Travelling in India - Tottie's top ten tips for transport in India
1. First of all, leave early, allow extra time, and prepare to be late; you will be pleasantly surprised when you reach your destination on time!
2. Unless it is outrageously hot, take sleeper instead of AC3 for overnight train journeys. Not only is it half the price but AC3 actually becomes too chilly in winter and the atmosphere of the cheaper carriage is far nicer: people actually talk to you and chai wallahs and numerous shouting merchants squeeze up and down the aisles desperate to feed and water everyone. In this class you still get a bed and your name will be posted on a long list on the station platform with your berth number and carriage, so you can be sure of a spot
3. Take the Delhi Metro - it is air conditioned, ridiculously efficient and has specially allocated ladies carriages, which translates as a higher likelihood of a seat as far fewer women commute than men. Above all, it is the cheapest mode of transport in the capital - a commute from the north to the south of the city is approximately half an hour and costs me 17 rupees - 20 pence.
4. Use www.cleartrip.com - their fee on train bookings is in the region of just 20 rupees and it is self-explanatory and unlike IRCTC (India’s own government rail website) is actually comprehensible. They also have a flight comparison facility and they will text your details as an instant confirmation of booking, useful when the internet is unpredictable and you are uncertain as to whether the transaction has gone through or not.
5. As unpleasant as it is to admit, girls ought to avoid traveling alone in areas they do not know. This is obviously all relative, in areas of south Delhi or for example on the metro I feel totally comfortable, and everyone is different, but definitely on trains try to opt for the ladies carriage if booking alone.
6. Owing to the sheer size of most Indian cities, there is often more than one station and usually they are geographically placed to frustrate the hurried traveller. Always, always double check your departure station; I have learnt the hard way, running with a backpack in the midday sun is not a treat.
7. Use local buses. In Delhi there is even an air conditioned red bus service that appeared just before the commonwealth games and once you have mastered one route, the bus drivers are fairly helpful with instructing you where to get off. The same applies for inter-city ‘local’ buses as opposed to tourist ones; instead of tired, mute backpackers you will be surrounded by their Indian counterparts, usually chatty, vibrant and keen to share food and enquire, ‘from which country?’. Obviously on these routes, oggling is par for the course.
8. Always leave early for the airport - traffic is very unpredictable, especially in Delhi, and although I can’t vouch for others, I know my Hindi nor my charm are not up to beseeching SpiceJet or IndiGo officials to be put on the next flight.
9. Autos (Tuk Tuks) and Rickshaws (Cycle) are harder to simplify. It helps to have a good idea of where you are going (even just a glance at google maps) as often the driver will waggle in agreement at the address you tell him and then get totally and utterly lost. Strictly speaking, three people is the maximum for an auto, but even when stopped by the police recently, there seemed to be no real trouble. With prices for rickshaws it is best not to get too stressed about ‘getting an Indian price’, seeing as the difference is a matter of 10 pence rather than 10 pounds; small change for me, lunch for an auto Wallah. Requests to use the meter are often met with a bemused stare, and I'm sure that some of these machines haven't been working since the eighties, but equally, you might strike lucky.
10. Don’t be too proud or too embarassed to ask for directions or help, but when you do, it is wise to get a number of opinions!