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Getting around in India can be an adventure and a challenge. In such a vast country, finding the most efficient modes of travel will be important for expats looking to make the most of their time.
From modern metro systems in several cities, such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata, to old-fashioned rickshaws, transport in India is extremely varied and the choices can be overwhelming. Expats who want to interact with the locals will enjoy using public transport, while those who want to get across the country 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 discover that using buses and trains in India is cost effective, allows them the chance to see more of the country, and gives them insight into local everyday life.
Buses in India are often the cheapest way to get around. Both public and private buses operate in India, and although public buses are often cheaper, private ones offer greater comfort and air conditioning.
Buying tickets for private buses is more likely done from the bus company's booth at a bus station while travellers on public buses can buy tickets onboard.
While many people prefer trains for long-distance journeys, the country's colourful buses offer quite a saving and are sometimes the only way to reach some of the country's more isolated areas. Major cities are also served by a Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS), which offers a speedier and more efficient way of getting around locally and commuting.
Those who do decide to travel by bus should be aware of several factors. Language barriers may seem like a challenge. Signage is rarely in English, especially in smaller towns, but people are friendly and generally willing to help. Road accidents are another consideration as these are a constant risk. Luggage is usually stored on the roof of long-distance buses or in compartments under the bus, so expats should make sure their bags are locked and secured.
One of the best ways to see the country is travelling by train. The train network in India, provided by the state-run organisation, Indian Railways, is extensive, prices are reasonable and they're a more comfortable choice for travelling long distances.
India's rail network consists of country-wide routes as well as commuter rail transport in metropolitan regions, including suburban rail systems, metros and trams. The latter has faded out across India – although the city of Kolkata still operates their tram system.
It's possible to hire a private sleeper compartment on some rail 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.
Despite stereotypes of India as a developing country, modern underground train networks can be found in several cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata. Metro systems are continually constructed, expanded and maintained all over the country. Travelling by metro is a fast and efficient way to get around in these cities and allows commuters to avoid traffic congestion.
Navigating the metro in Indian cities need not be overly intimidating for a new arrival, as routes can be easily tracked and followed with apps such as Google Maps.
Rickshaws in India
Auto rickshaws, or tuk-tuks, are three-wheeled vehicles that are found across Indian towns and cities. They are generally cheaper than taxis, but while most of them have meters, drivers rarely use them. Passengers should negotiate with the driver and agree on a fare before they start their journey.
Women travelling solo in India who are concerned about their safety on the roads can find pink rickshaws. These are an alternative to auto rickshaws, used by females passengers, and equipped with panic buttons and GPS tracking systems.
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 have been banned in certain cities for causing congestion. Cycle rickshaws aren't the most efficient mode of transport, but they certainly provide a novel way of getting around.
Taxis in India
Taxis are easy to find in large cities throughout India. They can usually be hailed from the roadside, found at taxi stands or called in advance. Some cities do not allow taxis to be hailed on the street – this includes Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad. Taxis in India are required to have a meter and expats should make sure it's working at the start of their journey. Ride-hailing services including Uber and local equivalents, such as Ola Cabs, are also available.
Taxi services for women are developing, particularly in large cities. For example, Go Pink Cabs, based in Bengaluru, has recently started up as the country's first taxicab service by women for women.
Share 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
Some foreign driving licences will allow expats to drive in India for a set period but driving isn't for the faint-hearted. Unless they're used to navigating chaotic streets with erratic drivers, expats 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 can be 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 finding one's way around and dealing with the chaos of Indian streets.
Air travel in India
Expats who need to get between major destinations quickly will find that flying is most convenient. Numerous domestic airlines operate in India and flight prices are competitive.
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 is best to use established airlines such as Air India, which is India's flag carrier airline, or GoAir, IndiGo or SpiceJet.
To get the best prices on domestic flights in India, expats should book as far in advance as possible.
►Read more about Accommodation in India
►Moving to India with kids? Education and Schools in India is essential reading
"I have a car, as public transport is overcrowded and uncomfortable. It takes longer to drive than the trains, but I enjoy the comfort of my own car. Public transport is good for long distances – travelling by train is a good option." Read more in our interview with Gabriel.
"With my now seven-month-old son, I still have to resort to using a car (which we recently bought) as there is just too much pushing and shoving in public transport for it to be safe with a baby. We also purchased an automatic geared motorcycle for running quick errands. We find it to be the easiest way to move around." Read more about the various modes of transport in our interview with Pruma.
Are you an expat living in India?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to India. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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