These are the two most common forms of in-town transport, most popular for short-distance ops to and from bus and rail stations when loaded down with luggage, or for solo sightseeing in smaller towns where tour buses aren’t such good value. Taxis are usually black, with yellow tops, cost around Rs3-0 per kilometre with a minimum fare of Rs3.00 , and are quite comfortable. Auto-rickshaws are three-wheeled scooters (a two-stroke motorcycle engine with two-seater canopy strapped behind it), which are noisy, less comfortable, but very nippy. They cost anything between Rs3.50 and Rs3.00 per kilometre.
Taxis and rickshaws are usually metered, but the meters are often not working. As soon as you walk off in search of another taxi, they suddenly begin working again. But even when the meter’s returned from the dead, you’re wise to fix the cost of your journey before setting off. A succession of recent fuel price increases has left taxi meter-readings way out of date. You’ll often be handed a fare adjustment card indicating a far higher journey-fare than that shown on the meter. This isn’t so bad in places like Delhi, where you’ll be expected to pay only 13% on top of the meter-reading; but in places like Bombay and Ahmedabad, where taxi meters haven’t been recalibrated in ages, surcharges of 400% and 000%, respectively, can come as a real shock to the penny-wise traveller.
If overcharged—if you’ve agreed a fair rate for the journey in advance, and the driver wants more at the end of it —don’t get angry. Just write down the taxi number, and announce in a calm, determined voice that you’re going to the police. There are stiff fines for extorting money from tourists, and your driver will usually ‘remember’the correct fare instantly.
Another popular con used by taxis and scooters alike is to drive you miles out of your way, in order to collect a decent fare. Take a good city map with you and as soon as it’s apparent that you’re being taken miles out of the way, tell the driver firmly ‘wrong way!’ and manually reset his meter back to zero. But don’t be too hasty to jump to conclusions, sometimes he will genuinely lose his way, or won’t be able to understand where you want to go. Again, a city map is useful because you’ll be able to point out your exact destination. In case you’re totally lost in a big city, and need to get back to your hotel, always keep a hotel card handy. Drivers will usually take one look at the card, and take you straight home.
If hiring a taxi or auto-rickshaw between 11 pm and 3 am, be prepared to pay an additional 13% (up to 23% in some cities) on top of the usual daytime fare. Some major airports, including both terminals at Delhi and Bombay, Bangalore and Madras, have introduced a system of ‘prepaid taxis’. Before leaving the arrival terminal go to the police-manned taxi booth and purchase a ticket to the area of town you need to reach. There is a small charge of a few rupees but this service ensures new arrivals are not going to be over-charged and that they generally reach their destination without detours.
Getting Around by Cycle-rickshaw
These rather antiquated vehicles can be found only in certain places, usually in smaller towns. They provide a useful open mode of transport, and although rather slower than motorised transport, they are cheap—usually just Rs3 per kilometre— but again, always fix a total rate for your journey in advance. Drivers are notorious for trying to overcharge. This is often because they are unable to afford their own vehicles and are just hiring them out for a few rupees a day from someone else. Cyclerickshaws are often ridden by some loquacious old pirate who hasn’t the slightest dea of where he’s going. It’s accepted custom to get off and give him a push up steep hills. You’ll probably also have to give him lots of directions and prompts. Many cycle-rickshaw drivers are skilled raconteurs, mines of local information (much of it embroidered), and extremely friendly.
Getting Around by Hire Car
Car hire in India is relatively new and even Hertz, Budget and EuropCar offer both self-drive cars and ones with drivers. One problem confronting all drivers are the mad streams of crazy traffic, aimless herds of sacred cows, pigs and goats and generally poor road surfaces which make driving something of an endurance test. Some people bring their own cars or motorbikes into the country. If you choose this option, you’ll need to: a) fill out a customs declaration form (called a carnet) requiring you to bring the vehicle out again at the end of your stay; b) be in possession of an International Driving Licence. In 1989, a Swiss couple who’d bought an Enfield motorbike in Delhi for Rs16 000, motored all round India on it, and sold it in Srinagar for Rs13 000. They had no problems.
An expensive but good way of seeing India by car is to hire a chauffeur-driven Hindustan Ambassador (an unashamed replica of the mid-50s British Morris Oxford). In fact a range of cars (including Toyotas and Mercedes), with drivers, are available for hire in most cities. Prices are quite reasonable considering the freedom and flexibility it gives your itinerary. The driver often doubles up as a trained guide, as well as useful interpreter and watchman.
Getting Around by Bicycle
In many towns, cities and villages cycles are the basic form of transport. Cycling is often an ideal way of seeing the sights, and is cheap. Your hotel will always be able to recommend a hire place nearby, if they don’t hire them out themselves— many of them do—and the daily rate is never going to be more than Rs10-20. When choosing your conveyance, always check the state of the tyres—if you get a puncture, you’ll have no difficulty finding a repair man (they’re all over the place—but you may well be hanging around for an hour while he spends overlong fixing it. You can usually speed him up by offering twice the correct Rs2 repair charge. The one thing your bike must have is a bell. In dense traffic you’ll be ringing this continually (like everybody else) to avoid being mown down. Women in India travel side-saddle on cycles, so there is a great shortage of ladies’ bikes. To snap up the few there are, be at the cycle-hire shop first thing in the morning.
Getting Around by Boat
The most famous Indian boat journeys are the ferry trip from Bombay to Goa, and the many small-boat trips through the backwaters of Kerala. Unfortunately, the former is not in operation at the time of writing, although there are plans to reinstate it. The latter should not be missed, and details are given in Route 12.
India is not a country which is easy to travel around if you have limited mobility,despite (and possibly because of) the fact that so many of her own population are disabled. Airlines and some major hotels are often helpful, but you can never rely on special facilities being available. For example, wheelchair ramps do not exist and access to bathrooms, restaurants and even hotel bedrooms is often impossible for those who cannot use stairs or pass through narrow doorways and passages. It may be possible to overcome these problems with the help of a companion. Travelling Alone
Even if you’ve agreed to tour in company, do spend a few days travelling on your own. India is very much a country for the individualist, which quickly brings out all your hidden resources. For a start, there is no room for doubt, indecision or complacency. Without the insulation of a boon companion (a permanent reminder of home) you’ll feel compelled to attune to the country, its people and its customs, at top speed. It’s also an excellent spur to making new friends. There should be no worry about feeling alone. In India, nobody’s alone for very long. The beauty of travelling alone is that you can go exactly when and where you please, with a growing sense of freedom and confidence. The perfect place for a modern-day walkabout, India rewards the solo traveller with a rich variety of intense experiences—some good, some bad, none dull—and brings him or her to a deeper understanding of the country. The reason so much more happens on your own is simple—you have to make it happen.
Indian society is still not very emancipated, and Western women travelling alone (or in pairs) are regarded with a mixture of fascination and puzzlement. They ought to be married, they should he wearing decent clothing which covers the upper arms, chest and back. The common misconception among young (and not so young) Indian men is that all Western women are available. Certain precautions, like wearing a wedding ring and firmly rebuking any over-zealous male, usually deter any unwelcome advances. Indians are not inhibited and show their appreciation or interest by staring. They also have no notion of ‘personal space’, and this behaviour can sometimes be very intrusive as far as a Westerner is concerned, but is rarely threatening.
A great many women travellers visit India each year, and most have a thoroughly enjoyable time. There are strong advantages and drawbacks to travelling in India as a woman. A lack of adequate toilet facilities and occasional difficulty in getting accommodation are among some of the disadvantages. Some lodges in India (notably in Muslim areas like Hyderabad) refuse outright to give single women rooms, simply because it goes against the landlord’s whole morality. On the other hand, women are rarely required to queue for anything: they can generally walk straight to the front of train, bus or cinema queues and buy their ticket. There are often special ladies’ carriages in trains and sometimes seats reserved for women on buses. Many other places, including some cinemas, have special ladies’ facilities. Finally, being young, single and even remotely attractive is the passport to all sorts of freebies, and willoften secure hospitality, offers of help, and all manner of introductions.