The most frequently asked question after things to do and places to visit is how to commute. India, being one of the largest countries in Asia and the second most populated in the world, offers the most versatile and vibrant experiences to tourists. Given the immense population barring air travel, transportation is slow in India. Land transportation is so congested that departure and arrival times are often mere suggestions.
If you are a foreigner who lacks regional know-how, it might be overwhelming or intimidating for you to comprehend the country’s transport systems. However, it can be convenient and enjoyable if you know when to opt for what transport, what to expect, and how it all works. So, here’s our extensive guide on everything you need to know to commute in India.
Transports In India
Arriving In India
Metropolitan cities have airport cab services. The fares are usually higher than the norm. State-run buses and incases of some metropolitan cities, you also have Metro Train Stations near the airport. However, it is advised (especially if you have luggage) you book a private cab using Ola/ Uber Mobile Applications (not available in Goa) for a hassle-free ride at a nominal price. If expense is something you can look over, then the best option is to ask the hotel you’re staying at to arrange for a pickup from the airport.
Although India has begun to quickly adopt online transactions, hard cash (Indian rupees (INR)) is the only acceptable mode of payment for bus travel. You can pay using digital wallets or credit cards for train and other private taxis or rental services while booking. So, carry extra cash.
The primary thing to do after landing in India is to buy a local sim card.
India is the seventh-largest country in the world, and it lives up to its reputation. It takes an enormous amount of time by land if you decide to go travel the country longitudinally or latitudinally. Air transport is the only convenient option. The country has a plethora of economic domestic flight services provided by Indigo, Air India, Go Air, Jet Airways, Air Asia, Vistara, Spice Jet, to name a few.
The check-in time for domestic flights varies from 45 – 120 mins depending on the flights. You need an active Indian sim card/ mobile number or international roaming to connect to free WIFI services available at the airport. Please note that free Wifi is still not installed in many airports in India. Normally, 7 Kg hand luggage and 15 Kg check-ins are allowed for domestic flights. But some flights cancel the check-in baggage for light travelers for a comparatively lesser price.
- Mode of payment: Cash/ card. Booking can be done at the airport counters or online
- Convenience: The most comfortable and fastest for long-distance travel
- Price comparison: The costliest among all
- Operating locations: Airport Authority of India (AAI) manages a total of 137 airports, including 103 domestic, 24 international, and 10 custom airports.
Note: E-tickets are accepted in India. So a physical copy of the tickets is not required. Watch out for Indian public holidays and festivals before planning as the prices double or sometimes triple during those days.
The beauty of India can be witnessed, not just from thousands of feet up in the air, but also from your window seat on a day or overnight moving train. Train journeys in India are more than a means to go from point A to point B. They are an adventure in themselves and an incredible way to meet and chat with the locals. It’s essential to read the all-in-one train travel guide, which covers all the necessary things you need to know before booking a ticket and on train travel.
There are seven Luxury Tourist Trains in India that run on world-class comforts coupled with great royalty on selected destinations. With the mind-blowing interior, majestic ambiance, impeccable hospitality, multicuisine restaurants, an onboard spa, mini gym, and bars. Special events (Henna parties, etc.) are conducted every day to engage with the onboarded tourists.
- Palace On Wheels
- The Maharajas Express
- Royal Rajasthan On Wheels
- Deccan Odyssey
- Fairy Queen Express
- Royal Orient Train
- The Golden Chariot
Metro railways help in rapid transportation in urban areas. 13 Indian cities have operating metro networks as of 2021 and many are in progress with basic fares starting as low as Rs.10. Each city has an official app launched and a website that provides every information needed including timetable, route, fare, and an option to recharge the metro card for frequent travelers. If you plan to visit the city, downloading the respective city’s official app might help you.
- Mode of payment: Cash/ card. Booking can be done in the app (specific to states)
- Convenience: Time-bound and secure with CCTV cameras. Highly recommended to bypass the city traffic.
- Price comparison: Moderate fares. Pricier than buses, two-wheelers but cheaper than Taxis and auto-rickshaws.
- Operating locations: Kolkata, Delhi, Bengaluru/ Bangalore, Gurugram/ Gurgaon, Mumbai, Jaipur, Chennai, Kochi, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Noida, Ahmedabad, Nagpur
They are not available in all places. They are only operated in Kolkatta. Opened in 1873, the trams in Kolkata are the oldest in Asia. Trams are environmentally friendly and are considered to be an icon of Kolkata. Similar to buses, tickets are issued by the conductor who is present inside the tram.
- Mode of payment: Cash only. Starts at Rs. 7 for Non AC Tram ride and Rs. 20 for AC Tram
- Operating location: Only in Kolkata/Calcutta
India has one of the most reliable train networks and in certain destinations, it takes to travel to the next level. Here you can feast your eyes on the mountains, bridges, tunnels, and fairy tale towns from the comfort of your train seat. Ever since the 19th century, toy trains have delighted their passengers with the most wondrous and note-worthy journeys.
To know more about the routes, their timings, cost, etc. kindly peruse our detailed guide on toy trains.
Local Electric Trains
Sub-Urban rail is a rail service between the central business districts and the suburbs, where people commute in large numbers daily. These trains consist of self-propelled carriages using electricity (EMU – Electric Multiple Unit) as their motive power. They are popularly called “local trains” and ticket counters usually have long queues.
ATVMs (Automatic Ticket Vending Machines) are placed near the counters where one can collect tickets themselves. This mitigates the problem of dealing with crowds. A cost-effective seasonal ticket or regular pass can be purchased if one is commuting frequently.
- Mode of payment: Cash/ Online when paid using UTS mobile application. Price starts as low as Rs. 5/-
- Convenience: Pollution-free and noiseless
- Price comparison: Cheapest mode of transport that serves as a shuttle for short and medium-distance travel.
- Operating locations: Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Delhi, Lucknow, Kanpur, Pune Hyderabad, and Goa (Karwar)
Note: e-tickets can be booked only within a radius of 30m to 5 km of the origin station, and not from the platform.
Rail Links Between India And Neighbouring Countries
India shares its land borders with seven neighboring countries: China, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. But, railways are established and in service only in the four below-mentioned countries.
- Pakistan: Two trains operate – Samjhauta Express between Delhi and Lahore, and the Thar Express between Jodhpur and Karachi.
- Nepal: 59 Km passenger service train, operated by Nepal Railways runs between Jailnagar and Bijapur via Janakpur
- Bangladesh: Biweekly Maitree Express runs between Kolkata and Dhaka, and Bandhan Express runs between Kolkata and Khulna
- Bhutan: 18 Km route is being constructed between Hasimara and Toribari
India has the second-largest network of roads in the world that connects every nook and corner of the country. Sometimes, transport facilities in India are at times inadequate or infrequent. However, the government has tried to construct and pave roads better to accommodate the transportation needs of the citizens of India. If you have the luxury of time, you should explore the country by road.
Both private and government buses run across the country at nominal rates. The conductor who wears the same khaki (brown) dress as the driver, usually roams inside the bus and issues the tickets to the passengers for a fare determined concerning the destination. For every stop, some conductor calls out the place’s name where the bus has halted. However, if he didn’t, you can communicate to him that you are new to the place and ask him to let him know if the destination arrives.
The seating rules differ from state to state. For example, ladies occupy the left side of the bus in Chennai whereas they are allowed only in the first half in Bengaluru. A conductor is always there to help in case of any mishappenings. In general, women sit on the front half of the bus.
Unlike Private buses, local government buses are prevalent but routes, costs, departure, and arrival times are hard to track down. It is safer to book tickets online for long-distance travel. Seats in private buses can be booked on Red Bus and state-run government buses that cover long-distance on their respective state websites.
- Mode of payment: Cash only. Online Booking can be done for long-distances
- Convenience: Not comfortable but manageable because of the crowds and road conditions in some places.
- Comparison: Cheapest mode of transport after local trains. Second cheapest after railways for long-distances
- Operating locations: All states and Union Territories
Note: Name boards in buses are in regional languages. You can get help from the locals by telling your destination place.
Ola and Uber cab services are popularly used in different places across the country (except Goa) for people to travel within the city limits or outside. They are normally charged based on the distance and time of the journey. Airport taxis are also available for people to pick up and drop the passengers from and to the airport.
Zoom car is a self-drive car rental service, available in 45 cities where the cars registered have All India Permit so that you can roam anywhere in the Indian subcontinent, provided you have a valid Indian driving license or an equivalent international license. A refundable deposit has to be made before using Zoom car. Savaari car rentals is another premium cab service that even curates itineraries to get the most of your desired place of visit.
These online cab booking services have GPS tracking systems with 24*7 customer support. It is advisable not to rely on the offline cab or taxis because there is a high chance that you might be scammed. So consider them only if you have no other options left.
- Mode of payment: Cash or online payments using card or digital wallets
- Convenience: Most comfortable for intercity and outstations
- Comparison: Pricier than other modes of transport, but airways
- Operating locations: All states and Union territories.
Auto rickshaws are a very popular mode of transport in India. Meter auto is one in which the meter in the auto will be turned on once you hop in and the fares are calculated on a per km basis. Some drivers just manipulate their meters so that the fare becomes more expensive. Some auto drivers demand a flat rate based on the drop location at an inflated price.
Share auto is another way where the ride will be shared with other people along the way. Shared autos are usually cheaper than metered or destination-based autos. Ola also provides competitive rates for auto-rickshaws which vary depending on the traffic, peak hours, and demand. The minimum fare chargeable for a ride in Ola is Rs.30.
It is advisable to stick to online platforms like Ola / Uber to avoid scams and enjoy a hassle-free experience. To go beyond the city limits, you can choose other options.
- Mode of payment: Cash is predominantly accepted. You have the privilege to choose from wallet money or cards for booking done on online platforms.
- Convenience: Super comfy for short distances. Best for hop in and hop off intra-city tours.
- Comparison: Cheaper than flights, taxis, and cabs but costlier than buses.
- Operating locations: All popular cities and states.
A rickshaw, a three-wheeled transport that holds two or three passengers, is drawn by a man between two shafts or pedals, and runs on the roads where even four-wheelers cannot drive through. It takes a lot of human effort to carry the weight of the passengers coupled with the vehicle itself. Rickshaws have been replaced with auto-rickshaws over time as they consume less human effort and are time-effective. Traditional auto-rickshaws are still alive in Old Delhi that indulges you on a fascinating ride on the narrow streets. It is one of the interesting things to do when in India.
- Mode of payment: Cash
- Cost: Rs. 25 for the first 2 KM and Rs. 8 per KM for every additional KM (as per government rules). But they charge a nominal fee higher than mentioned above.
- Comparison: Cheaper than taxis, auto-rickshaw
- Operating locations: Old Delhi, Calcutta, Jaipur, Mathura, Brindavan, and Varanasi.
While the Himalayan tours are popular in northern and eastern India, there are some noteworthy scenic routes in the south and west including Chennai-Pondicherry, Mumbai-Pune expressway, and Rameshwaram Pamban bridge, and Athirapally-Valparai. Motorbiking is one of the best options to cover extreme corners, experience local cultures, and also devour traditional regional cuisine. Bike lovers plan their itineraries and ride from Kashmir to Kanyakumari for an offbeat lifetime experience.
You can also rent bikes in India on an hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly basis. A refundable security deposit has to be provided with an original ID proof and a copy of an Indian driving license or any equivalent international license. We have rented bikes online with Royal Brothers and RentTrip and didn’t find any issue with them. But when we rented bikes from local shops in Goa, we did end up with a bit of trouble. So, in India, we always recommend you to rely on the available online platforms.
We feel that riding across the country’s landscape on a motorcycle is more than just thrilling. In several ways, this is the best way to explore Indian towns and their countryside.
- Mode of payment: Cash or Card
- Convenience: Contingent on the person. Not only suitable for adventure seekers and explorers but also to run daily errands.
- Price comparison: Cheaper than Airways and Taxis
- Operating locations: All states and Union Territories
Last but not the least, comes the most eco-friendly means of transport. The cycling culture in India is growing as India’s cities become more congested and polluted. Bicycles are a fast, cheap, and healthy alternative for a commute in a city. If you are planning to stay or settle in an Indian city, we recommend you buy a cycle from Decathlon or any other store of your choice. Group bicycle tours or weekend rides are popular in major tourist attractions. Take part in those cycle tours to interact with the locals, and open yourself up to a more regional experience.
India is a vast country, and there are countless places to explore and adventure. Each exploration requires a suitable mode of transport. Remember, not all modes of transport can be used everywhere.
We hope you learned the specifics of public and private transportation systems that help you to get around the country. As mentioned earlier, in India we always recommend you to rely on the online platforms available to avoid scams, unless a local recommends or you know someone already. As always for more content on travel and anything travel-related stick with us, the twin travelers.