will enjoy using public transport, while those who want to get somewhere fast can take advantage of affordable domestic flights.
Public transport in India
Using public transport in India is often challenging at first. It can be crowded, uncomfortable and somewhat dangerous at times. But patient expats will see that using buses and trains in India is cost-effective, lets them see more of the country and gives them insight into local everyday life.
Buses in India are often the cheapest way to get around. While most people prefer trains for long-distance journeys, colourfully decorated buses offer quite a saving and are sometimes the only way to reach some of the country's more isolated areas.
Expats are advised to travel on the state bus company. Private buses tend to be cheaper but more uncomfortable, with drivers often exceeding the speed limit and filling the vehicle beyond its maximum capacity.
Those who do decide to travel by bus should be aware that the roads are dangerous and accidents are always a risk. Furthermore, luggage is usually stored on the roof of long-distance buses, so expats should make sure their bags are locked and secured. To minimise the effect of bumps and potholes, it's best to get a seat in the middle of the bus.
One of the best ways to see the country is travelling by train. The train network in India is extensive, prices are reasonable and they're a more comfortable choice for travelling long distances.
There are many different options. It's possible to hire a private sleeper compartment on some services and, where available, travelling in an air-conditioned compartment is worth the extra expense.
Train travel can become difficult during major festival periods, so it's a good idea to book tickets in advance. Tickets can either be booked at ticketing agents or bought at stations. Most stations have English-speaking officials.
Modern, underground train networks can be found in Delhi and Kolkata. Travelling by metro is a fast and efficient way to travel around these cities and allows commuters to avoid traffic congestion.
Rickshaws in India
Auto rickshaws are three-wheeled vehicles that can be found in most Indian towns and cities. They are generally cheaper than taxis, but while most of them have meters, drivers rarely use them. Passengers should agree on a fare before they start their journey.
Cycle rickshaws are three-wheeled bicycles with a support bench for passengers at the back and a canopy for shelter. They're more common in smaller towns than cities and aren't the most efficient mode of transport, but they certainly provide a novel way to get around. Again, it's best to agree on the fare at the start of a journey.
Taxis in India
Taxis are easy to find in cities like Bengaluru, Delhi and Mumbai. Most of them are either Hindustan Ambassador or Premier Padmini cars and can be hailed from the roadside, found at taxi stands or called in advance.
Taxis in India are required to have a meter and expats should make sure it's working at the start of their journey. There are often additional charges for luggage, toll fees and travelling at night.
Shared taxis are similar to normal taxis but carry several passengers who are travelling in the same direction. Fares are charged according to the number of passengers and the distance they're travelling. Aside from being cheap, they're a good option during city rush hours because they limit waiting time.
Driving in India
Expats who have an international driving licence are legally allowed to drive in India, but it isn't for the faint-hearted. Unless they're used to navigating chaotic streets with erratic drivers, foreigners should think twice before getting behind the steering wheel.
Road standards in India vary. National highways are well maintained in certain areas, but city roads are usually narrow, potholed and poorly signposted. The Indian government has taken steps to improve road standards but the biggest challenge for expats will be dealing with local drivers who don't pay much attention to road rules.
Expats who want to use a car in India should consider hiring a local driver, which removes the stress of dealing with the chaos of Indian streets and will give them some local knowledge about their new surroundings.
Domestic flights in India
Expats who need to get between major destinations quickly will find that flying is the fastest option. Numerous domestic airlines operate in India and flight prices are competitive.
One thing to note is that new airlines are known to pop up from time to time offering great deals, but end up shutting down quite quickly – getting a refund can be a major hassle. It may be best to use established airlines like Air India, Go Air, IndiGo Airlines, Jet Airways or SpiceJet.
To get the best prices on domestic flights in India, expats should book as far in advance as possible. It's also worth noting that tickets to small cities generally cost more as there are usually fewer flights to these destinations.
Expats flying in India should be aware that checking in at Indian airports can be a slow process. Passengers should try to arrive at least two hours before departure, even for domestic flights.