I’ve done it, I just broke my travel record for my longest travel day and experiencing the most modes of transportation in India in one day! For travelers seeking insight on how to travel India, this is a breakdown of transportation in India. For more in-depth information on each form, click on the related link enclosed.
Types of Transportation in India
1. Shared Jeep Taxi
Jeep taxis seat up to 10 passengers and cost around 200-250 rupees (approx $3USD) per seat. Travelers can buy two seats to be comfortable. Shared jeep taxis are a form of transportation I’ve only learned about traveling Northwest Bengal and Sikkim. It’s perfect for people of mountain and small village settings to get around, so you may find it used by locals. Tourists might opt to buy two seats or hire your own taxi. For long distances, expect the price of hiring your own taxi to be roughly around 1500 rupees.
Read: How to Reach Darjeeling
2. Bicycle Rickshaw
Bicycle rickshaws are good for short distances. The prices for foreign travelers may be a little more than locals. If they quote you 100Rs (around $1.60) for a short distance, you’re either getting a very tourist price.. sometimes, I think they must also be sizing us up by weight. But wait, before you haggle for a cheaper rate– their work is hard and they don’t make it look easy. This is a human pulling you and you will feel a little guilt.
Foreign travelers tend to be a bit larger than locals, some are overweight or carrying a lot of luggage. Even someone like myself can weight a bit at 5’8″ , 140lbs + my gear day pack (another 20lbs?). I always feel a little somber knowing someone is slaving to take me to a place. Sometimes, I almost prefer to walk. But bicycle rickshaws need work too and with all the more zippier options pushing them out of the way, finding work can’t be easy.
I enjoy occasionally taking public and government buses, because it’s public, the fees are set and it can be relaxing. After boarding the bus, a fare collector comes around for your fare. Travelers should sit up front, close to the driver. The bus can get crowded. Sometimes, the driver or a local will put your bag near the driver so there is more space. Travelers carrying large bulky backpacks, should be courteous and cognizant. Your pack takes up the space of a human fare. This is why I take a carryon luggage over a backpackers backpack.
There are three types of buses which run long and short distances- the intercity bus, government bus (aka state bus) and tourist/VIP bus (aka bus run by a private company). Read more: Is it safe for a solo traveler to take the bus in India
Autorickshaws can go a longer distance than bicycle rickshaws. They might be a little cheaper than car taxis; not by much. Sometimes, I feel like there’s a mafia-like comraderie with drivers. They defend each other prices and even locals can find them difficult (you’ll find many tips and comments left by locals on my YouTube video here). So when hailing an autorickshaw, it’s best to hail it from the street and away from his buddies. Autorickshaws can occasionally be hot-headed and temperamental if you are rude. In some cities, there are also shared autorickshaws (as I discovered in Varanasi), where the rickshaw driver will wait for his vehicle to load until he leaves for a certain area.
Travel Tip: These days, a lot of locals take Uber or Ola cabs (www.olacabs.com) as cheaper and safer alternatives to dealing with autorickshaws. Download the apps in advance. If you use an autorickshaw, use your Google Maps to track your route and negotiate in advance or ask your driver to use the meter.
Overall, domestic travel in Asia is easy, quick and not as costly as its western counterparts. I’ve seen prices start as low as $30 to $200. For those looking to avoid train travel, this is a good option. Service is often very good, with an in-flight meal or snack included. Some domestic carriers include: IndiGo Air, Air India, Spice Jet, Jet Airways, Air Asia, Vistara.
Note: Airports in India require a flight confirmation to enter. Airport entry is highly policed. They will not let you into the airport even to use the bathroom.
6. Car Taxi
You can hire government prepaid car taxis from the airport to your hotel or train station. You pay a flat rate in advance and they issue you a ticket for the driver. Otherwise, when hailing them on the street always look for a running meter. If the meter is not running ask them to turn it on or use another taxi.
At Kolkata Airport, I took a car taxi to Howrah Station. Howrah is a little over an hour from the airport, across Hooghly River. In this sense, there was no option but to use a car taxi. But cities like Delhi, offer metro options.
7. Hiring a driver
Some travelers like to hire a car/driver for the day for sightseeing activities and getting around. You can hire them through your hotel or an Indian travel agent (I use travel agents a lot for my onward travel bookings). Cost runs approximately 1500 rupees per 8 hour day.
At the time of writing, six cities have a metro system: Kolkata, Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai. My favorite metro system is Delhi; it’s expansive and just feels new. Kolkata is good but I wish it covered the airport and sprawled out just a little more. Mumbai was my least favorite; surprisingly, it didn’t feel like a metro as it did an actual train station with old cars.
9. Train aka Indian Railways
Trains are a popular form of transportation and ideal for long distance travel. There are day and overnight sleeper trains and you can choose the class/quality. A common complaint of travelers is that it is that the IRCTC does not allow you to book a seat with a foreign credit card.
My Travel Itinerary from Pelling to Kolkata to Varanasi
I’m proud of the Sikkim route I took. I was never the type of traveler who could see myself taking anything more than one or two transfers to get to a destination. I used to be quite fearful of it, because I didn’t trust myself vs. my foreign environment. But the more I started loving being in India, I gave into trust. Knowing that Sikkim is also safe territory for solo travelers, allowed me to become one with my environment and give into trust even more.
The route I took was traveling from Pelling (West Sikkim) to Kolkata (West Bengal) to Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh).
Pelling to Jortheng
From Pelling, I took a shared jeep taxi booked by my hotel. My jeep taxi was late. The journey to the airport could take anywhere from 4 -7 hours. Driving through Sikkim, the route is amazing scenic. Sikkim’s beauty is raw and natural.
Jortheng is a transportation hub for a lot of destinations in Sikkim. We stopped for a 15 minute bathroom and snack break.
Silliguri Station to Bagdogra Airport
Silliguri is a major transportation hub. This is an alternate station you could get off at to take to Darjeeling or Pelling. Essentially, you just need an autotaxi or car taxi to get to the airport.
Unfortunately for me, most taxis were taken and it was peak traffic. A rickshaw driver convinced me he could take me to the airport, but then dropped me under a highway bridge. The bridge was a type of bus stop. Friendly locals helped me hail a bus to the airport.
Buses are not allowed to go into Bagodgra Airport, but will drop you outside. It’s a bit of a walk to get in. I hailed an auto rickshaw taxi to drive me in.
Bagdogra Airport to Kolkata to Varanasi
I took a flight from IndiGo Air from Bagodgra to Kolkata. There was a direct flight to Varanasi (my end destination), but I was traveling close to Diwali, so flights to Varanasi were expensive. My plan B was to fly to Kolkata at $87. From Kolkata, I took an overnight train to Varanasi.
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WATCH my Journey from Pelling to Varanasi in a Day