India’s roads have a worldwide reputation for variable driving standards to say the least. The accident rate is amongst the highest in the world, not helped by heavy congestion in many major cities and the number of aging vehicles on the road. Driving in India is therefore a challenge and many foreign nationals choose not to, preferring to take public transport or hire a chauffeur-driven car.
If you do decide to take to the road in India, be aware that driving laws vary slightly from state to state. As a general guide, vehicles are driven on the left-hand side and the minimum age to drive is 18 years of age. The maximum speed limit for cars is 100kph (≈62mph) for cars, but other vehicles including motorbikes face different restrictions. Some foreign driving licences are valid in India for a limited period, but again regulations vary so it is best to check with your local state transport authority. You must carry your driving licence, insurance certificate, vehicle registration certificate and pollution under control certificate – proof that a mandatory emissions test has been passed.
Taxis and rickshaws
Taxis are required to be registered and metered, although some drivers may try to work off the meter instead so be aware of this before beginning your journey. Some companies also accept prepayment of fares. Taxis can be pre-booked across the country and in some regions you are still allowed to hail them at the side of the road.
Alternatively, for short trips you might wish to take a rickshaw. There are two types: the traditional cycle rickshaw and the auto rickshaw – small three-wheeled motor vehicles that operate much like taxis. Also like taxis, they should be on a meter but this is not always enforced. Some cities do limit the jurisdiction of rickshaws, so don’t be surprised if they can’t take you all the way to your final destination. Both taxis and rickshaws can be booked by phone or often by using mobile apps.
Buses and coaches
Bus services are plentiful in India and account for the vast majority of journeys made in cities due to their inexpensive and convenient nature. Modernisation efforts have seen new air-conditioned buses introduced in many regions and some cities now have bus rapid transit systems too. However, services are often overcrowded and it can be difficult for newcomers to India to negotiate the plethora of routes at first. Intercity coach services are provided by numerous private operators between most major cities at relatively inexpensive prices. The Redbus website allows you to search for routes across many operators.
The railway of India is an important and revered part of the country’s identity. Founded in 1853 and run by the state-owned Indian Railways, it has over 115 kilometres of track covering most of the country and is estimated to carry in excess of 20 million passengers every day. With passes like Indrail available the fares are generally quite low, although punctuality can leave something to be desired and overcrowding can also be an issue. With the longest journeys lasting days rather than hours it’s not the quickest way to travel either, but an authentic long-distance Indian rail journey is cheaper than flying and offers a real perspective on the country.
Trams and light rail
Modern India is working hard to improve urban transport and most large cities either have light rail, trams or underground metro systems, or have plans to develop them. Monorails are also becoming more popular as authorities seek to ease congestion on city roads.
There are numerous airports in India including several large international hubs connecting destinations worldwide with the major Indian cities. The busiest are Indira Gandhi International Airport of New Delhi and Chattrapati Shivaji International Airport of Mumbai. As well as the international connections, a large number of domestic airports make flying within India widely accessible, while competition between airlines like state-carrier Air India, Jet Airways and IndiGo make it relatively inexpensive.
Other ways to get around
There are ferry services in operation between the main ports and a catamaran service from Mumbai to Goa, however these are mostly seasonal and generally do not operate during monsoon season. Inland waterways also offer a scenic if sluggish way to see India.