To me one of the best feelings when travelling is the feeling you have when you are actually moving to a new place. At these times you can have the great perception of really ‘living in the moment’. During our 5 weeks in India, we have been travelling from north to south through following cities; Delhi-Agra-Jaipur-Jaisalmer-Jodhpur-Udaipur-Mumbai-Goa-Alleppey-Amritapuri-Kollam-Varkala-Thiruvananthapuram (Trivendrum). Even there has been overwhelmingly lot to see in India, worth mentioning are also different ways of transportation here. Our transportation methods have included many of them – from having our own driver to local trains, sleeper trains (in different classes), sleeper buses, local buses and auto-rickshaws.
Our route in India can be seen here.
What we were told in Delhi, was that booking train or bus tickets might be difficult so we made our transportation bookings via a tourist office from Delhi until Goa. Long distance train tickets from Goa to Ernakulam in Kerala we fixed ourselves on the road. Booking trains in India might seem difficult at first (and stressful especially if you arrive to Delhi…) If you want to reserve tickets in Internet you have to go through difficult log in-systems. What requires more effort but is a bulletproof way – is booking tickets directly from train stations. Sleeper classes fill up well easily in advance so booking as far in advance as possible is recommended. In India there are many different classes to travel: just to mention some of them 1AC, 2AC, 3AC, sleeper and 2nd class seater, AC=Air conditioning. We’ve been travelling in classes 2AC, 3AC and basic sleeper class. For longer journeys sleeper classes are highly recommended and very convenient! Difference between 2AC and 3AC is basically in the amount of conveniences; in 2AC there are beds in 2 storeys, curtains, blankets, bed sheets and own reading lamps. In 3AC there are beds in 3 levels and no curtains nor reading lamps but blankets are available. 3AC was fair enough for us really, 2AC felt luxus, basic sleeper class was ok for one night. Railways in India are in good condition so travelling by train here is actually very reasonable way to travel. There is also great enquiry offices in the stations, where we’ve been asking questios like ‘Are we at the right station?’, ‘Is our train on time?’, ‘From which platform it departs?’ or ‘Can you show our places in the train?’ Asking about the right station is wise – we noticed only 45 minutes before our train was departing from Mumbai that we were in the wrong train station (our ticket said Mumbai CST which apparently could be translated either Mumbai Central Station or Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus). We had chosen the wrong translation but luckily made it to the train due to a fast cab driver!
Local trains are a little bit funnier. While in Mumbai we took a local train a couple of times to travel from our guest house to the city centre. Local trains are way much cheaper way to travel than having a taxi or an auto-rickshaw. Booking ticket from station was easy and people were willing to help with platforms and directions. Only thing that caused some problems to me, was getting into the train. When the train stops at the platform, people just rushes in pushing each other. I was too polite and was left a little behind. Others from our group were already in the train when I noticed that train started to move (fast!) and I had only my hand inside the train handle. Only way was to jump and others helped to pull me in…crazy really but I made it! There are special ‘women only’ cars in trains which aren’t so crowded and are more safe to female travellers. In mens’ cars people were really hanging out from the door holes…there is no doors in trains (natural air-conditioning is working well though).
Sleeper buses that we have took a couple of times have been both good and bad. Roads in India are in equally good condition but the problem is that buses aren’t. Best buses to travel here are Volvos. You can book either sleeper or seater bus. In sleeper buses you can have your small little ‘cabin’ for one or two person. Or like indians do it – the whole family travel in one two-person-cabin. Cabins are okay, the problem is that if you don’t have your cabin or seat from the middle of the bus, the ride will probably be b.u.m.p.y. We had one really horrible ride from Jodhpur to Udaipur when during our 6-hour-ride we had a two-person-cabin from upper level and I hit my head so many times to the ceiling. I couldn’t sleep at all, my head just bumping all the time…But could have been even worse though, some people were sleeping in narrow corridor without any mattresses just some newspaper below them. In sleeper class buses, cabins have soft, leather-upholstered fixed mattresses but no blankets. Air conditioning is normally very hard, so we preferred a non-AC which is obviosly cheaper as well. The only ‘real’ problem with long-distance buses are toilet breaks. I mean it’s not like there isn’t any of them it’s just when bus staff speaks hindi when it’s time for a break so sometimes it’s hard for us to understand if it’s toilet break, food break or if they are just getting in or dropping out some people or if someone just wanted to buy coconuts! (Once we really stopped just because someone wanted to buy coconuts from a fruit stand…) What we noticed lately though…you could have your personal toilet breaks also if you ask bus staff nicely
Local short distance buses are the best if you want to move between two cities with cheap price and you don’t need to sleep in the vehicle. It is very funny how they act here and in India (and actually in Nepal as well). There is driver and one ‘assistant’ guy on the bus. Assistant guy is normally hanging out the door and shouting the name of the place where the bus is heading. People rushes in and sometimes buses don’t even stop properly…you need to jump in or out when it’s the right place. Normally assistant guy is shouting ‘fast, fast, fast!’ at this time so you can imagine me with my 20kg backpack jumping out of the moving vehicle…
Good option to move inside a city is an auto-rickshaw…if they work! What happened to us once, was that we were driving with a friend’s rickshaw when the accelerator stopped to work. We were somewhere in the outskirts of Udaipur and suddenly the whole day was spent either pushing or fixing the rickshaw. That made out a good adventure though!
As a closure I can say that our time in India was full of different experiences. Every day gave us something we didn’t expect to experience in the morning. Travelling in India isn’t always the easiest and you need to develope your nerves to be as good as holy cows walking in the streets have. But we made it with zero food poisoning, robberies, rapings or missed trains… So please put away your negative images and expectations about India. Dont’ believe everything you hear or read in the media. It’s mostly the bad news what catches peoples’ ears and make them fear things. Come and experience yourself. India is truly interesting mix of religion, culture, history and nature. To us India was incredible and there is no doubt that we will be back! India definately left me longing for more.