Transportation in India
Atualizado: 29 de nov. de 2017
First of all, bear in mind that India is a huge country.
To take the most of it and its amazing variety, one has to travel to different cities/areas. To ensure that you avoid scams, overpricing services and wasting time, this post intends to give a useful insight on India transportation system.
Despite the fact that the transportation network is somewhat developed, one cannot compare to the modernisation of western countries. Roads are in worst conditions, the traffic is much more intense, the trains are significantly slower, have a tendency to be delayed by several hours, and there are several transports in which the price is not fixed.
We divided the transportation network into two big clusters: "between cities" and "within cities".
Transportation between cities
Traditionally, trains tend to be the most used mean of transport in India.
The network already installed is complex and vast, which allows to reach the majority of places in the country. From our experience the trains in India are very comfortable, especially if you travel in higher classes, since you will have access to a bed, clean sheets, blankets and pillows which are provided by the Indian railway company.
However, and as already mentioned above, trains tend to be late, especially if travelling to/from the populated and polluted cities, where the constant and heavy fog narrows visions and difficult the train course. Bear in mind that by late we mean several hours late or even being occasionally canceled.
Finally, distances have to be thought in time standards as miles/kms can be non-reliable. For instance, a 60 km drive might take you up to 2 hours driving.
How can you travel?
In Indian trains you will find the following travelling classes:
AC First Class (1A) - 2 to 4 beds per compartment, in which the compartments are lockable;
AC 2 Tier (2A) - 4 smaller beds per compartment and 2 beds along the aisle. The compartments are not lockable but there are curtains for some privacy;
AC 3 Tier (3A) - 6 smaller beds per compartment and 2 beds along the aisle. The compartments are not lockable and there are no curtains along the aisle;
Sleeper (SL) - Similar to 3A class but with less privacy, no AC and it tends to be noisier, crowded and dirtier (it includes the toilets);
Second Seating (2S) - 3 seats on either side of the aisle. They do not recline;
Unreserved General Class (UR) - No reservation needed. Sitting or standing room only;
AC Chair Car (CC) - 3 seats on one side of the aisle, and 2 on the other. The seats recline.
To find out more detailed information about trains classes we recommend visiting the link https://www.tripsavvy.com/indian-railways-trains-travel-classes-1539646
From 1A to 3A, we found these classes pretty comfortable, even when taking long journeys (16 hours, for instance). For shorter and during the day trips (maximum 6 hours), CC was also comfortable.
If you are travelling on a lower budget SL class can also be a good option.
The bed seats are typically referred to as "berths". In the compartments there are 2 Lower Berth (LB), 2 Middle Berth (MB) (only applicable in 3A and SL classes), and 2 Upper Berth (UB). On the other side of the aisle there is 1 Side Lower Berth (SL) and 1 Side Upper Berth (SU).
Preferably, we chose to travel in LB as you have the same advantages of other berths but it is easier to go on and off the bed and you can be in contact to your fellow traveller.
Nonetheless, for solo travellers who might want some more privacy, SL or upper berths are also an alternative.
Regarding longer trips, it is possible to order food (a typical Indian Thali) and at each stop there are people coming in the train selling Chai (famous Indian tea with milk) or some snacks. However, we recommend to buy water and some cookies/biscuits on the train station before starting the trip. The prices are reasonable and you will have more variety.
Finally, there are toilets on the train but in general they are quite disgusting, so be prepared.
How can you book trains?
There are three different ways to book trains. Directly on the railway station, through third-party entities or online.
We recommend to book online, as you can save money from the fees charged by third parties and because it is more convenient than having to go to the train station every time you have to book a train.
For that you can use the official Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) website https://www.irctc.co.in.
There is also an IRCTC mobile app (picture attached) that allows you to buy tickets, as well as to check train availability, reservation status and train live status, among others.
This is extremely useful to check delays and plan your trip according to ticket availability all in the comfort of your hostel/hotel.
To plan ahead is also important, as trains tend to be sold out most of the times, especially for specific destinations (for instance, from Delhi to Varanasi) and in higher rate classes.
However, if you find yourself in the need of getting a ticket, you can always try different quotas.
The Indian system has 3 different quotas: general quota, foreign quota and ladies quota. The second one is more expensive, however, it can solve the problem of sold out tickets.
Moreover, in last case scenario, one can always try to go directly to the railway station at the time of the train and buy a last minute ticket. By buying a general ticket at the counter you can always go on the train. During your trip you can then pay to the ticket controller the upgrade for the class you want, although always subject to the availability of seats.
Finally, please note that we found some problems buying online train tickets, since our Portuguese credit cards were not accepted (both Visa and MasterCard). To solve this problem, every time we needed to book a train, we asked the hotel staff to book our tickets with their Indian credit card and then we paid them in cash. No fees were charged for that. Amazing Indian people!
Buses tend to be cheaper than trains and there are almost always tickets available.
In general, you can book the tickets the day before or on the day of the trip.
Furthermore, buses can be essential when travelling to places not covered by the railway system (e.g to reach Munnar or Dharamshala).
There are two main bus services. The ones provided by the Government, and the others provided by private companies.
The Government buses depart from the bus stations, while some private companies have specific departure points that you can choose while booking the tickets.
Be careful, as for private providers the bus stations may not be a departure place and sometimes it is not wasy to find the departure point. Therefore you might have to contact the service provider to obtain further information.
Be careful, as for private providers the bus station may not be a departure place and sometimes it is not easy to find the departure point. Therefore you might have to contact the service provider to obtain further information.
In general you have AC or Non AC buses, and chaired or sleeper buses.
We traveled with both Government and private buses and both of them were comfortable.
Therefore, we recommend buses for a more flexible agenda or last minute booking as well as to travel to some places that the trains cannot reach.
Finally, there are some good applications to book bus tickets: Goibibo and Make My Trip (these two are also useful for flights and hotels booking) and Red Bus (to book bus tickets from private companies).
For longer trips, airplanes might be the better option.
The flights between most known cites in India are certainly more convenient and sometimes not that expensive, especially when comparing to higher classes train alternatives. For that reason, always check the flight prices when travelling between distant places.
Moreover, flights between the capitals of the different states tend to be cheaper and quicker.
The two main airline companies that operate domestic flights are Air India and SpiceJet. We travelled on both of them and the experiences were pleasant.
Bonus Tip: If you are travelling from Delhi you can go to the airport from a brand new metro railway.
Moreover, you can do the check-in and drop-off your luggage directly in the metro station. This is extremely useful as it tends to be way less crowded than airports and you will avoid carrying your luggage unnecessarily.
Note that according to the official website there are only some companies allowing check-in in the metro facilities, namely Air India, Jet Airways and Vistara.
See more information in the link: http://delhimetrorail.com/AirportExpressLine.aspx
For a group of 4 or more people and shorter distances (4 hours driving, for instance) you might consider the possibility of a private taxi.
As a couple we were lucky enough to found 3 more people on the travel agency wanting to make the same trip as us. We ended sharing the same car, and doing a 4-hour distance at a similar price a bus journey would imply.
Transportation within cities
Walking I Uber I OLA I Rickshaw I Auto rickshaw I Taxi I Metro
To move around cities there are plenty of offerings for different budgets and naturally distinct levels of comfort.
Despite not looking/felling the safest place to wander around, on our month and a half of India we did not experience any trouble. Having this in mind, the cheapest and most efficient way to get the real Indian experience is to walk. Please, use and abuse of it.
The big problem with paying for wandering around cities is that most of the prices are not fixed and you will end up overpricing even when you think you got a pretty decent deal.
Therefore, if you do not feel like walking you will have several options at your disposal. The key is to avoid being overpriced and to pay a fair rate.
In bigger cities such as Delhi, Mumbai or Jaipur, among others, Uber is normally online and it tends to be the cheapest and less stressful option.
Our advice is: check if Uber is available in the city you are visiting and if so, test your trip to get a benchmark of the value, otherwise you might end up paying 5 times the normal price and feeling you got a decent deal.
There is an Uber competitor by the name of OLA that is also accurate. We did not use it, but we were told the prices are also fair, sometimes lower than the ones practiced by Uber.
Bear in mind that to have access to Uber and OLA you will need to have access to data in your mobile phone.
Data is incredible cheap in India. Buy a SIM card as soon as you get in Indian soil.
However, if you want to get a more typical Indian way use, for smaller distances (around 1km), the famous rickshaws (bicycles) where you are the cargo being pulled. The prices should be lower than the Uber/OLA in this case.
For longer distances try the well-known auto rickshaws/tuk-tuks. They are very typical and convenient in most of the cities.
While searching for transportation you will be flooded with tuk-tuks trying to be the one. Start bargain and bargain and bargain.
Our strategy was to always have a benchmark. It can be by knowing the Uber price and not going above that, or by calling the hotel and be informed about the fair rate to pay to go from the train station to the hotel, or even asking in a restaurant before being in the search for transportation.
Finally there are taxis, but tend to be more expensive than the remaining options.
We found that only for longer distances, taxis are a decent choice. In this case, only in Goa, where everything is far, taxi was an option.
For all the alternatives, the main advice is: always bargain and agree the price with the driver before starting the trip. This is a rule in India.
In every city, at train stations, bus stations, city center, and touristic points, it is quite easy to find all types of transportations, so try to use that in your favor to get the most fair and reasonable price.
If you can wait for 5 to 10 minutes try Uber or OLA, since the prices are lower, most of the times very fair, and in general they pick you up at the right location. The other advantage is that you do need to spend time bargaining the price!
Furthermore, at least in Delhi, the metro is very reasonable and also very cheap. The disadvantage is that you will lose time. Nonetheless you have the opportunity to mingle with local people and again have the real Indian experience.