There a lots of ways to travel around India; however most of the transport is not very efficient or punctual. Try to keep in mind that getting around India is half the fun of the experience but be sure to allow considerable buffer time for any journey with a fixed deadline, such as your flight home.
Due to India’s dodgy roads and large size, travelling by plane is a great option, especially as prices have tumbled in the last few years. Indians remote mountains and offshore islands are reachable by plane to, making it India’s most efficient mode of transport.
Most Indian airports continue to function with one runway and a handful of boarding gates, causing air traffic and making them less punctual. A word of warning about check in and security - queues can be terribly long, especially in Delhi and Mumbai, so try and help matters by being prepared such as putting your 100ml liquids in clear bags and not smuggling monkeys in your pants. Saying this, both Mumbai and New Delhi airports have been upgraded, with the newly constructed terminal 3 in the Delhi airport being the 8th largest terminal in the world.
Air India: India's state owned carrier. Service is generally below par. As of 2012, international services have been affected by a pilots' strike.
Go Air: Low cost which now offers additional products: Business class at economy fare (GoBusiness), Flexible travelling product (GoFlexi). Mostly flies from their Mumbai base.
IndiGo Airlines: Another low cost airline, connecting around 20 major cities throughout the country.
Jet Airways: 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.
Kingfisher Airlines: Full service, but with high fares.
Spice Jet: A low cost airline.
Bare in mind that the earlier you book your flights, the less you pay. Low cost airlines won’t help you get to small towns; most of the time your best bet is Jet Airways or Air India.
Be aware that some airlines will charge foreigners more for tickets as the price will be in dollars; also many online booking sites reject non-Indian credit cards, so either read the small print or book directly through the airline.
Buses are the second most popular way of getting around India. While you can't go across country on a bus, it's the only cheap way of reaching many places that aren't on the rail network.
Every state has its own public bus service. There are usually multiple classes of buses. With ordinary buses, reservations are not possible and they tend to stop at too many places. On the bright side, they're very cheap, with a 5-6 hour journey rarely costing over 100 rupees.
In addition to ordinary public buses, there are luxury or express buses available, which are advisable, especially on long journeys. Most have air-conditioning and assured seating if you book in advance, they also have limited stops, making them well worth the slight extra expense.
Saying this, be aware that even if the private buses are available in your area the quality could vary a lot. Be warned that many of the private buses play music at ear-splitting volume; you will struggle to block it out, even with earplugs.
All buses have to contend with the poor state of Indian highways and busy Indian traffic which usually makes them slower, less comfortable and not as safe as trains, regardless of what class of travel it is. Night buses are particularly hazardous, and for long-distance travel it's wise to opt for sleeper train services instead.
India has 7 class types to choose from, unlike most countries which have 2. The classes are: AC First (1A), AC 2 Tier (2A), AC 3 Tier (3A), First Class (FC) and Sleeper Class (SL) for long-distance. Short-distance has AC Chair Car (CC), Second Class Chair Car (2S) and General compartments (GS).
Trains tend to fill up early, allot yourself plenty of time so to avoid frustration when booking train tickets. Tickets are available from counters at most railway stations as well as directly from Indian Railways' online reservation service.
For long distance it is advised to travel on board either The 'Rajdhani' or 'Shatabdi' trains as they are completely air-conditioned and also have breakfast, lunch, evening tea and dinner included in your ticket price, which is served at your seat during travel. You might want to bring a long your own snacks as the food isn’t the same quality as restaurants. These trains are also faster than any other train in Indian Railways.
The luxury train, 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 travellers.
Currently there are 5 trains, Palace on Wheels, Maharajas' Express, Deccan, The Golden Chariot, Royal Rajasthan and the Indian Maharaja offering twelve signature journeys across major tourist destinations in India.
Luxury trains in India offer a fun 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 en-suite bathrooms.
In big cities such as Mumbai pre-paid taxis are available in areas such as airports or stations. They will save you money as well as the bargaining hassle; however beware of scammers who claim to be running pre-paid taxis. You will notice that normal taxis running by metre are more common than Tok Tok’s in the big cities.
Be sure to collect your 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 so never pay any extra.
The ‘tok tok’or auto-rickshaw, is the most common means of hired transportation in India. They are not suitable for long distances but they are very handy for short-distance travel in cities since they can weave their way through small alleys to bypass larger cars stuck in travel jams. Most are green and yellow and some may be yellow and black in colour. Riding in a tok tok is a big part of experiencing India so make sure you give it a go at least once.
When paying for a tok tok you can either negotiate the fare or go by the meter. In almost all cases it's better to use the meter as a negotiated fare means that you are being charged a higher than normal rate. If you do decide to haggle then remember to be confident and act as if you know what the fare should be, ideally you should talk with a local to find out what the fare for any estimated route will be. Remember that higher rates may apply at night, and for special destinations such as airports.
Never get into an auto-rickshaw without either the meter being turned on, or the fare negotiated in advance. In nearly all cases the driver will overcharge you (by Indian standards) later.
It may sound silly but make sure that the driver knows where he is going. Many drivers will claim to know the destination without really having any clue as to where it is. To test this you can either quiz them on the location , or if you know nothing about the area, make them tell you in no uncertain terms that they know where it is. This is because they often demand extra payment after they get lost and drive all over the place. 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.
A few of the more daring travellers suggest that the best way to experience India is on a motorbike. This is not for the faint of heart or inexperienced rider as India boasts the highest motor vehicle accident rate in the world.
By riding a motorbike across India you get a closer look and feel of India with all the smells and sounds added. Some companies organise packaged tours or tailor made tours for Enthusiastic bikers and adventurous travellers for a safer motorbike experience of India. Some names to note are blazing trails tours, wild experience tours and extreme bike tours as they are the known names in the market.
The rule in India is to drive on the left of the road though it can be noted that at least most of the time this does not happen as Indian driving discipline is non-existent!
The central government has embarked on an ambitious project to upgrade the highways in recent years. The Golden Quadrilateral connecting the four largest cities of Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata has been completed and 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.
The streets are extremely chaotic so most people will not wish to drive here, with the average city or village road being narrow and full of potholes; however if you are the adventurous type then you are able to drive in India with a local license or an international driving permit.
Above all remember to stay safe.