By Hitch Hiking
Hitch hiking in India is very easy due to the enormous number of cargo trucks on every highway and road. Most drivers do not speak English or any other international language; however, most have a very keen sense of where the cities and villages are located along the road. It is rare for any of them to expect payment. It might not be advisable for women to hitch hike alone in India.
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.
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. In many non Metro Cities or even in Metros depending on time taxies or autos may ply without the usual meter. they may quote a lumpsum amount depending upon th elocation of your visit, time of the day etc. However remember that in most Indian cities general meter fare for the taxi's are INR 14-16 and for auto rickshaw's INR 11-13. There are night surcharges 11.00 pm to 5.00 am 10%-15% extra. So don't nod for any extraordinary fare quote by your cabby friend. One most common excuses are thet "I will not get any return passenger to my way back so you have to compensate for my both way journey" that's his lookout, isn't it?
See also: Rail travel in India
Railways are the most widely used mode of long distance travelling in India. Railways were introduced in India in 1853 by the British, and today India boasts of one of the biggest network of railway lines in the world. 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. Travelling on trains in India is highly recommended.
Trains come in many varieties, but the broad hierarchy from luxurious to normal is as follows:
Jan Shatabdi Express
Garib Rath Express
Fast Passenger Trains
The 'Rajdhani' and 'Shatabdi' trains are the most luxurious trains on Indian Railways and are completely air-conditioned and also have breakfast, lunch, evening tea and dinner included in your ticket price and the food is served at your seat during travel. Most of these trains also have modern German designed LHB coaches which are extremely comfortable and luxurious. These trains are also faster than any other train in Indian Railways.The 'Rajdhani' Express trains are fast long distance overnight that connect regional state capitals to the national capital New Delhi.The 'Shatabdi' Express trains are fast short distance daytime intercity trains that connect important cities in a region, for example two adjacent states' capitals.The 'Duronto' Express introduced in 2009 are fast long-distance "point to point" non stop trains that directly connect, without stopping, two important cities located far apart. These trains have no commercial halts on their way but only operational halts for maintainence and crew changes.
Although the history of luxury train traveling in India dates back to the time of maharajas during the days of British Raj, the modern history of this mode of transportation dates back to 1982 with the introduction of India’s first luxury train Palace on Wheels. Palace on Wheels was introduced as a joint venture of the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation and Indian Railways to promote Rajasthan as a global tourist destination. The venture turned out to be a great success among overseas travelers and a few decades later more such train journeys followed.
At present there are 5 trains offering 12 signature journeys across major tourist destinations in India. Operated jointly by Indian Railways and respective state tourism departments, luxury trains in India offer a wonderful way to experience the sights in India without having to worry about the hassles of travel and accommodation. Journeys on board these trains are all inclusive of accommodation, dining, sightseeing, transportation and porter charges. Each of these luxury trains are equipped with state of the art amenities such as live television, individual climate control, restaurant, bar, lounges and cabins with electronic safe and attached bathrooms.
Mentioned below is the brief overview of the Indian Luxury Trains:
Palace on Wheels(http://www.palacesonwheels.com)— The Palace on Wheels offer 7 nights/8 days itinerary starting from US $520 and carry the guests on a weeklong voyage across royal destinations in Rajasthan. All destinations included in the itinerary happen to be former princely states of Rajputana. The destinations covered in Palace on Wheels train itinerary are Jaipur, Ranthambore, Chittorgarh, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Bharatpur, Agra and Delhi and includes sightseeing of forts, palaces along with a dash of wildlife, heritage and cultural interactions.
Maharajas' Express(http://www.the-maharajas.com/)— Dubbed as the most luxurious train of Asia, Maharajas Express is an internationally acclaimed and award winning luxury train in India. Maharajas’ Express also happens to be the latest luxury train to be introduced in India. It has created significant buzz in the global luxury travel segment owing to its refined interior, intricate decor, world class facilities and impeccable service. It is the only luxury train which offers accommodation in presidential suite spanning over an entire carriage. Redefining the art of elegant traveling in India, Maharajas' Express train offers 5 rail journeys across tastefully selected tourist destinations in India,. The itineraries include 3 pan-Indian programs along with 2 golden triangle short tours. The journeys offered by this Indian luxury train are classified as the Heritage of India, The Indian Panorama, The Indian Splendor, Treasures of India and the Gems of India. State of the art amenities, elegant interiors, refined luxury and impeccable service along with technology such as pneumatic hydraulic suspension system add to the pampering and class of this marvelous rail tour in India.
Deccan Odyssey(http://www.thedeccanodyss...)— Second luxury train to be introduced in India after the Palace on Wheels, Deccan Odyssey train journey covers destinations across two Indian states of Maharashtra and Goa. The Deccan Odyssey train offers a weeklong journey which crisscrosses through the fascinating terrains of Western Ghats and the Konkan Coast. Included in the itinerary is the trip to coastal fortress town of Sindhudurg, Ajanta and Ellora rock cut caves, Tarkali Beaches and Old Goa and Vasco among others. The all inclusive tariff of the Deccan Odyssey starts from US $425 per person per night on triple on triple occupancy basis during the peak season and US $315 for the same during lean season April and September run.
The Golden Chariot(http://www.the-golden-cha...)— The Golden Chariot is the only luxury train offering two train tour itineraries in South India. The itineraries are named the Pride of the South and The Splendor of the South. Whereas the Pride of the South tour itinerary covers destinations in Karnataka along with a halt the India’s most prominent beach destination Goa, the Splendor of the South Itinerary offers tours to tastefully selected destinations across South India. Destinations covered during the 8 days itinerary of the Splendor of the South aboard the Golden Chariot include Bangalore, Chennai, Pondicherry, Thanjavur, Madurai, Thiruvananthapuram, Alleppey and Kochi. Both journeys include a dash of cultural sights, World Heritage Sites, local interactions and wildlife.
Royal Rajasthan on Wheels(http://www.royalsrajastha...) – Equipped with modern amenities such as Wi-Fi internet, direct dial phones, Spa and satellite television, Royal Rajasthan on Wheels offer royal ride across destinations in Rajasthan along with halts in Varanasi, Khajuraho and Agra.
The Indian Maharaja(http://www.the-maharajas.com/)— This train happens to be the India’s first privately managed luxury train. Winner of the coveted World Travel Awards in the category of Asia’s Leading Luxury Train, the Indian Maharaja takes guests on a weeklong adventure through several exotic destinations covering the vast expanse of Western, Central and North India. Destinations included in the itinerary of this luxury train are Mumbai, Aurangabad, Udaipur, Sawai Modhopur, Jaipur, Agra and Delhi. The train is equipped with two dining cars serving fine Indian and Continental cuisine and catering and hospitality on board is managed by the prestigious Taj Group of hotels. To add to the luxury of the journey facilities such as a library, gymnasium and beauty parlor along with Wi-Fi internet and large screen live TVs are available on board.
Most countries offer two classes of service, but India has no less than seven to choose from. But note that all seven classes of travel are generally NOT present all together in most trains. In descending order of cost & luxury, they are:
Long-distanceAC First 1A AC 2 Tier 2A AC 3 Tier 3A First Class FC Sleeper Class SL
Short-distanceAC Chair Car CC Second Class Chair Car 2S
UnreservedGeneral compartments GS
But note that all seven classes of travel are generally NOT present together in a single train. For example AC Chair Car and Second Class Seating may be present on a short distance daytime train but sleeper classes air-con & non air-con may not be present in it. For a long distance night train, the reverse is true with the former being present and latter absent. Note that there are different comfort levels for different classes of Rail journeys. General CompartmentGS is the unreserved coach and is usually extremely crowded and are advisable only for short distance travelling. Whereas Sleeper ClassSL is not recommended for a comfort/cleanliness seeking person since this is the cheapest class of journey where the most ordinary of Indian populace travel with a privilege to have a sleeper berth, AC 3 Tier3A, AC 2 Tier2A and AC First1A may be a far better option to travel comfortably. A/c First1A costs as much as economy air ticket and has 2 bed or 4 bed lockable cabins. AC 2 tier2A has no cabins but privacy curtains are present. A/c 3 tier3A and Sleeper ClassSL are similar with the difference being the air conditioning in AC 3 tier. First ClassFC is similar to AC First1A but with no air conditioning and is now only found in very few trains. 1A,2A,3A and FC are in general very well maintained and clean. 4 toilets are present in all classes of coaches, with 3 of them being Indian style and and the other Western style.
However the true colors of India could only be glimpsed in "Sleeper ClassSL" where co-passengers would not mind interacting with you in their broken knowledge of the English language or below. But keep in mind that "Sleeper ClassSL" is usually crowded with people getting in without a ticket or with a General compartmentGS ticket and this is especially true in the Central, Northern and Eastern parts of the country. Also it can get unbearably hot in the Sleeper Class during summer months to the point of not being able to enjoy the journey at all. It is not uncommon to find people occupying your reserved seats in the Sleeper ClassSL and then refusing to move, especially in the Central, Northern and Eastern parts of the country. Unless you are able to find the Conductor called TTE in India, you most likely will never be able to make them vacate your seat. But it is generally a nice experience to travel in "Sleeper ClassSL" in the Southern part of the country, especially Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and people will readily vacate your seats if they are occupying it. Also the number of people without tickets entering the "Sleeper ClassSL" is much lower in Southern parts of the country. So if comfort is not the singular aspect in your mind go for the ordinary "Sleeper ClassSL". A/c coaches are much nicer and very well maintained, and its unheard of for people without tickets entering them. Also it is easier to find the conductor in A/c coaches in case of any need. So its advisable to travel in any of the AC coaches if travelling in the Central, Northern or Eastern part of the country.
Full information about these various classes.
Beware that trains tend to fill up early and booking tickets online can be fraught with complications due very high number of users. Railway department is expanding the IT Infrastructure with a great rate to improve customer experience. Please plan your travel well in advance to have a smooth journey. In case of urgent ticketing needs you may contact several authorised ticketing Agencies (albeit it's wise to look about their credentials before the transaction from a known source, may be from the hotel authorities or any known friends. For a paltry 5-10% extra they may book the ticket for you. But don't expect guaranteed tickets during the rush period, viz, festivals like Deepavali, or Holi since there would be a lot of craze for the tickets among domestic travelers.
Tickets are available from counters at most railway stations as well as directly from Indian Railways' online reservation service. Rail passes are also available, and are called Indrail passes.
One day before the departure date of a train the Tatkal quota seats become available. It opens at morning 10AM for A/c coaches and 11 AM for Sleeper Class on the previous day. This allows tourists who like to plan a trip as they go to book seats closer to the day of departure, for an extra fee. Even with this extra quota about 10% of the seats on a train it can sometimes be difficult to get the train you want when you want it.
It is very difficult to book Tatkal tickets online because of excess amount of traffic on Indian railway website during Tatkal ticket booking hours. Success rate of Tatkal ticket booking through Indian railway website is less than 20% for very busy train. Indian railway website recently started a service for faster Tatkal ticket booking by paying through ewallet. Ewallet is new feature when you put money before booking ticket on irctc website. To transfer money on ewallet you may need Bank IFSC Code. IFSC Code is Indian Financial System Code which uniquely identifies bank branches in India.
Most long distance night trains have a pantry car and if you are in the sleeper or air-con classes, you can buy meals on board the train. The Railways are concerned about the bad quality of pantry car meals and efforts are underway to improve things, but do not count on it as yet. If you are finicky, bring enough food and bottled water for the journey including delays: bananas, bread, and candy bars are good basics to have. At most larger stations hawkers selling tea, peanuts, and snack food and even complete meals will go up and down the train. Most important stations will have vendors selling all kinds of edible stuff, but the usual caveats about eating in India apply. Note that in the most luxurious 'Rajdhani' & 'Shatabdi' trains, meals are included in your ticket price and served at your seat during travel. There are no dining cars in Indian Railways.
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 ₹13, 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 ₹11-12 for the first km and ₹7-8 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.
Some people point out that the best way to experience India is on a motorbike. Riding a motorbike and travelling 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 travellers 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/litre, 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 near-miracles very cheaply, 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 ₹15,000-25,000 depending on the year of make and condition of vehicle. The bigger ones can be brought from ₹30,000 onwards.
There are lots of garages that provide motorcycle for rent as well. You can check for options on websites like RideIndia. Rental price is usually between ₹800-1200 but varies from city to city. They may or may not take a deposit. Foreigners have a top hand while negotiating. There are no standards for pricing, hence you can negotiate freely.
In India driving is on the left of the road. India has the second largest road connectivity in the world, after the US, but that does not ensure road quality anyway. You can drive in India if you have a local license or an International Driving Permit, but unless you are accustomed to driving on extremely chaotic streets, you probably will not want to. The average village road is narrow, often potholed and badly marked. National Highways are excellent roads, with generally 4 to 6 lanes but still, Indian driving discipline is non-existent. In the cities, the quality of roads depend upon the part of the city. A regular residential area or the smaller/poorer part of the city will have an average, two-lane road, which are often of not a very good quality, but in the greater parts of the city, the roads are excellent, well paved and marked. In the past few years the Central government has embarked on an ambitious project to upgrade the highways. The Golden Quadrilateral connecting the four largest cities of Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata with four-laned highways has been completed and is of gold standard. Some of it is of an international standard but that cannot be said for all of it. However, improving the quality of the roads does not improve the way in which people drive and it is very dangerous to drive on the roads in India as many of the people drive as they like without regard to any rules.
Generally, driving on your own in the city roads is not recommended in India at all. Lane cutting and over taking in blind turns are universal. You will not find any lane discipline in the driving and you always have to expect for something sudden, like a car suddenly turning towards you, and DO NOT hope that they will stop and give way. You will find many two-wheeler riders squeezing between any empty space between cars and a two lane road can end up like a four laned one. Pedestrians too do not follow any sort of traffic rules and walk into the middle of the road at any time. Honking is wide spread and is like a greeting in India, it is used as a "Hi" or a "Hello" between cars. Drivers also flash their headlights as a signal for you to allow the driver to pass or as a warning in blind turns. Do not expect two wheelers/three wheelers to follow traffic rules, they never do so. To add on to these issues, there are numerous marriage, death and other religious processions that disrupt traffic and block roads. You will find people taking huge idols, dancing, playing with colors on the roads occasionally. These do disrupt traffic, but they are key parts of the cultural richness of India and are indeed fun to watch. The Indian traffic police has improved their quality of service by a huge margin. They have become quite strict with the traffic issues and punish offenders. They generally ask for a driving license and vehicle papers. The traffic conditions have improved after the police have implemented date-wise parking, towing away of many vehicles and clearing traffic manually using patrol cars.
To drive a private vehicle in any part of India the following documents are required- a valid driver's license for the driver International driving permit for a foreigner, vehicle registration certificate, vehicle insurance certificate and emission certificate if the vehicle is more than one year old called pollution under control certificate in India. No other document is required for driving a private vehicle in any part of India except some restricted areas. If a policeman is asking for some other document like No Objection Certificate etc, most likely he is hinting at a bribe.
In case of an accident, it is not unheard of for the crowd to assault the driver of the bigger vehicle involved. So in case of hitting a pedestrian or a vehicle smaller than your own vehicle, even if not your fault, it is better to immediately leave the scene and be present at the nearest police station. Even if you are not driving the vehicle, it is better to immediately leave the scene and inform the police.
Instead, if you desire going by a car, opt for driver while renting the car. Rates are quoted in rupees per km and you will have to pay for both ways even if you are going only one way. The driver's salary is low typically around ₹100-150 per day that it adds little to the cost of renting the car. The driver will find his own accommodation and food wherever you are travelling, although it is customary to give him some money to buy some food when you stop somewhere to eat. A common rental vehicle is the legendary Hindustan Motors Ambassador, which is essentially an Indian-made copy of the 1956 Morris Oxford: it's large, boxy, with space for 5 passengers including driver, and a decent-sized trunk. However, the Tata Indica a hatchback and Tata Indigo a small sedan is now replacing the Ambassador as the cheap car of choice. Imported international models may be available at a premium. If the number of people travelling together is large, popular rental vehicles are Tata Sumo, and Toyota Innova.
There are numerous advantages to having a car and driver.
A good local driver is the safest means of car travel.
You can keep your bags and shopping goods with you securely wherever you go.
The driver will often have some knowledge of local tourist destinations.
A car is the quickest and most reliable means of going from point to point. After the initial agreement you needn't spend any time finding further transport, or haggling over price.
You can stop anywhere you like, and change plans at the last minute.
The driver will know where clean toilets are.
It is rare to find a driver that speaks more than a few words of English. As a result, misunderstandings are common. Keep sentences short. Use the present tense. Use single words and hand gestures to convey meaning.
Make sure you can trust your driver before you leave your goods with him. If he shows any suspicious motives or behavior make sure you keep your bags with you. Conversely, if your driver is very friendly and helpful, it is a nice gesture to buy him a little something to eat or drink when stopping for food. They will really appreciate this.
Your driver may in some cases act as a tout, offering to take you to businesses from which he gets baksheesh a sort of commission. This isn't necessarily a bad thing - he may help you find just what you're looking for, and add a little bit to his paltry income at the same time. On the other hand, you should always evaluate for yourself whether you are being sold on a higher-cost product than you want. Also, many times, these places that supply commissions to the driver especially restaurants may not always be the best or most sanitary, so use your judgement. Avoid touts on the road posing as guides that your driver may stop for because he gets a commission from them; supporting them only promotes this unpleasant practice. The driver might ask for a tip at the end of the trip. Pay him some amount ₹100/day is generally sufficient and don't let him guilt-trip you into paying too much.
If you rent a car for a trip to a remote destination, make sure before getting out that you will recognize the driver and write down the license plate number and his phone number nearly all drivers have mobile phones. Touts at tourist areas will may try to mislead you into getting into the wrong car when you leave; if you fall for this you will certainly be ripped off, and possibly much worse such as sexual assault if you are female traveller.
Be wary of reckless driving when renting a car with a driver. Do not be afraid to tell the driver that you have time to see around and that you are not in a hurry. Indian highways can be extremely dangerous. Make sure also that your driver gets enough rest time and time to eat. In general as you visit restaurants, the driver may eat at the same time either separately at the same restaurant or at some other nearby place. He may be willing to work nonstop for you as you are the "boss", but your life depends on his ability to concentrate, so ensure that your driving demands are reasonable; for example, if you decide to carry your own food with you on the road, be sure to offer your driver time to get a lunch himself.
Avoid travel at night. Indian city roads are dimly lit , and there are chances of some traffic hazards such as reckless drivers after mid-night. Some parts of highways are well lit, and some are not, as they are not considered important. Try sticking to the main highway and avoid taking diversions in the highway at night, as you never know where it might end up. However, highway driving at night is not very dangerous also and violent crimes such as assaults are rare. The highway police force does a lot to keep it that way.
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.
At one time, domestic flights were the monopoly of the government-owned Indian Airlines, but things have changed dramatically and now there are quite a few competitors, with prices a traveller's delight. The main operators are:
Air India is India's decrepit and continually bankrupt state owned carrier. Formerly two carriers, Indian Airlines domestic and Air India mainly international, these merged in 2007 but this airline is still in transition! Air India has the largest network in the country and provides regional connectivity. But, recently Air-India has become a Star-Alliance member, and has improved its service quality quite a lot. Air India also operates low-cost carrier Air India Express, which flies mainly on trunk routes and to international destinations in the Gulf and South-East Asia, and Air India Regional, which flies small aircraft to obscure places.
Go Air low cost airline which now offers additional products: Business class at economy fare GoBusiness, Flexible travelling product GoFlexi. Mostly flies from their Mumbai base.
IndiGo Airlines(http://book.goindigo.in) - another low cost airline, connecting around 20 major cities throughout the country. Their planes are new A320s purchased directly from Airbus a few years ago at most. IndiGo Airlines is also considered to be the most punctual airline in the country. As usually with low cost carriers, tickets should be purchased well in advance to get the best fares more often than not under US$100 (1 way even for longer flights across the country).
Jet Airways(http://www.jetairways.com/), full service airline with very good coverage. Now services London LHR directly from Delhi and Mumbai and flights to/from Toronto and New York via Brussels. Their subsidiary Jetlite (http://www.jetlite.com/), formerly Air Sahara, operates as a value carrier; i.e. some food and beverages are given.
SpiceJet(http://www.spicejet.com/), a third low cost airline, has fairly good network between bigger Indian cities as well as prices comparable to those of IndiGo. Their planes are similarly brand new, the main difference being these are B737-800s and -900s.
Keep in mind, however, that outside of major cities coverage is not that good. Flying low-cost to a metro and taking a train is not a bad idea either.
The earlier you book, the lower you pay. You will hear a lot about air tickets at ₹500, but those are promotional rates for limited seats which are sold out within seconds. In some other cases, the advertised fare may not include charges such as passenger service fees, air fuel surcharge and taxes which will be added subsequently. Nonetheless, you do get good rates from the budget airlines. Tickets for small cities will cost more than those for the metros, because of the spotty coverage noted above. Indian ticket pricing has not attained the bewildering complexity that the Americans have achieved, but they are getting there. As of now, you don't have to worry about higher prices on weekends, lower prices for round-trips, lower prices for travel around weekends.
There are two complications for non-Indians trying to buy plane tickets:
Many airlines have higher fares for foreigners than for Indians. Foreigners "non-residents" will be charged in US dollars, whereas Indians will be charged in rupees. In practice, you can simply pretend to be Indian when booking online as the check-in desk will rarely if ever care, but you are still running a small risk if you do this. When possible it's best to patronize those airlines that do not follow this practice.
Many online booking sites and some of the low-cost carriers reject non-Indian credit cards. Read the small print before you start booking, or book directly with the airline or through a bricks-and-mortar travel agency instead.
Checking in at Indian airports used to be slow and bureaucratic, involving lots of queuing and security checks. This is no longer the case and, in a small airport like that in Patna, it can take 15 min for the entire process from arrival at the airport through to security. Delays are solely due to large numbers of passengers at peak hours or just before departure of a plane. However, a few precautions should be taken:
Arrive at least two hours before departure if traveling from the major airports. For domestic flights from minor airports, one hour before is fine. A new rule dictates that check-in closes 45 minutes before departure and the boarding gate closes 25 minutes before departure. This rule is now being strictly implemented widely to avoid delays in flight departures.
Bring a print-out of your ticket or a soft copy of your ticketand a government-issued id, or security guards will not allow you inside. If you have neither a printout nor a soft copy, you can get one at the airline office outside the airport. Some airlines have started to charge for this.
Most airports require that you screen your checked bags before check-in, usually at a stand near the entrance. In high-security airports like Jammu, Srinagar or anywhere in the Northeast, even carry-on baggage needs to be screened. In fact all carry on baggage will be screened by an X-ray scanner and at the discretion of the security personnel, physically too. At Mumbai and Delhi airports there is no pre-screening of baggage.
Don't hesitate to ask someone if you are unsure. Most staff in airports are very helpful to passengers and will take pains to ensure you catch your flight. There are separate queues for passengers traveling without checked luggage which are usually less crowded. Different airlines have different standards for what they allow as cabin baggage, so err on the side of caution, especially if you are traveling on a low-cost airline. The allowed free baggage limit is 15Kg on most airlines.
Inner Line Permit is an official travel document issued by the Government of India to allow inward travel of an Indian citizen into a protected/restricted area for a limited period. It is obligatory for Indian citizens from outside those states to obtain permit for entering into the protected state. The document is an effort by the Government to regulate movement to certain areas located near the international border of India. This is a security measure and it is applicable for the following states:
Arunachal Pradesh – permits are issued by the Secretary of the Government of Arunachal Pradesh. The permits are required for entering the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh through any of the check gates across the inter-state border with Assam or Nagaland.
Mizoram – permits are issued by the Government of Mizoram. The permit is required for entering the Indian state of Mizoram through any of the check gates across the inter-state borders.
Nagaland – a permit is mandatory for a mainland Indian citizen entering the state of Nagaland through any of the check gates across the inter-state borders.
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 policeman for guidance on street addresses. It is usually safe to ask a policeman 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 ₹100.
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 asRaj National Express 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.