It would be a crime if I did not add to the posts already mentioning our Indian travel exploits. In the 6 weeks we have been here we have taken the train overnight on long haul, short trains between towns, local buses, municipal buses on 4 hour routes, taxis with non-English speaking drivers, taxis through the night long haul, tuktuks galore, sleeper buses, semi-sleeper buses, boated down the backwaters, negotiated the metros and one internal flight.
So in a nutshell here are some cool tips to prepare you for traveling within India.
One word of caution, you cannot use logic to rationalise anything that goes on when booking tickets, this just serves to irritate or wind you up even more than the pesky ticket touts and hawkers.
A trip to India would not be complete without experiencing a long train ride and preferably overnight. We spent many hours trying online to make bookings and this was a colossal waste of energy except that you can see the train schedules and which trains to enquire about when you make your inevitable trip to the train station and those helpful, friendly and smiley chaps the Foreign Tourist Counter….gee where has the smile gone dude!? Even our Indian friends said they do not use the website because it does not work. Go reasonably prepared for booking your train ticket, find the foreign tourist counter and if successful you will probably be requested to come back with a piece of paper that you must complete, so that he can process the booking. But this may require you to stand in another much longer queue and ask at enquiries.
So grit your teeth, prepare for a bit of hardship waiting and queueing in illogical sequences.
There is a Foreign Tourist quota for each carriage on each train and its ridiculously low, so they may try selling you a “takkal” ticket which is an emergency ticket and you may need to return to the station the day before to purchase this ticket, which costs x4 the normal price. Scam I here you say! Never! Its called business!
There are a number of classes for trains, much like the society class structure (no comment from me!)
AC2, AC3, Sleeper and 2nd Class.
AC = air conditioning which is a must in the hot weather or during the daytime
AC2 = two folding beds in area with air con
AC3 = three folding beds in area with air con
Sleeper = six folding beds, lower, medium and upper or the window sleeper lower or upper
2nd Class is a sardine can, as many as can fit into a carriage plus some more on the edges, roof, underneath.
In all of the above, you have to ignore the various touts and street ticket kiosks as they may have tickets but add on huge commissions and charge silly fees due to the variety of stories they will share with you about availability and festivals taking place.
It is possible to book some of these online quite easily or going to the actual ticket office on the street is possible. Don’t be surprised with the story of your multi-axle Volvo a/c sleeper from point x to point y actually being a 4 hour transit bus to wait in the dark in some obscure busy bus terminal before you actually get on the multi-axle Volvo a/c sleeper for the other 8 hours.
You may have been extremely explicit and left thinking that you had a seamless 12 hour comfortable ride ahead, but…..when you get there at the appointed time something will have changed and you can rant and rave and complain….but you still need to board else you risk missing a connection.
Nevertheless, these private bus company’s are clean and comfortable and you will get sleep. The semi-sleeper chairs recline nicely and there is room to stretch out, whilst the sleeper buses are great, you do tend to bump around a lot, if you are tall then book into a double so you can stretch else it may be a nightmare for you, vertically challenged people like myself have no problem stretching out! Such good fun aswell.
These are abundant in most areas but are the most expensive options to get around. The private hire for getting to and from airports or neighbouring towns are reliable but costly, whilst the local taxis for hire or pre-paid options are cheap and reasonably easy to get hold of. We used Ola service and this proved to be the best options when you have a connection and cell airtime, but don’t be surprised if your driver cannot speak English and they do ring you to find out where you are, even with your pinpoint location submitted, so its a similar approach to Uber and you know car type and driver name up front. We used to avoid standing in long queues at train stations, Uber is also an option. You can hail taxis in the streets, or get hailed by drivers and the practices vary throughout India.
Tuctuc or tuktuk doesn’t matter, these are great for getting around town and can take luggage. The process is to tell them where you want to go and ask how much then half the price (or more) yourself and see where you meet up, we walked away many times only to get 50 metres away and the same driver come up to us and agree, so its a cat and mouse game and when you are tired its the last thing you want todo. Turning up the street and traveling in the wrong direction is normal. It’s India baby!
Delhi’s metro system is about 10 years old, very clean and smooth. Buying tickets is straight forward with the purchase of a disc for an adhoc journey or if you are staying for a day or more then purchase the travel card, the deposit is small and can be reloaded and refunded when you have finished with it. The system itself is a great way to enter from the airport and is significantly cheaper and quicker than by road to central Delhi, no traffic underground! It is crowded and there is a female only section which makes only the sense that the men cannot be trusted to be in the vicinity of a woman without staring non-stop. They use colour coding like the London Underground, only problem is its not visible in the terminal where you need it most. Kolkata metro is older but pretty straightforward to use and gets you about the city avoiding the traffic congestion above. Both these metros are almost linear in how they connect within the city in comparison to a network of connections.
When buying your ticket at the municipal or train ticket counters in the stations, watch out for people pushing across you with their money whilst you have your wallet out. This is normal practise and although you may feel it to be rude or possible theft, remember It is India baby! Me on the other hand, forgot it was India once and firmly pushed this chap out of my way twice whilst he tried pushing over my wallet….I think he was taken aback that I was not happy, or it could have been when I told him he was a thief and everyone stared at him….I had obviously achieved my higher level of consciousness that day!