Guide on intercity transport in India

If you are going to travel to India, you will probably want to visit several cities, not just one. And it means that you will need to use Indian intercity transport. What kinds of intercity transport are there in India? The same as everywhere: buses, car rental, trains and planes. But what should a foreigner expect from them? And which kinds of transport a foreigner can use, but which is better to avoid? Where to book tickets for intercity transport in India? Let’s talk about it all.

Also check: Delhi transport guide

Buses. If I do not advise to foreigners to use city buses in India so much (female foreigners, at least) – they are considered unsafe – according to what Indian people say themselves; intercity buses, however, do not have such kind of “reputation”. But, of course, in India, being a foreigner, you should not take too cheap buses – they usually do not have doors, not so clean, and, well, people around may not make you very happy with their too much of attention to your “foreignness”. Such buses cost about 100-200 rupees (1.3 – 2.7 dollars) per few hours trip.

Take more expensive buses, starting from 400 rupees at least (5.5 dollars) per 3-4 hours trip. Everything should be fine in such buses: air conditioning, people should not stare at you, such buses do not take standing passengers. I went on such kind of buses not once. There are also very good intercity buses in India: with air conditioning, outlets, folding chairs (half-sleeping and sleeping). But such buses, of course, are not so cheap. A ticket for a half-sleeping bus on the photo below from Shimla (you can read about this city Here) to Delhi costed 1,500 rupees (21 dollar) per person (340 km, but on a mountainous road so the trip took about 9 hours). Such buses can be pre-booked online (although not all of them require it – but I still advise to foreigners to take those buses that need to be booked in advance, just to be more confident in your trip).

You can find bus tickets of various companies on this website: https://www.redbus.in/ or on travel search websites/ apps (Make My Trip, Goibibo and other popular companies)

Car rental. Indians, even not rich ones, often hire a driver/ driver with a car just to travel to another city, even for a few days. The driver’s work itself (with your car) is usually cheap – 1000-1500 rupees (14-21 dollars) per day – you can just hire a driver if you have friends/ relatives in India who can borrow you a car, or who can go with you but don’t want to drive. Hiring a driver with a car will cost you 4-5 times more.

You can rent a car, for example, on this website: https://www.zoomcar.com/, in many cab companies which can be found here: https://www.justdial.com/Delhi/Car-Hire/nct-10076456 (on this website you can simply leave your contact information and the companies will call you themselves). Also in India there is a Bla Bla Car service available (https://www.blablacar.in/ or download the Bla Bla Car India app), you can use this service if you are not afraid of traveling with strangers. Well, as a last-minute option, you can simply book an Uber even to another city – in India such journey will cost you a lot cheaper than in many other countries (you need to download the Uber India app and see if required route is available – it depends on the city). According to hiring a driver – Indian people usually do it through acquaintances.

Trains. If you plan to go to another city in India which is not very far, I recommend you seating trains, but if it’s a long distance trip, I advice you to go by plane. Why do I say so?

In India, there are pretty good seating trains. No, such trains from where people hang out of doors because it’s overcrowded, are also present in the country. But these trains are usually very cheap – the poorest Indian people mainly take them. Such cheap trains also cost about 100-200 rupees (1.3 – 2.7 dollars) for a trip of several hours, or several hundred kilometers.

The cheapest train class in India is called the Unreserved General Class (UR). Such tickets are actually the seating tickets in sleeping coaches, but the amount of tickets for such trains is sold much bigger than the amount of space available. Also, people who did not have time/ possibility to buy tickets for other types of trains in advance, but who need to travel urgently, can take such trains as well. Therefore, such trains can be extremely crowded.

There is another type of cheap trains – Second Class (2S) – in such trains it is already required to book tickets in advance, but I also do not recommend this train class to foreigners. Of course, there are no air conditioners in such kind of trains (you do remember that in India the heat can reach 47 degrees Celcius, right?) Also, the most, as usual, decisive factor: people hardly expect to see foreigners in the trains of both classes mentioned, so they can react strangely at you.

Good trains (with reserved seats and air conditioning) usually cost about 400-700 rupees (5.5 – 10 dollars) per trip of 4-5 hours (200-300 km). These are the trains foreigners can take without the fear.

Such trains can have a food on board as well: vegetarian and non-vegetarian options to choose, tea/ coffee (twice) with cookies, water and juice.

Vegetarian breakfast in train
Vegetarian breakfast in train: potato patties
Water, tea/ coffee, juices. In thermoses there is hot water for tea/ coffee

These trains may also seem a little bit dirty to foreigners (more precisely, the seats are not very new), but in general they are good. Such kind of trains can be double-decker as well. Classes of such seating trains are called Air Conditioned Chair Car (CC) and Executive Air Conditioned Chair Car (1A) – these classes you need to look for when booking a ticket. On the pictures above the Air Conditioned Chair Car (CC) train is presented (on this kind of trains I went by a few times as well). The second type I have mentioned is considered better according to the information in Internet, but it is only available by one railway company – Shatabdi Express.

Now regarding sleeping trains in India. They also come in different classes, but in general, foreigners travel less by sleeping trains in India. Therefore, there too you can be stared at a lot. Personally, I have traveled on a sleeping train in India only once (and it was not of my choice, but I had to when I worked in a modeling agency – they sent me to another city for a fashion show by such train, but I was at least not alone, there were 10 of us). Honestly, I don’t want anymore – it’s scary. Even though I have traveled on sleeping trains in my country (Russia) quite many times, and not in first class trains, but there is the difference: Russian men perceive women more calmly than Indian men do (not a blame, but something I have to deal with living in India just more). If there would be a separate coach for women like in the metro in India – it would be different story!

Types of sleeping trains:

Sleeper Class (SL) – these trains are cheap, they don’t have air conditioning. The problem in these kind of trains is that people from the Unreserved General Class (UR) often get into these coaches, they can occupy other people sleeping space or even sleep on the floor;

Three Tier Air Conditioned Class (3AC) – a sleeping train with air conditioning and 3 berths (this kind of train I have traveled by in India and 3 berths actually surprised me there then – in Russia you can only find 2 berths coaches) and Two Tier Air Conditioned Class (2AC) – the same, but with 2 berths;

First Class Air Conditioned (1AC) – these are compartment coaches, some with 4 berths in a compartment, some with 2. In such coaches, toilets are usually cleaner and there is even a possibility to take a shower (according to the information on the Internet), but the cost of tickets for such trains is almost equal to the cost of airplane tickets + such coaches are not available in all Indian trains, only on the trains of the most popular routes in the country.

Why do not I recommend sleeping trains? (except for the first class). Because in addition to a big amount of stares, foreigners also have a big risk of being robbed while sleeping/ going to washroom. Also in India, there were cases of rape in sleeping trains. And one more important nuance: Indian sleeping trains, unlike seating ones, are VERY often late. And not for a few minutes, but for a few hours – I have heard stories from foreigners even about 20 hours late trains (!). The train I was traveling by was also late but for 3 hours. It is unlikely that you will have a desire to spend a night at the train station with local homeless people and you will have to look for a hotel. In general, some foreigners, having planned a train tour in India, sometimes simply do not have time to visit some of the cities they wanted, even if they have booked all the train tickets and hotels in advance – just because some trains were very late! Therefore, I highly recommend to think twice before buying a sleeping train tickets across India. Even though they are cheap. If you have a lot of time and curiosity – then this trains are for you.

There is one more thing you need to know about trains in India: people can try to go without the tickets in good kind of trains sometimes too. The tickets, of course, are always checked by the conductors, but with someone, you may have to fight for your seat still. Once I was going by a good train, but there was some kind of error in the ticket system. So, me and a middle-age woman with a husband and a 25-year-old “child” claimed the same seat. And while the conductor figured out the problem (it took about 10 minutes only), this woman almost “ate” me for this place. She even racially abused me, though I have said nothing (still regret it). In cheap trains, however, several people can try to fit on one seat, so even if you have your reserved seat, it’s not a fact that you will reach it at all! (through the big crowd of people…)

Watch the train class carefully when you book tickets in India !!!

You can find train tickets in India on this website: https://www.irctc.co.in/ (government website) or on the same travel search websites/ apps as I have mentioned for buses.

Planes. Well, the planes in India are not very different from any other, there is nothing much to tell. I went by intercity planes many times in India, especially when I worked as a model. Prices of Indian airlines are usually not very expensive: a Delhi-Goa ticket will cost you starting from 3000 rupees (42 dollars) – for tickets with less baggage allowed and no meals usually.

Going by flight in India you can usually avoid all of the mentioned above incidents. Because in Indian airports nobody except actual passengers is allowed inside, even people who came to drop you: at the entrance everybody is asked to show a ticket along with the documents! This is mandatory, so please do print a ticket before a flight or at least take a screenshot of it on your phone (screenshot is totally OK – I have showed it many times!) This is, perhaps, the only difference you need to know about traveling by plane in India.

You can find plane tickets in India, again, on popular travel search websites /apps , or you can simply Google it and go to the websites of Indian airlines directly. The most popular airlines that sell low-cost tickets in India are IndiGo, Air India, SpiceJet, AirAsia India, etc.

P.S .: About staring and other similar reactions. Usually in India, poor people are the ones who react this way on foreigners (although not always, but mostly). I know that this sounds arrogant, but, actually, it is only a fact of life in India, its inequality among people: poor people in the country often don’t even have a school education (completed or sometimes not at all), their parents do not teach them that staring is impolite, and their perception of the world as a whole is different: to see a foreigner in India is as much a cultural shock for them as their reaction on seeing you for you. Unfortunately, people are not trying too hard to fix a very powerful hierarchy in India, people talk a lot about diversity but I often see how it’s common among Indians to border themselves off from people of other classes and not to mix social layers too much (from the marriages to even traveling in trains, as you can see). Living in India, I try to treat everyone equally because I am someone who deeply values equality, but this, frankly, is very hard here: the environment does not understand this and considers me strange (how can I want not so huge gaps in salaries of a doctor and a cleaner? How can I consider that smart kids of poor people should have more chances for study and success than not smart kids of more rich parents? Why do I wander when a daughter of doctor never ever will even think to marry someone who works as a driver? And other similar kind of things – people here just find me CRAZY for this “ideas”). And, first of all, no one in the country will ever see me as an equal, simply because I am a foreigner. Surely, no one in India can ever consider a foreigner as poor in India. And hardly any of the foreigners traveling here can be as poor as the poor Indians. Quite the contrary – foreigners are usually considered rich here (you can read about Indian stereotypes about foreigners Here). This all is different for foreigners not only because we have different mindsets, but also because people react on us very differently in India. I would never care about train classes so much if not for this kind of reactions: I don’t think you want to be touched too in a train just because uneducated people in India believe foreigners are sl*ts or want to be robbed because they think foreigners are rich…India is the country where people opinions aren’t just opinions behind your back – they often have consequences. Therefore, this is not my arrogance – I’m not rich, I’m just trying to warn you about the reactions and conditions that are unlikely can be pleasant to you, and talk about how you can avoid them (or at least minimize them). But you can also experiment with transport, of course – if you want some extreme in your life 😉

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