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Getting Around

Travelling to India and Away

From Europe – Flights are around $600-1000 one year open return.

From America – Flights for around $900-1200 one year open return.

From Pakistan – Lahore is the gateway city to Amritsar on the Indian side. Lahore is a little sketchy as far as hotels and thieves go so stay at the YWCA. The Pakistani border officials may insist that you change rupees with them. They give a fair rate though.

From Nepal – There are three border crossings. The remote ones in the West up from Lucknow are good if you need to arrange baksheesh with the border guard when you’ve overstayed your visa in India . You won’t get another tourist visa in Katmandu though.

From Thailand – There are flights to Calcutta from Bangkok for as little as $100. Getting an Indian visa in Bangkok takes about a week.

Travelling around India

Trains

Inside the country you’ll want to make your long distance journeys by train. This is one of the best ways to understand India as the entire society can be seen as a microcosm from within the carriages and the passing countryside.

There are three classes of train travel in India: First, second reserved and second unreserved. The latter refers to what used to be, in good British style, third class. There the poor used to travel, often without tickets and many travelling circuses and magic shows used to make their way around like that. Then it was decided that the poor shouldn’t be discriminated against like that – they should pay also.

The thing to do is get a second class unreserved seat where there are three long rectangular beds that fold up into seats during the day. If you get the top bed though you can lie down all day if you want.

Some travelers like to buy chains and padlocks to secure their bags to the seats – on long journeys you’ll spend many hours asleep and it’s common for thieves to come on board at major stations.

On the trains, as on the buses, it’s advisable to bring biscuits, bananas and nuts with you to eat as the food prepared at stations is very often stewing with bacteria – no one ever complains because no one comes back.

But whatever you do, don’t catch a local train in Bombay as you’ll see from this video:

Buses

In the mountains you have to take buses and it’s best not to look out of the window. In the rainy season especially it can be pretty scary as parts of the road fall away. If you’re wondering what all the shrines alongside the cliff edge are for then it’s time to burn a candle to your favourite god.

If you’re so inclined a valium can make the bus journeys go much smoother. On the other hand you’ll be that much slower to get out in the event of a crash. Buses crash at an unbelievable rate in India as the drivers stay awake for days at a time, driving trip after trip, feeding themselves amphetamine and whisky to stay awake. If you want to be on the safe side sit on the left hand side of the bus – if the driver crashes whilst trying to overtake, the people on the right will get it first.

The buses are often uncomfortable and noisy but all such inconveniences pale under the barrage of Hindi pop the driver is likely to submit you to. High pitched female singers doing their best to sound like they were seven years old combine with ostentatious string sections to produce a truly horrendous experience.

just to get an idea of how bad Indian driving is.

Flights

Air travel within India is hideously expensive and notoriously unreliable. I once saw a sign in an Air India office that read:

We hope you are not carrying any explosives on board.

Well, here’s hoping.

Hitchhiking

See Hitchhiking in India Local Transport

Buses

If you can figure out where they’re going they’re a very cheap option but they’re full of people, stop everywhere and incredibly uncomfortable.

Rickshaws

Most rickshaws in India today are of the pedal variety where some bony guy on a clattering old bicycle cycles you around town. He’ll generally be about half your size and weight and possibly twice your age. Get off and help push when you come to a hill.

Still in Calcutta you find the rickshaws of the days of the British Empire with barefoot chaps carrying around the chair where you sit with two beams resting on their shoulders. This isn’t because of cruelty but rather necessity – the monsoon in Calcutta is so strong that it frequently floods the streets to waist level and then these rickshaws are the only way you can go anywhere.

Auto Rickshaws

Identical to the tuk-tuk in Thailand, these rickshaws are operated by Indians one step up the food chain from the cycle rickshaw guys. As such they take no shit and are something of a mafia amongst themselves. Many supplement their earnings by taking you to carpet shops and getting commission.

The auto rickshaws are essentially some canvas stretched over aluminium poles on top of a lawn mower engine and three wheels. If they were ever hit by anything they’d crumple like a cardboard box and their drivers are pretty reckless too.

Some travelers just can’t help stretching the point though and decide to drive rickshaws all the way across India . Three wheels, three brothers indeed.