In general, Indian towns and cities can be divided, for the purposes of quick orientation, into two categories: manageable and unmanageable. Major cities like Bombay, Calcutta and Delhi are impossible to know intimately in just three or four days, which is all most travellers allow. To cover the most ground, you’ll need to take a sightseeing bus to acquaint yourself with the layout, main features and sights, then a taxi, rickshaw or cycle tour to fill in any gaps. The first things to do in a major city, therefore, are to visit the main tourist office and get a decent map, current brochures and details of any cultural programmes.
There are national and state tourist offices in most of the larger cities in India which vary considerably in their degree of efficiency. In many states the tourist offices run tourist bungalows which usually offer extremely good-value accommodation; state tourist offices are normally located in these bungalows. There is also an organisation known as the Indian Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) which often runs the city tour buses and a chain of hotels under the Ashok name. Government of India tourist offices include:
Agra: 191 The Mall (tel 363377)
Aurangabad: Krishna Vilas, Station Rd (tel 24817)
Bangalore: KFC Building, 48 Church St (tel 579517)
Bombay: 123 M. Karve Rd, Churchgate (tel 293144)
Calcutta: 4 Shakespeare Sarani (tel 221402)
Cochin: Willingdon Island (tel 340352)
New Delhi: 88 Janpath (tel 332005)
Jaipur: Khasa Kothi Hotel (tel 72200)
Khajuraho: Near Western Group Temples (tel 2047)
Madras: 154 Mount Rd (tel 869685)
Panaji (Goa): Communicade Building, Church Square (tel 43412)
Varanasi: 15B The Mall (tel 42744)
Most of the better hotels will be able to give you this information—and book a fh-rul-day asigohtseleingf tour, or hire a guide. Many Indian railway stations have tourist offices in situ, which means that you can plan your sightseeing schedule as soon as you arrive.
Bear in mind that the real sights of India are out there on the streets, not confined to monuments, palaces, parks and museums. Wandering off on foot or by cycle down small, narrow backstreets can turn up all sorts of delights—tiny local temples, quaint pavement shrines, colourful markets and bazaars, and out-of-the-way curio shops. Off the beaten track is usually where you’ll find the real India—the small, yet lively communities of local people working, eating, resting, playing and praying. They are invariably interested in, and keen to meet, foreign tourists.
The smaller towns, villages, hill stations and beaches fall into the ‘manageable’ category. These places are rarely built up, have few major streets, and are difficult to get lost in. Sights may be limited, but so is the pressure to see them. Here, you can nearly always cycle or walk round the main points of interest in a day, and don’t need to rely on tour buses or guides to get around. Some places, like Agra and Jaipur, fall in between.
They don’t really merit a sightseeing tour by bus, yet can be very difficult to negotiate on foot or by cycle. The problem here is over-tourism, resulting in a crush of vehicles in and around famous places like the Taj Mahal or the old Pink City of Jaipur. One seasoned traveller remarked that he would never risk cycling in any town or city with a preponderance of traffic signs. Good examples are Bombay (‘Hop along in life, or cross the road carefully’), Hyderabad (‘Make up your mind what you are going to do, then cross the street’) and Ahmedabad (‘No elephants allowed’). The accident rate in some places is quite high—notably in towns with notorious ‘Stop-Go’ signs (nobody stops,everyone goes) or with lots of cross-walks