India is big and there are lots of interesting ways to travel around it, most of which could not very well be described as efficient or punctual. Allow considerable buffer time for any journey with a fixed deadline eg. your flight back, and try to remember that getting there should be half the fun.
Note that travel in much of the North-East with the notable exception of Assam and parts of Andaman and Nicobar, Jammu and Kashmir, Lakshadweep, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal will require obtaining a Protected Area Permit PAP. The easiest way to get one is to request it along with your visa application, in which case it will be added to your visa. Otherwise, you will need to hunt down a local Ministry of Home Affairs office and battle with bureaucracy.
Some people point out that the best way to experience India is on a motorbike. Riding a motorbike and traveling across India you get the closer look and feel of India with all the smells and sounds added. There are Companies which organize packaged tours or tailor made tours for Enthusiastic bikers and adventurous travelers for a safer motorbike experience of India. Blazing Trails tours, Wild Experience tours and Extreme Bike tours are the known names in the market.
Another choice, popular with people who like taking risks, is to buy a motorcycle. Not for the faint of heart or inexperienced rider. India boasts the highest motor vehicle accident rate in the world.
The Royal Enfield is a popular some would say, the only choice for its classic looks and macho mystique. This despite its high petrol consumption, 27 km/liter, supposed low reliability it is "classic" 1940s engineering after all and requires regular service adjustment; you can find an Enfield mechanic who has worked on this bike for ten, twenty, thirty years in every town in India, who will perform miracles at about a dollar an hour labor cost, and claimed difficulty to handle actually the bike handles beautifully, but may be a wee heavy and seat high for some.
Or, one can opt for the smaller yet quicker and more fuel efficient bikes. They can range from 100 cc to the newly launched 220 cc bikes. Two most popular bike manufacturers are Bajaj and Honda. The smaller variants 100-125 cc can give you a mileage exceeding 50 km/litre on the road, while giving less power if one is opting to drive with pillion on the highways. The bigger variants 150-220 cc are more powerful and one can get a feel of the power especially on highways - the mileage is lesser for these bikes anywhere between 35km/litre to 45 km/litre.
Preferably tourists should go for second hand bikes rather than purchasing new ones. The smaller 100 cc variants can be purchased for anywhere between â¹15,000-25,000 depending on the year of make and condition of vehicle. The bigger ones can be brought from â¹30,000 onwards.
In central locations of big cities like airports or stations reliable pre-paid taxis are available and will save you money as well as the bargaining hassle. However beware of touts who would claim themselves to be running pre-paid taxis. Always collect the receipt from the counter first. The receipt has two parts - one part is for your reference and the other part you will need to handover to the taxi driver only after you reach your desired destination. The taxi driver will get his payment by submitting or producing this other part to the pre-paid taxi counter.Normal taxis running by meter are usually more common.
The auto-rickshaw, sometimes abbreviated as "auto" and sometimes as "rickshaw", is the most common means of hired transportation in India. Most residents usually refer to them as a "three wheeler." They are very handy for short-distance travel in cities, especially since they can weave their way through small alleys to bypass larger cars stuck in travel jams, but are not very suitable for long distances. Most are green and yellow, due to the new CNG gas laws, and some may be yellow and black in color, with one wheel in the front and two in the back, with a leather or soft plastic top.
When getting an auto-rickshaw, you can either negotiate the fare or go by the meter. In almost all cases it is better to use the meter -- a negotiated fare means that you are being charged a higher than normal rate. A metered fare starts around â¹13, and includes the first kilometre of travel. Never get in an auto-rickshaw without either the meter being turned on, or the fare negotiated in advance. In nearly all cases the driver will ask an exorbitant sum for Indian standards from you later. A normal fare would be â¹11-12 for the first km and â¹7-8 per km after that. In most of the cities, auto-rickshaw drivers are provided with a rate card that elaborately describes the fares on per kilometre basis. A careful tourist must verify the meter-reading against the rate-card before making a payment.
Ideally, you should talk with a local to find out what the fare for any estimated route will be. Higher rates may apply at night, and for special destinations such as airports. Finally, factor in that auto drivers may have to pay bribes to join the queue for customers at premium location such as expensive hotels. The bribe will be factored in the fare.
Make sure that the driver knows where he is going. Many autorickshaw drivers will claim to know the destination without really having any clue as to where it is. If you know something about the location, quiz them on it to screen out the liars. If you do not know much about the location, make them tell you in no uncertain terms that they know where it is. This is because after they get lost and drive all over the place, they will often demand extra payment for their own mistake. You can then tell them that they lied to you, and wasted your time, so they should be happy to get the agreed-upon fee.
See also: Rail travel in India
Railways were introduced in India in 1853, more than one and half a centuries ago, by the British, and today India boasts of the biggest network of railway lines in the world, and the rail system is very efficient, if not always on schedule. Travelling on Indian Railways gives you the opportunity to discover the Indian landscape and scenic beauty first hand and is generally more economical than flying domestic. It is one of the safest ways of travel in India. With classes ranging from luxurious to regular, it's the best way to get to know the country and its people. Most train passengers will be curious about you and happy to pass the time with a chat. Travelling on a train or strolling through an Indian railway station while waiting for your train, is in itself an important part of discovering India. If you are on a budget, travelling on an overnight sleeper train will reduce a night's stay at a hotel. Thus travelling on trains in India is highly recommended.
India's large size and uncertain roads make flying a viable option, especially as prices have tumbled in the last few years. Even India's offshore islands and remote mountain states are served by flights, the main exceptions being Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh although crossing over from neighbouring states is fairly easy. Due to the aviation boom over the last few years, airports have not been able to keep up with the air traffic. Most Indian airports continue to function with one runway and a handful of boarding gates. Check in and security queues can be terribly long, especially in Delhi and Mumbai. India has recently built two new international airports in Hyderabad and Bengaluru, which are modern and well-equipped. Mumbai and New Delhi airports have been upgraded. The newly constructed terminal 3 in the Delhi airport is the 8th largest terminal in the world.
In northern India, particularly Delhi, heavy winter fog can wreak havoc on schedules. Flights to small airports up in the mountains, especially to Leh in Ladakh which is reachable only by plane for most the year, are erratic at the best of times.
If you need to get anywhere, call in advance and ask for detailed directions. Postal addresses are often stated in terms of other landmarks, as in "Opp. Prithvi theatre" or "Behind Maruti Showroom". Unlike the western system of address, the Indian system uses municipal ward number, plot number, house number, land mark and the location instead of street name and block number. Finding a place will usually involve some searching, but you will always find someone out on the streets to guide you. Unlike many other countries, Indians usually do ask passers-by, nearby shopkeepers or cops for guidance on street addresses. It is usually safe to ask a cop or traffic-policeman for guidance.
While you can't take a cross-country bus-ride across India, buses are the second most popular way of travelling across states and the only cheap way of reaching many places not on the rail network eg. Dharamsala.
Every state has its own public bus service, usually named "X Road Transport Corporation" or XRTC or "X State Transport Corporation" or XSTC which primarily connects intra-state routes, but will also have services to neighbouring states. There are usually multiple classes of buses. The ordinary buses called differently in different states, e.g. "service bus" are extremely crowded with even standing room rarely available unless you're among the first on board as reservations are not possible and they tend to stop at too many places. On the upside, they're very cheap, with even a 5-6 hour journey rarely costing over â¹100.
In addition to ordinary public buses, there are luxury or express buses available, and most have air-conditioning now-a-days. Some state transport corporations have even introduced "Volvo" brand buses on some routes which are extremely luxurious and comfortable. These better class "express" or "luxury" buses have assured seating book in advance, and have limited stops, making them well worth the slight extra expense. But even these better-class buses rarely have toilets and make occasional snack and bathroom breaks.
Private buses may or may not be available in the area you are travelling to, and even if they are, the quality could vary a lot. Be warned that many of the private buses, especially long-distance lines, play music and/or videos at ear-splitting volume. Even with earplugs it can be nerve-wracking. Do not expect public restrooms at all, or even most, bus stops. Unfortunately, the bus industry is extremely fragmented and there are few operators who offer services in more than 2 or 3 neighbouring states. Travel agents usually only offer seats on private buses.
However, long distance bus operators such as Raj National Express (http://www.rajnationalexp...) and KPN Travels (http://www.kpntravels.in/) are currently beginning to roll out their operations across the country modelled on the lines of the Greyhound service in the Unites States. Their services are excellent and they provide entertainment on board.
Regardless of class of travel, all buses have to contend with the poor state of Indian highways and the havoc of Indian traffic which usually makes them slower, less comfortable and less safe than trains. Night buses are particularly hazardous, and for long-distance travel it's wise to opt for sleeper train services instead.