Traveling in India: Transportation Can Be Very Entertaining
By Alex Elgar
Traveling in India can be extremely grueling. But it is also enjoyable and above all entertaining.
Travel by bus is straightforward and involves very little predeparture hassle. Services are frequent and extremely cheap. Once you have figured out which bus to take, nothing more is involved than getting
on your bus and paying the conductor. Baggage can usually be placed in the boot of the bus for a small fee, but it is advisable to go and check it at every toilet break. A 5-hour journey typically costs around $2. Bus travel, however, is to be
recommended for shorter journeys only: with all the stops and horn screeching (expect at least ten blasts a minute), long rides are taxing.
Train travel is relatively efficient and affordable and is certainly the preferred mode of transport. It gives a fascinating insight into Indian culture.
However, deciphering how to actually buy one’s first train ticket, especially if leaving from a big city, can seem so overwhelmingly complicated that many travelers just give up and opt for the bus. Once mastered it
is in fact quite easy. There are four classes in a typical long-distance train: first class, 2-tier air-con, 3-tier air-con, and non air-con (tier meaning bunk). For the budget traveler, 3-tier air-con is quite adequate. However, space is limited
and thefts occasionally occur, hence bags should be chained to the bunk and one must be prepared for beggars crawling up and down the carriage at every hour. Finding food is never a problem. In addition to vendors who frequently pass up and down
the train with drinks and snacks, others will come rushing to the windows at every station stop. It is not unusual for you to be offered food from your neighbor on the train. Something in exchange is always appreciated.
The far more comfortable and more expensive option is 2-tier air-con: clean sheets and pillows, very decent food, and beggars are not allowed. The only drawback is that the windows cannot be opened, though one can easily
move to 3-tier air-con during the day for the view and back to one’s bunk at night. A 40-hour train journey with 2-tier air-con typically costs around $40; 3-tier costs around $20.
It is wise to book at least a couple of days in advance, especially in holiday periods, as trains tend to get booked up very quickly. Trains at a Glance lists all the trains and train times within India and is an invaluable
guide, available at any large train station. When making a reservation you must fill out a form with your name, train number, name, and class. If paying in rupees, an ATM slip is sometimes required for proof of when and where you exchanged your
"Palace on Wheels" is a decadent way to travel majaraja-style in the state of Rajasthan.
Car and Driver
If the rigors of Indian public transport seem too tiring, an increasingly popular option is to hire a car and driver. It is relaxing, hassle-free, and if sharing with others it is not so
expensive. A 2-week journey typically costs around $300-$400, but shop around to get the best deal. Before you pay, make sure you have a driver who speaks English and knows the area you are going to visit. Also be aware of his terms and conditions
before departing, for example is the driver’s food and accommodation included in the price. All the larger hotels or tourist information offices will be able to provide you with agency names, but a personal recommendation is strongly advisable.
A highlight of travel in the state of Kerala is a boat trip along the Backwaters, an area of interconnecting lagoons, rivers, lakes, and canals running parallel to the Keralan coast. On the popular
route from Kochi to Alappucha, the private motorized boat services charge around $15 for the 8-hour trip, which includes lunch and a tea break. Watching riverside life is a great way to relax: spectacular Chinese fishing nets line the banks;
rice boats cruise past almost silently; kids wave and run after your boat as you pass small villages. Houseboats sleeping up to eight people can be hired for more intimate trips. A 2-day journey costs around $100. The Backwaters Tour of Kerala
Guide, available at any tourist information office in the area, gives information about the private boat companies.
The more expensive the ticket, the greater the comfort. Yet every form of transport is entertaining and eventful.