There & Away
India's major international airports are
Mumbai (Bombay), Delhi, Kolkata (Calcutta) and Chennai (Madras); there are other
international airports at Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Bangalore and Kochi. Flights from
Europe tend to arrive in India in the early hours of the morning, which can be
inconvenient if you don't have reserved accommodation or don't like tramping around
unfamiliar cities in the dark. Delhi is the cheapest place to buy air tickets
in India, followed by Kolkata and Mumbai. International flights to neighbouring
countries can be very cheap, especially between Kolkata and Dhaka (Bangladesh),
Delhi and Karachi (Pakistan) and Tiruchirappalli and Colombo (Sri Lanka). The
departure tax on flights to Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal is approximately
5.00, but to other countries it's 10.00.
The most popular overland routes
between India and Nepal are Birganj-Raxaul Bazaar, Sunauli-Bhairawa and Kakarbhitta-Siliguri.
If you're heading from Kathmandu or Pokhara to Delhi or elsewhere in northwestern
India, then Sunauli is the most convenient entry point; to reach Kolkata or most
of eastern India, Birganj is the best place to cross the border; and to get to
Darjeeling, it's easiest to go via Kakarbhitta. It's fairly easy to travel between
Kolkata and Dhaka overland. The only border crossing currently open between India
and Pakistan is at Attari between Lahore and Amritsar. This and all other border
crossings are by road only. Getting
India's major domestic airline, the government-run
Indian Airlines, has an extensive network. The country's international carrier,
Air India, also operates domestically on the Mumbai (Bombay)-Delhi, Mumbai-Kolkata
(Calcutta), Delhi-Kolkata and Mumbai-Chennai (Madras) routes. Deregulation has
radically improved service and swollen the number of secondary operators, though
several have gone belly up recently.
The Indian Railways system is deservedly
legendary and Indian rail travel is unlike any other sort of travel on earth.
At times it can be uncomfortable and frustrating, but it's also an integral part
of the Indian travel experience. You should try to pick up the key points of Indian
train etiquette as quickly as possible, otherwise you'll find yourself hopelessly
attempting to defend your own private space. There are a number of different classes
and a number of different trains: you want express or mail trains, but try all
the different classes just for the hell of it. The Indian reservation system is
labyrinthine and worthy of anthropological study, but be patient because it's
one of the few bureaucracies in the country that actually works. When booking
tickets, take advantage of the tourist quota allotment if one exists. You'll find
it easier to reserve a seat this way.
Buses vary widely from state to
state, but there is often a choice of buses on the main routes - ordinary, express,
semi-luxe, deluxe, deluxe air-con and even deluxe sleeper. Government buses are
supplemented by private operators on many routes. Private buses tend to be faster,
more expensive and more comfortable and can make a lot of sense on longer jaunts.
Bus travel is generally crowded, cramped, slow and uncomfortable. This is the
good news. The bad news is the rugby scrum you often need to negotiate in order
to board, and the howling Hindi pop music which blares from the tinny speakers.
Buses are the only way to get to Kashmir and the best way to get to Nepal from
Uttar Pradesh; they are generally faster than trains in northern Bihar and in
large areas of Rajasthan.
You can hire a car and driver very easily,
but you need nerves of steel and excellent karma to consider driving yourself.
Cars are usually rented on a daily basis and come with a limited number of kilometres
per day. You'll probably be responsible for the driver's expenses, so be sure
to clarify how much this is to be each day before you set off. If you're planning
a long trip, it's wise to go for a short spin with your prospective driver just
in case you don't like his braking ability.
Motorcycling around India
(especially on an Enfield Bullet) has become a popular pastime, though it's a
hazardous endeavour and not for the amateur two-wheeler. Bicycles are a great
way to get around towns and can usually be hired for a pittance. Long-distance
touring, however, is not for the faint-hearted or the weak of knee. If you're
thinking of bringing your own bike, think twice about bringing your state-of-the-art
10-speed unless you want it to be poked, probed and perved at every time you stop.
Local transport includes buses, taxis, auto-rickshaws, cycle-rickshaws
and tongas (horse-drawn carriages). Taxis may have meters, but don't expect them
to be working in more than a handful of cities. Three-wheeled auto-rickshaws are
generally half the price of a taxi and allow the passenger much better inhalation
of diesel fumes. Cycle-rickshaws have all but disappeared from the centres of
major Indian cities but are still an essential part of the transport network in
smaller towns. Be sure to agree on a fare beforehand.