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An Overview of Transport in India

Options for Travel Using Transport in India

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India, New Delhi, crowded street, traffic, elevated view
Grant Faint/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

India, as the second largest country in Asia, requires visitors to give some thought as to how to get from place to place. Fortunately, there are a number of air, rail, and road travel options. This overview of transport in India will help you decide the best ways to travel around India.

Air Travel in India

The Indian government has allowed private airlines to operate in the market since 1994. However, from around 2005 onwards, the number of private airlines has really grown on both domestic and international routes. Many of these are low cost airlines that offer cheap fares in return for reduced passenger services, such as free in-flight meals. Fueled by a thriving economy, air travel in India is booming.

India’s airports have struggled to handle the increased traffic. The major problems are outdated facilities and not enough runways, resulting in congestion and delays. The Indian government’s solution has been to initiate the re-development of airports throughout the country. These works are mostly being carried out by private companies, who will operate the new airports. The works, which are well underway, are scheduled to continue over the next few years. Until the works are complete, inconveniences to passengers are expected to continue.

Despite this, flying still remains the quickest and easiest way of traveling through India. Domestic airlines in India connect around 80 cities, and the competition amongst low cost airlines has also made the cost of travel a lot cheaper. However, you'll often find that due to taxes and fuel surcharges, there's not much difference in the fares between short and longer distance flights. Therefore, when traveling shorter distances, it can be preferable to go by train.

Rail Travel in India

India is extremely well connected by a rail network that weaves its 60,000 kilometers (40,000 miles) of tentacle like tracks throughout the country. It’s possible to travel from one side of India to the other in two nights/three days. The railway network is operated by the monstrous, government owned Indian Railways. It’s a huge undertaking that employs over 1.6 million people and oversees the running of around 10,000 passenger trains every day.

Train travel provides an interesting alternative to air travel in India, although it can take a bit of getting used to. The range of different classes of accommodations available on long distance trains and the booking process is often confusing for first time travelers. The lack of privacy and hygiene on the trains can also be confronting. However, there’s no better way to immerse yourself into Indian culture and way of life, and you’ll be treated to an absorbing view of the Indian landscape.

The good news for anyone wanting to experience India by train, but without sacrificing luxury or comfort, is that there are a number of special luxury tourist trains, such as the Palace on Wheels, that traverse the country. These trains offer a lavish and unique way of visiting some of India’s best tourist destinations.

In addition to the national rail system, suburban train networks also operate in some of India’s larger cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata (Calcutta), Chennai, Hyderabad, and Pune. Delhi has a newly operational, air conditioned, world class underground train network, called the Metro. In Mumbai, the trains are ancient, hot and crowded, with fans being the only form of cooling offered. They’re best avoiding during morning and evening peak times when the crush and swarm of people is astonishing. Kolkata also has an underground rail network, which is India’s first, called the Metro. It’s an effective way of traveling north and south, from one side of the city to the other.

Road Travel in India

For those who prefer to travel around by car according to their own timetable, the hire of a car and driver can be a great solution. Self-drive car hire is not recommended as driving in India can be a hair-raising experience. It takes an experienced person to be able to safely negotiate the country’s unruly traffic, which isn’t too concerned about following any road rules except honking the horn as much as possible.

More adventurous travelers may opt to hire a motorcycle as an invigorating way of seeing the country. The hire of motorcycles and scooters is a popular way of getting around in Goa, where the beaches are spread out along the state’s coastline. Some companies also offer excellent motorcycle tours, which take the hassle out of traveling.

India has a large network of buses, in various states of repair, which ply the roads from city to city, and state to state. They’re operated by the various state road transport corporations, as well as private companies. Bus travel can be attractive on short journeys as services are more frequent than trains, and it’s much easier to book and catch a bus than a train. However, bus travel is usually slow and uncomfortable. Buses will often make innumerable stops, seating can be cramped, and the lack of toilet facilities can be a real hassle for women travelers. Understandably many people prefer to take the train, especially on overnight trips.

The local city buses are a law unto themselves. These heaving, noisy beasts spew out pollution and are not at all traveler friendly. Just trying to figure out their routes and fares can be a real challenge, and the way they perilously rule the roads can make travel an alarming experience.

The best way to travel around locally is by three wheeled auto-rickshaw or taxi. Both are readily available on the streets, with meters that calculate the fare according to distance traveled.

Traveling To and From the Airport in India

Without a doubt, when going to your hotel from the airport, the most convenient option is to take a pre-paid taxi from the booth outside the airport. The special airport buses that are available from India’s major airports are another option.

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