Our time exploring India started in the end of September 2017 and came to a close on December 30th 2017. Here are some transportation tips based on our experiences getting around.
Travelling by Bus:
If time allows, take the bus. Its really not as scary as it sounds! While domestic flights are a time saving convenience, we found the buses to not only be a much cheaper mode of transportation but they also gave an interesting view and experience of the areas that we were travelling.
At the beginning of our time in India we stuck to domestic flights which averaged $70 per one-way ticket compared to an overnight bus ticket which averaged between $8 to $15.
The simplest method we found for booking bus tickets was through Redbus. We had a little difficulty paying online for a couple of bus trips, in those cases we determined what bus we wanted and went directly to that travel agency to complete the booking, which typically added a small service fee.
A/C Sleeper – Typically the nicest and most expensive bus class. 2+1 seating, which is a single bed (for one person) on one side and a double bed (for two people) on the other. It is possible to book for one on the double bed, just means you’ll be sharing a bed with a stranger which sounded a little awkward to me. However, for two people travelling together the double bed is a spacious and comfortable option. This bus has air conditioning, most can get rather chilly, they typically provide a blanket but a sweater is good to have.
Non A/C Sleeper – Similar in style to the 2+1 a/c sleeper except the windows open instead of having air conditioning. These buses don’t typically come with blankets and with windows closed at night can still get very cold. Everyone else had brought blankets with them, around midnight we realised why, it was freezing! Because the windows open these buses can also be rather dusty.
A/C and Non-A/C Semi-Sleeper – These are usually large reclining seats set 2+2. For trips under 8 hours, these buses are comfortable and spacious.
A/C and Non-A/C 3+2 Common/Local Bus – This style bus is crammed but I still found it to be an interesting, if not comfortable, experience. You might want to do some yoga after a few hours on this style bus.
City Bus – Taking a city bus felt a little daunting at first but ended up being an easy and cheap option.
Our first experience with a city bus was after we took an A/C sleeper from Jaipur to Agra which dropped us on the out skirts of the city. Instantly we were swarmed by tuk-tuk drivers, which can be a little frustrating when you’re trying to get your bearings and work out where you need to go. We were too far outside of the city for Ola or Uber and just when we thought that our only option was going to be bartering (and still getting ripped off) with a tuk-tuk driver, the only other foreign couple there told us that they heard the city bus went to the Taj Mahal. So, when a dirty old bus, covered in Hindi, pulled up we asked if it went to the Taj Mahal. The driver and ticket collector said yes, yet the sea of tuk-tuk and taxi drivers surrounding us were swearing that it wasn’t the right bus and wouldn’t take us to the Taj. By the time we boarded the bus all the locals on board were getting a good laugh and we just had to laugh too. Oh, and the bus took us directly to the West gate of the Taj Mahal.
Toilets and Food: All of the buses, beside the citybus, stop at rest stops at least once or more depending on length of travel. The more expensive buses typically stop at the nicer rest areas but no matter which bus they will stop somewhere with a washroom and a restaurant. I would recommend bringing some tissue or wipes since some washrooms can be a little rustic and if you don’t think your stomach can handle butter chicken and roti in the middle of the night, than you might want to pack snacks. Some A/C sleeper buses will have a washroom on board which is a wonderful convenience but not to be counted on. Just don’t miss the rest stops or if you’re a lady maybe just bring one of these, there were times when I was wishing desperately that instead of laughing at the idea of a pee in the bottle contraption that I had bought one. Of course, if you’re a man just tell the driver and he’ll pull to the side of the road for you…only a little bit of jealousy happening here.
Travelling by Air:
If you have a limited time to explore India than flying, although not the cheapest, definitely wins the convenience factor. With domestic airlines such as GoIndia, Jet Airways, Air India, and IndiGo, you can easily and quickly fly to all the major cities. Keep an eye out for ticket sales, if your plans are flexible you can score some amazing fares. We found out about a sale, a little too late, that was offering one-way flights between select cities for as low as 100 rupees.
Due to the longer duration of our trip, the variety of places we wanted to explore and the overall value we transitioned to doing the bulk of our travelling via bus, however all of our early experiences flying domestically were enjoyable and convenient. We were tending to book tickets no earlier than a week in advance, so better fares may be available if you plan ahead a little more than we did.
Travelling by Taxi and Rickshaw:
OLA and UBER. I repeat, Ola and Uber. These ride sharing services were our best friend and saved us from a lot of headaches. We especially used Ola all throughout India, (except in Goa which was the only state we visited that only offered private taxi services), because they offered both car and rickshaw rentals.
Using car sharing services can be a slightly higher fare than a regular metered ride but it saves you from:
- Having to explain your destination (yay Google maps!)
- Bartering your fare in the many places that do not offer metered rides
- Having to use a middle man when booking out station taxi rides/ day long taxi rentals
Also, we found that in places like Agra and even Delhi where Ola was available but not always working reliably we would use the estimated fares as our base lines for bartering with drivers who otherwise would try charging rather outrageous prices. This worked well in Agra due to the large amount of Rickshaw drivers that were competing for business.
We didn’t quite love Delhi and had to deal with a couple of unpleasant rickshaw experiences where the driver agreed to match the Ola price but tried to double the price once we reached our drop location. In these scenarios we relied on advice that we received at the beginning of our trip; Make a scene. If someone is doing something that they know isn’t right they will usually stop if they feel shamed in public. Don’t be timid, don’t be quiet; trust me, no one else is.