GUIDE TO INDIA
GUIDE TO INDIA
Domestic Air Services
Indian Airlines (www.indian-airlines.nic.in), the country's major domestic carrier, and its subsidiary Alliance Air, offer flights to some 59 destinations within India and to 16 neighboring countries.
The national carrier, Air India (www.airindia.com), also flies on a few domestic sectors of international routes. Note that most of these flights leave from international terminals (check in advance).
Jet Airways (www.jetairways.com ) services many Indian cities and is rated as the country's best airline, with efficient staff and a modern fleet.
Fares are practically identical between the major carriers.
There is also a handful of small regional airlines, but as services can be erratic you should check with a travel agent for the most accurate current information.
Excel's Timetable of Air Services Within India (Rs 40; published monthly) is a nifty little booklet that contains current domestic air schedules and fares. It's available at some city newsstands and at major bookshops.
Indian Airlines' 'Discover India' pass costs USS500/750 for 15/21 days. It allows unlimited travel with one restriction - you can't go to the same place twice unless you're taking a connecting flight.
Jet Airways' 'Visit India' pass costs US$300/500/750 for 7/15/21 days. The same restriction applies on visiting a city twice.
There's also the Indian Airlines 'India Wonder' fare, which costs US$300 for one week's unlimited travel within any of four regions. Note that Port Blair in the Andaman Islands is not included in this scheme.
Eastern Agartala, Bagdogra, Bhubaneswar, Imphal, Kolkata, Dibrugarh, Guwahati, Jorhat, Lucknow, Patna, Ranchi, Silchar, Tezpur, Vadodara, Varanasi, Visakhapatnam
Northern Agra, Amritsar, Bhopal, Delhi, Chandigarh, Gwalior, Indore, Jaipur, Jammu, Jodhpur, Khajuraho, Leh, Lucknow, Srinagar, Udaipur, Varanasi
Southern Bangalore, Chennai, Coimbatore, Goa, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kozhikode, Madurai, Nagpur, Pune, Thiruvananthapuram ( Trivandrum ), Tiruchirappalli (Trichy), Tirupathi, Visakhapatnam
Western Ahmedabad, Aurangabad, Bhavnagar, Bhuj, Goa, Indore, Jamnagar, Jodhpur, Mangalore, Mumbai, Nagpur, Raipur, Rajkot, Udaipur, Vadodara
Check-in is an hour before departure. An additional 15 minutes is required for flights to and from Leh, Jammu and Srinagar. The baggage allowance is 20kg (10kg for Kullu and Shimla in Himachal Pradesh) in economy class, 30kg in business.
Some flights have security measures such as having to identify your baggage on the tarmac just before boarding (ask if this is required when checking in) as well as comprehensive preflight clothing and baggage searches (which have been beefed up after September 11, 2001 ).
You have to take out all batteries, even cells used for camera flashguns, and put them into checked luggage. Any batteries discovered by security personnel on your person or in cabin luggage will be confiscated.
If you've got hand luggage, remember to get a tag for it when you check in, as it needs to be stamped when you clear security.
India certainly has a comprehensive bus network, but most travelers prefer to travel by train, as it's generally more comfortable and doesn't involve the nerve-wracking zigzagging of road travel. Nonetheless, bus travel is a refreshing change from trains, even though the journey can be slower (with frequent stops to pick up or drop off passengers), or alternatively, hair-raisingly fast. The condition of buses varies from spanking new to decrepit. Buses are best suited to short journeys; if you've got along trip, particularly overnight, opt for a train if there's a choice.
The big advantage of buses over trains is that they travel more frequently and getting one generally involves less predeparture hassle. Choose a seat between the axles, as this generally minimises the bumpiness of a trip.
Finally, it's worth taking earplugs (or a Walkman), as some bus drivers like to rock to their Hindi pop and have no qualms about pumping up the volume on bus stereos or videos.
The quality and choice of buses varies wildly from state to state, as do the fares between the same destinations (due to different road taxes, tolls, etc). In some states there's a choice of state-run buses on the main routes, including ordinary, express and deluxe. Private buses also operate in some regions; apart from often being quicker and more comfortable (some have 'luxuries' like tinted windows and reclining seats), the booking procedure is usually much simpler than for state-run buses. However, unlike state-operated companies, private operators are exceptionally eager to maximise profits and, unfortunately, this can mean less maintenance and more speed - a dangerous combination. Some private companies can also change schedules at the last minute to get as many bums on seats as possible. As the standard of private operators is so variable, it's best to seek advice from fellow travelers, tour operators, etc, to ascertain which companies have a good reputation at the time of your visit.
Two common bus types are 'ordinary' and 'express'. 'Ordinary' buses generally have five seats across-three on one side of the aisle, two on the other - although if there are only five people sitting in them consider yourself lucky! Aisles are often crammed with baggage and in some more remote places there will be people traveling 'upper class' (ie, on the roof).
'Express' buses are a big improvement in that they make fewer stops - they're still usually crowded, but at least you feel like you're getting somewhere. The fare is usually a bit more than on an ordinary bus - it's well worth paying extra. Most states also offer some more upmarket services that go by various names - inquire locally.
For the cheaper bus services it pays to have a strategy; if there are two of you, one of you can guard luggage while the other storms the bus in search of a seat. The other accepted method is to pass a book or article of clothing through the open window and place it on an empty seat, or ask a passenger to do it for you. Having made your 'reservation' you can then board the bus after things have simmered down. This method rarely fails.
You can, however, often make advance reservations (sometimes for a minimal additional fee), but this usually only applies to the more upmarket services such as express and deluxe. Private buses should always be booked in advance.
Many bus stations have a separate women's queue, although this is not always obvious because the relevant sign (where it exists at all) is rarely in English and there may not be women queuing. More often than not, the same ticket window will handle the male and the female queue (don't be surprised if you get stories to the contrary from men!). Despite the glares (or even men's refusals to shift in the queue), female travelers should simply sharpen their elbows and confidently make their way to the front, where they will get almost immediate service.
Some companies charge a few rupees to store your luggage in an enclosed compartment at the back of the bus. Alternatively, baggage is sometimes carried for free on the roof and if this is the case, it's worthwhile taking some precautions. Firstly, ensure your bag is adequately padlocked. Make sure it's tied on securely and that nobody dumps a heavy tin trunk on top of your gear. Theft can be a problem so keep an eye on your bags during any stops en route (which are ideal times to stretch your legs anyway).
On long-distance bus trips, chai stops can be far too frequent or, conversely, agonisingly infrequent. Long-distance trips can be a challenge for women as toilet facilities are generally inadequate, to say the least. For stops in the middle of nowhere, forget about modesty and do what local women do - wander a few yards off to find a convenient bush.
India has the world's biggest network under one management; almost 63,000km of track and 6867 stations. Indian Railways ( www.indianrailways.gov.in ) also has 1.6 million
staff, which makes it the world's biggest employer. At first the Indian railway system can seem complex, however it's straightforward once you get used to it.
There are tourist quotas for many express trains, and special offices or counters for foreigners in major cities and destinations (you must bring a money-changing receipt or ATM slip when paying with rupees). We've listed major trains but there are many more.
If you intend doing a lot of train travel, it's worth getting hold of the national Trains at a Glance (Rs 30). It contains extensive details about trains, and there are timetables covering each regional zone. This booklet can be bought at some train stations or at city bookshops and newsstands.
Several cities have suburban train networks, which are usually comfortable during the day, but incredibly overcrowded in peak hours.
For all manner of information about the Indian railway system www.seat6l.com/India.htm is a valuable resource.
Shatabdi express trains are same-day services between major and regional cities, and are of between three and eight hours duration. These are the fastest and most expensive trains, with only two classes; aircon executive chair and air-con chair. Shatabdis are comfortable, but the glass windows cut the views considerably compared to nonair-con classes on slower trains, which have barred windows and fresh air.
Rajdhani express trains are long-distance express services between Delhi and state capitals, and offer air-conditioned 1 st class (IA), 2-tier air-con (2A), 3-tier air-con (3A) and 2nd class. Two-tier means there are two levels of bunks in each compartment, which are a little wider and longer than their counterparts in 3-tier. Costing respectively a half and a third as much as air-con 1st class, 2and 3-tier air-con are perfectly adequate for an overnight trip.
Other express and mail trains have 2-tier air-con coaches, chair car (if it runs only during the day), nonair-con sleeper (bring your own bedding), nonair-con 2nd class, and finally there's unreserved tickets. A sleeper costs a quarter as much as 2-tier air-con. You can search Trains At A Glance, or big stations often have English-speaking staff-who can help with picking the best train - at inquiry counters. At smaller stations mid-level officials such as the deputy station master usually speak English.
To make a reservation you must fill out a form stating which class you need and the train's name and number. For overnight journeys it's best to reserve your place a couple of days in advance. If there is no special counter or office for foreigners at the station (sometimes classed with other minorities such as 'Freedom Fighters'), you will have to adopt local queuing practices. These range from reasonably orderly lines to mosh pits. There are sometimes separate ladies' queues, but usually the same window handles men and women each at a time. So women can go to the front of the queue, next to the first male at the window, and get served.
If you don't want to go through the hassle, many travel agencies and hotels are in the business of purchasing train tickets for a small commission. But watch out for small-fry travel agents who promise express-train tickets and deliver tickets for obscure mail or passenger trains. Only leave a small deposit, if any, and check the ticket before paying.
Reserved tickets show your berth and carriage number. Efficient railway staff also stick lists of names and berths on each reserved carriage, as well as writing the carriage number in chalk.
If you can't buy a reserved seat you can ask if there is a waiting list. Alternatively, you could buy unreserved tickets - which go on sale about an hour before departure - and try to upgrade it. Find a reserved-class carriage and a spare seat, and seek out the conductor (officially the TTE or Traveling Ticket Examiner). Explain you could only buy an unreserved ticket and ask about vacancies. With luck the conductor will be happy to oblige. You pay the difference between the ordinary fare and the fare of whichever class you're in, plus a small excess charge of around Rs 25 to Rs 30.
Fares are calculated by distance. Reserved tickets attract extra fees of around Rs 50. If your journey is longer than 500km, you can take one break (for two days maximum) but you must have your ticket endorsed by the station master or ticket collector at the station you stop at.
Bedding is free in first class air-con; Rs 20 in nonair-con first class. Meals are free on Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains, and cheap meals are available on other trains.
Major stations have accommodation called retiring rooms, which are a possibility if you have a valid ticket or Indrail Pass - for details see Accommodation in the Facts for the Visitor chapter.
Tickets are refundable (as late as 12 hours after train departure) but fees apply; there are no refunds on lost tickets.
Very few travelers bring their own vehicles to India. If you want to bring a car (which is cumbersome to do) or motorcycle it must he brought in under a carnet, a customs document guaranteeing its removal at the end of your stay. Failing to do so will be very expensive.
Buying a car in India is not worth the hassle unless you intend staying for a very long time.
Self-Drive In India self-drive car rental is possible, but given the hair-raising driving conditions it's advisable (and economical) to hire a car and driver instead.
If you're still interested in self-drive, expect to pay around Rs 1500 per day (with a three-day minimum; unlimited mileage) for a small air-con vehicle. You have to leave an insurance deposit (refundable) of around Rs 15,000. Budget, Euro Car, Hertz and several other companies maintain offices in the major cities. You need an International Driving License (you may get away with just a regular license from your country of residence, but it's not guaranteed).
Private Car & Driver Hire Long-distance car hire with a driver is a popular way of touring. Ideally spread among three or four people, it's a surprisingly affordable option and gives you the flexibility to go where you want when you want. Note that rental rates fluctuate in tune with petrol prices.
Inquiring at a taxi rank is the easiest way to find a car - you can also ask your hotel to book one for you, although this will invariably cost more. The key is to shop around (including at travel agencies) for the most competitive price.
Most long-distance trips are officially based on a minimum of 250km a day (about Rs 4 per kilometre) but if you're hiring for at least several days, try to negotiate a daily rate as this works out cheaper. If you're only taking a day trip, remember that a oneway fare is more expensive per kilometre because it is based on the assumption that the driver will return empty to the starting point. An air-con car will cost almost twice as much as a nonair-con vehicle. Note that there is sometimes a vehicle entry fee into other states.
To hire a car with driver for use only within one city (eg, Delhi ) expect to pay around Rs 500 to Rs 625 per day for a nonair-con vehicle.
Be aware, if you hire a car and driver, that many hotels (especially in tourist magnets like Rajasthan) do not permit taxi or rickshaw drivers onto their premises to dine, even if you are paying. That's because the commission racket has created all sorts of headaches for many hotels and, while your intentions may be warm-hearted, the hotel owners are the ones who may face problems with demanding drivers long after you have departed India.
Although some places don't mind drivers joining guests at hotel restaurants, respect those that refuse entry - if in doubt, ask. If you want to shout your driver a meal, there are good independent restaurants not attached to hotels that welcome one and all. If you are happy with your driver's services, a tip at the end of your journey will go down well.
Share-Jeeps In many parts of the Himalaya (and elsewhere) share-jeeps supplement the bus service and are particularly useful for getting to the trail-heads for trekking routes, as few buses run out to the smaller villages.
Jeeps generally run between transport hubs, which are usually the junctions of major roads, with connections to local towns and villages. For many destinations in the Himalaya there is often only one bus a day, but you'll find you can almost always complete the same route in several stages by share-jeep. Jeeps leave when they're full from well-established 'passenger stations' on the outskirts of towns and villages; the locals should be able to point you in the right direction. See regional chapters for exact fares.
Some share-jeeps can really pack in the passengers to make as much money as possible (despite maximum-passenger regulations) - some travelers may find them too claustrophobic for longer trips.
Cruising around India by motorcycle is incredibly invigorating and offers the freedom to go when and where you desire. You'll probably get a sore backside and receive your fair share of dubious directions, but you'll certainly have priceless experiences not available to travelers who rely on public transport. These days, there are a number of excellent motorcycle tours on offer which take the rigmarole out of doing it solo.
There are some insightful books available about motorcycle travel in India (see Travel under Books in the Facts for the Visitor chapter). See also the 'Traveling on a Higher Plane' boxed text in the Himachal Pradesh chapter.
License & Equipment
You'll need a valid International Driving License to motorcycle in India.
It's worth bringing your own helmet so you can be assured of the quality and fit. However if you forget, you can get quality 'Studs' Indian helmets from Rs 500 to 1500 and in Karol Bagh (Delhi) there are also several shops selling imported helmets (Rs 2500 to 3500). Leathers, gloves, driving goggles, boots, waterproofs and other protective gear should also be brought from your home country, as they're not easily available in India.
Organized tours often have a vehicle that transports luggage, but if you're traveling independently, make sure you have a pack that is easy to carry.
Organized tours provide motorcycles, but if you are planning an independent trip, bikes can be rented in various places throughout the country, such as Delhi and Goa, at negotiable prices (see regional chapters). You'll probably have to leave cash deposit (returnable) and/or your return air ticket. If you plan on renting for more than two months, consider buying your own bike.
In Delhi, Inder Motors rents Enfields (minimum three weeks); a 500cc for 3 weeks/2 months costs Rs 12,000/20.000.
Purchase, Selling & Shipping
Purchasing a second-hand machine is a matter of asking around. A perfect place to start is with mechanics, who can usually also offer advice about insurance options. Do your homework thoroughly and shop around to get an idea of the latest models on the market and their costs. It also pays to speak to people who have traveled around India by motorcycle - they're a goldmine of information.
In Delhi the area around Hari Singh Nalwa St in Karol Bagh is full of places buying, selling and renting motorcycles. Unfortunately the reputation of many places is variable, but Lonely Planet has received consistently good reports about Inder Motors (Tel: 011-25728579, fax 25781052; 1740-A/55 Basement, Hari Singh Nalwa St, Karol Bagh Market). Run by the knowledgeable Lalli Singh, this place deals only in Enfields - sales (second-hand and new bikes), rental, spares and service. They also offer other services such as arranging motorbike transport in India and collecting your bike from your final destination if it's not Delhi (both for a charge).
Prices for new Enfield models at the time of our research are given below. See also www.royalenfield.com for further information.
Most people prefer the cheaper (standard) Enfield models, which sport a more classic look. For a new bike, you will also have to pay Rs 4500 for comprehensive one-year insurance and lifetime road tax and registration. You may like to invest a little more to get extras such as a luggage rack, protection bar, backrest, rearview mirrors, lockable fuel tap, petrol filter, complete toolkit and loud horn (you're looking at an extra Rs 3000 to 3500 for all of these). An Enfield 500cc gives about 25km/litre (at the time of writing the cost of petrol in Delhi was Rs 29.9 per litre). Their tanks hold 14 litres, or you can get a customised 18- to 20litre tank at an extra cost of between Rs 1500 and Rs 1800.
Second-hand bikes (two to three years old, without servicing) cost about Rs 35,000 for an Enfield 500cc (1990-97 model). It's advisable to get it serviced before you set off (around Rs 10,000 to 15,000).
When the time comes to sell the bike, try not to appear too anxious to get rid of it. But if you get a reasonable offer, grab it. You should get about Rs 30,000 for a secondhand Enfield 500cc (if it's in reasonable condition of course) and around Rs 40,000 to 45,000 if it's a new machine.
Scooters are less popular with travelers, but if you're interested, the two most popular brands are Bajaj and LML Vesper. A new Bajaj costs from Rs 28,000 to 32,000, a Vesper Rs 30,000 to 38,000, depending on the model. To buy a second-hand Bajaj costs from Rs 14,000 to 18,000; a Vesper costs from Rs 15,000 to 20,000.
Expect to pay around Rs 16,000 to ship motorbikes to Australia, Europe and the UK, which includes the crate, packing, custom and shipping agents charges, freight cost to destination and insurance.
Ownership Papers An obvious tip perhaps, but do not part with your money until you have the ownership papers, receipt and affidavit signed by a magistrate authorizing the owner (as recorded in the ownership papers) to sell the machine - not to mention the keys to the bike and the bike itself!
Ownership papers are much more straightforward for a new bike than for a second-hand one. Each state has a different set of ownership-transfer formalities - you should inquire locally to find out the latest requirements.
It takes about a week to get the paperwork done if you wish to buy a new Enfield ; you can contact some dealers such as Inder Motors (see earlier) in advance so that the paperwork will be ready by the time you come to India.
On the Road
Given the general road conditions, motorcycling is a reasonably hazardous endeavor in India, and one ideally undertaken by experienced riders. Hazards range from goats crossing the road to defunct abandoned trucks and of course the perpetual potholes and unmarked speed humps. Rural roads sometimes have grain crops strewn across them to be threshed by passing vehicles - it can be a real hazard for bikers.
The risk of bike theft is minimal. The worst you're likely to experience is the way people can treat parked motorcycles as public utilities - handy for sitting on, using the mirror to comb their hair, fiddling with the switches - none of which is usually intended to do any damage. You'll just have to turn all the switches off and readjust the mirrors when you get back on.
Avoid covering too much territory in one day. A lot of energy is spent simply concentrating on the road, making long days exhausting and potentially dangerous. On the busy national highways expect to average 50km/h without stops; on smaller roads, where driving conditions are worse, as little as l0km/h is not an unrealistic average. On the whole, on good roads you can easily expect to cover a minimum of 100km a day (up to or over 300km with minimal stops). Night driving should be avoided.
For long hauls, putting the bike on a train can be a convenient option. You'll generally pay about as much as the 2nd-class passenger fare for the bike. The petrol tank must be empty, and there should be a tag in an obvious place detailing name, destination, passport number and train details. When you pack the bike, it's wise to remove the mirrors and loosen the handlebars to avoid damage.
Cyclists are presented with an array of inimitable opportunities in India. There are high-altitude passes and rocky dirt tracks, smooth-surfaced highways, coastal routes through lush coconut palms, meandering country roads through picturesque tea plantations and more.
Nevertheless, long-distance cycling is not for the faint of heart or weak of knee. You'll require physical endurance to cope with the roads, traffic and the climate.
Before you set out, try to read some books on bicycle touring such as the Sierra Club's The Bike Touring Manual by Rob van de Plas (Bicycle Books, 1993). Cycling magazines provide useful information including listings for bicycle tour operators and the addresses of spare-parts suppliers. Their classifieds sections are also good places to look for a riding companion.
For a real taste of the adventure of touring by bicycle, read Dervla Murphy's Full Tilt - From Dunkirk to Delhi on a Bicycle, Lloyd Sumner's The Long Ride and Bettina Selby's Riding the Mountains Down: A Journer hi Bicycle to Kathmandu.
Your local cycling club may also be able to help with information and advice. In the UK try the Cyclists Touring Club (Tel: 01483417217, fax 426994; www.ctc.org.uk ; 69 Meadrow, Godalming, Surrey GU7 3HS). The International Bicycle Fund (Tel: 206-767 0848; www.ibike.org ; 4887 Columbia Drive South, Seattle, WA 98108-1919, USA) has a number of publications including Selecting and Preparing a Bike for Travel in Remote Areas and Bikes Can Fly (about flying with your bike).
If you're a serious cyclist or amateur racer and wish to get in touch with counterparts while in India, there's the Cycle Federation of India (Tel/fax 011-23392578; Yamuna Velodrome, IGI Sports Complex, New Delhi ).
For anything bike-related in Delhi head for Jhandwalan market, near Karol Bagh, which has imported and domestic new and second-hand bikes and spare parts.
Using Your Own Bike
It can be tough finding parts, especially wheels, for touring bikes with 700cc wheels. Parts for bicycles with 26-inch wheels and parts (of variable standards) are available.
Carry a good lock and use it. Consider wrapping your bicycle frame in used inner tubes - this not only hides fancy paint jobs, but protects them from knocks and scrapes. If you plan to buy a bike in India, consider bringing your own saddle, rack and good quality panniers.
Rental & Purchase
Many places, especially the popular tourist spots such as Rajasthan and Goa, rent out bikes (see regional chapters for details).
If you'd like to buy a bike in India, make sure you shop around to get a feel for brands and prices. There are many brands, including Hero, Atlas, BSA and Raleigh. Raleigh is considered the finest quality, followed by BSA, which has a big line of models including some sporty jobs. Hero mountainstyle bicycles are on sale in the larger towns.
Once you've decided on a bike you have a choice of luggage carriers - mostly the rattrap type varying only in size, price and strength. There's a plethora of saddles available. Get a cycle fitted with a stand and bell.
Reselling is usually a breeze. Count on getting about 60% to 70% of what you originally paid if it was a new bike and is still in reasonably good condition. A local cyclehire shop may well be interested, or simply ask around to find potential buyers.
Although most travelers prefer to rent or buy a bike in India, by all means consider bringing your own. Mountain bikes are especially suited to India - their sturdier construction makes them more manoeuvrable, less prone to damage, and allows you to tackle rocky, muddy roads unsuitable for lighter machines. Inquire in your home country about air transport and customs formalities.
On the Road
Avoid big cities where the chaotic traffic can be a real hazard for bikers. National highways can also be a nightmare with speeding trucks and buses. Always make inquiries before venturing off road.
If you've never cycled long distances, start with 20km to 40km a day and increase this as you gain stamina and confidence.
As with anywhere else in the world, do not leave anything on your bike that can easily be removed when it's unattended. You may like to bring along a padlock and chain.
Apart from ferries across rivers (of which there are many), the only real boating possibility is through the beautiful backwaters of Kerala - not to be missed.
There are between two and four sailings a month between Port Blair in the Andaman Islands and Chennai ( Madras ) or Kolkata ( Calcutta ), with less frequent services to/ from Visakhapatnam. For more details, see those chapters.
Between October and early May, there are regular boat services between Kochi (Kerala) and Kadmat Island ( Lakshadweep ). Indian citizens can also take the regular services to Kavaratti, Kalpeni and Minicoy during the same period.
Although there are comprehensive local bus networks in many cities and major towns, most travelers prefer to catch taxis, autorickshaws or cycle-rickshaws, as they're relatively inexpensive, more comfortable and usually quicker. Local buses can get unbelievably overcrowded - if you do catch one, it's worth getting on at the starting point and getting off at the terminus.
A basic ground rule - agree on the fare beforehand - applies to any form of transport where the fare is not ticketed or fixed (unlike a bus or train), or calculated by a meter. If you fail to do that you can expect heated altercations when you get to your destination. And agree on the fare clearly - if there is more than one of you make sure it covers you all and if you have baggage ensure there are no extra charges. If a driver refuses to use the meter, or insists on an extortionate rate, simply walk away - if he really wants the job the price will drop. If you can't agree on a reasonable fare, find another driver.
When catching taxis/rickshaws always have enough small change, as drivers rarely do. It's also a good idea to carry a business card of the hotel in which you are staying, as your pronunciation of streets, hotel names, etc, may be incomprehensible to drivers. Some hotel cards even have a nifty little sketch map clearly indicating their location. In some instances, it is better to give directions to drivers according to landmarks rather than street names (as some streets may have several names or drivers may not be familiar with the names of minor streets).
Fares are often steeper (as much as double the day fare) at night and some drivers charge a few rupees extra for luggage.
An increasing number of taxi and autorickshaw drivers are right into the commission racket.
To/From the Airport
There are official buses, operated by the government, Indian Airlines or local cooperatives, to a number of airports in India. Where there aren't any, there will be taxis or autorickshaws.
When arriving at an airport anywhere in India, find out if there's a prepaid-taxi booth inside the arrivals hall. If there is, pay for one there. If you don't do this and simply walk outside to negotiate your own price, you'll invariably pay more and also have to go through the rigmarole of negotiating. Taxi drivers are notorious for refusing to use the meter outside airport terminals. Some taxi drivers loathe the prepaid system (as there's no scope for overcharging), so it's a good idea not to present the voucher until you have actually arrived at your destination.
There are taxis in most Indian towns, and most of them (certainly in the major cities) are metered. Getting a metered fare, however, is rather a different situation. First of all the meter may be 'broken'. Threatening to get another taxi will usually fix it immediately, except during rush hours. It's best to get a prepaid taxi if it's available.
Secondly, the meter will almost certainly be out of date. Fares are adjusted upwards so much faster and more frequently than meters are recalibrated that drivers almost always have 'fare adjustment cards' indicating what you should pay compared to what the meter indicates. This is, of course, wide open to abuse. You have no idea if you're being shown the right card or if the taxi's meter has actually been recalibrated and you're being shown the card anyway. In states where the numbers are written in local script (such as Gu_jarat) it's not much use asking for the chart if you can't read it!
The only answer to all this is to try to get an idea of what the fare should be before departure (ask information desks at the airport or at your hotel). You'll soon begin to develop a feel for what the meter says, what the cards say and what the two together should indicate.
An autorickshaw is a noisy three-wheel device powered by a two-stroke motorcycle engine with a driver up front and seats for two (or sometimes more) passengers behind. They don't have doors (except in Goa) and have just a canvas top. They are also known as scooters or autos.
They're generally about half the price of a taxi, usually metered and follow the same ground rules as taxis.
Because of their size, autorickshaws are often faster than taxis for short trips and their drivers are decidedly nuttier - hairraising near-misses are not infrequent; thrill seekers will love it! Their small wheel size and rock-hard suspension makes them supremely uncomfortable; even the slightest bump will have you instantly airborne.
In many towns you'll find that, when stopped at traffic lights, the height you are sitting at is the same as most bus and truck exhaust pipes - copping lungfuls of diesel fumes is part of the autorickshaw experience.
Somewhat like a large autorickshaw, these ungainly looking three-wheel devices operate rather like minibuses or share-taxis along fixed routes. Unless you are spending large amounts of time in one city, they are generally impractical. It's much easier and more convenient to go by auto or cycle-rickshaw.
This is effectively a three-wheeler bicycle with a seat for two passengers behind the driver. Although they no longer operate in most of the big cities, except in parts of Delhi and Kolkata, you often find them in the smaller cities and towns, where they're the basic means of transport.
As with taxis and autorickshaws, fares must always be agreed upon in advance. Avoid situations where the driver says something along the lines of: 'As you like'. He will be hoping you are not well acquainted with the correct fares and will overpay. This is especially the case in more tourist-laden places, such as Agra and Jaipur. You should simply settle on the price before you get moving to avoid nasty arguments at the end of the journey. A typical ride in a cycle-rickshaw is generally between one and three kilometres and will cost between Rs 15 and 35. It is extremely strenuous work for the driver, so a tip is appreciated. It's also quite feasible to hire a rickshaw-wallah by time, not just per trip. Hiring one for a day or several days can make good financial sense for you as well as the rickshaw-wallah.
In some towns, tongas (horse-drawn twowheelers) and victorias (horse-drawn carriages) still operate. Kolkata has a large tram network and India's first underground. Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai have suburban trains. People-drawn rickshaws still operate in parts of Kolkata. See regional chapters for further details.
At almost any place that is of tourist interest in India, and quite a few places which aren't, there will be tours operated either by the Government of India tourist office, the state tourist office or the local transport company - sometimes all three. There are also a growing number of private operators. Tours are generally very good value, particularly in places where the sights are spread out. Admission fees and camera/video charges are usually extra.
A drawback of many tours is that they try to cram too much into a short period. If a tour looks too hectic, do it yourself at a more appropriate pace - or you could go on it with the intention of finding out which places you'd like to visit on your own at a later time.