Getting around India can be one of the hardest parts of traveling in this incredible country. I recounted plenty of my adventures while writing about driving a rickshaw across India and I hinted at some of the pitfalls one might experience too. In addition to driving 3000km, I took countless buses and trains to get around the 7th largest in the world rather than jumping on any domestic flights. Despite its huge size and the variety of destinations, visitors to India often stay in just a few of India’s 29 states; so traveling by land makes the most sense.
Not only is ground transit incredibly cheap but you catch a glimpse of the Indian countryside too. Then again, you get what you pay for and that often means crowded aisles, filthy corners and the constant fear of pick-pockets. Long lines, delays and confusing moments at the train station were just the beginning.
If you’re thinking about going to India I’m sure you’ve read some horror stories because traveling by land means you’ll see of all aspects of India, not just the beautiful Taj Mahal. Then again, if you’re visiting the Taj Mahal you’ll need to take a bus or train to Agra. The streets around the Taj Mahal are some of the more likely places that you’ll encounter scam artists trying to take advantage of tourists. Stay safe, and be aware in India, especially of your valuables.
Seats were usually available on the intercity buses and but the potholes were fierce and frequent too. I took a dozen or so bus rides while exploring the Indian subcontinent and most of them were delayed due to traffic or weather. It’s normal for a 6-hour bus ride to turn into a 10-hour ordeal so be sure to bring a book!
I took some of the cheapest public transportation options in India but you don’t have to! You can book a driver or first class tickets at a travel agent for a more sanitary experience. But remember, sometimes traffic is just plain traffic.
Private drivers can be hired through most hotels or travel agents and well worth the expense if you weren’t backpacking like me. Indian taxis are fantastically cheap and omnipresent but will be more reminiscent of the Rickshaw Run than an NYC cabbie. They are great as long as they aren’t trying to scam you. My best tip is to do is discuss your day plans and negotiate a full day rate and tell him that you’ll pay when he drops you off back a the hotel. If I liked him and felt like he wasn’t cheating me then I would try to get his Whatsapp or an Indian phone number.
For me it wasn’t just about staying on a budget, I enjoyed traveling by land because the view of the Indian countryside is its own marvel. I used the long bus and train rides to write in my journal and met hospitable locals.
India is a vibrant country constantly bustling with excitement. Even when we drove through Rajasthan’s Great Indian Dessert, something was ALWAYS happening. Camels, markets, and villagers appeared along deserted highways one day with rice fields, water buffalo or even elephants the next.
It didn’t matter if we stopped for a bathroom break, a photo op or simply broke down in the middle of the highway; within minutes there were loads of onlookers. Curiosity drew them out of thin air and thankfully, curiosity seemed to be their main agenda. We were always met with honest smiles and frequently offered a helping hand. I was given a free ride on multiple occasions, had locals insist I try their home cooking and we even had mechanics refuse to let us pay!
Don’t let the Indian con artists keep you from visiting. Know how to protect yourself against Indian travel scams and rest assured that you’ll encounter fewer the further off the beaten path you get.
There are lots of interesting places to see in India, especially for a history buff who might want to visit state capitals like Bangalore. Bangalore, sometimes called Bengaluru is now a huge silicon valley hub famous for nightlife and its parks. Or perhaps visiting Patna, the ancient capital of northeastern India is more your style. In that case, you’re going to want to catch a flight from Bangalore to Patna. Or maybe you’re more of a traditional Indian tourist and want to see the Himalayas in the north and then fly south to party on the beaches of Goa.
If I ever come back to India I might have to embark on a yoga retreat in Rishikesh or a spiritual tour of the world-famous Ganges River. I’d probably leave the backpacking lifestyle behind if I returned to India and indulge in a flight or two to see some of those sites I missed.
Do you have your own Indian travel story? Comment below and maybe I’ll divulge some of the crazier encounters like driving into a protest with hundreds of sword-wielding locals!
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Disclaimer: This is the internet and It is safe to assume that links and content contained on this webpage provide compensation to the website’s owner. The opinions here are my own and the information here is accurate as of November 2019. Unless otherwise labeled, all photos were taken by Mike Still.