Transport in India – guide how to navigate through crowds

India can be very confusing, particularly when dealing with situations involving crowds. There are so many types of transport in India, but it’s not always as simple as showing up and buying a ticket.

When you stand out as a foreigner and it’s evident that you’re unfamiliar with the local reality, many people will attempt to sell you their services. This can feel overwhelming, especially in big cities.

In this post, I want to share with you different ways to commute in India, local companies operating in this sector, approximate fares (where applicable), and what to avoid while planning your trip. My intention is to help you save time and effort during your travel in India. Now, let’s delve into your specific questions:

  • Air transport in India
  • Rail transport in India: trains and metro
  • Road transport in India: buses, taxis, cars, rickshaws, bikes
  • Public transport in India

Air transport in India

Air travel is the most efficient and easiest way to get around India. It operates similarly to air travel anywhere else in the world. Almost.

India currently has over 135 airports. As passenger traffic is continuously increasing, India plans to build 100 more airports around the country over the next 10-15 years.

Budget travel is surging. If you book tickets in advance, you can secure really low fares (e.g. Mumbai – Hyderabad 2500 INR (~30 USD), Bangalore – Delhi – 5000 INR (~60 USD)) on budget airlines. While I personally prefer road transport whenever feasible, overall, flying between distant cities is practical, allowing you to save 2-3 days that would otherwise be spent on a train journey.

Delhi Airport
One of the most impressive airports in India and by the way, nr 1 airport in the world by quality of service. International Delhi Airport IGA.

Airport tip: You are not allowed to access the airport without a ticket. While you can accompany your friends up to the airport doors, the guards will not let you proceed further unless you have a booked flight.

Second rule: once you entered the airport – you can’t exit it without special permission from the airline’s check-in counter. They typically grant such permission only in cases of emergency or flight cancelations. In larger cities, this procedure becomes really complicated because of the crowds so think twice if you have everything before entering the airport. These measures ensure security, manage crowds and facilitate efficient check-ups.

Cultural check: Light traveling is not a popular concept in India. This stems from the family travel culture, space-consuming local attires, a preference for carrying home food, and many other factors. Hence, domestic airlines in India often offer various luggage allowances. Even Air Asia makes an exception for the Indian market and allows free check-in luggage. Without this service, the airline would struggle to compete, as many Indians prefer to book flights that include baggage allowances.

Rail transport in India

India boasts an incredible railway network that effectively spans the entire country except for mountainous regions. Never fear, there is a project to build a network in the mountains too. In this section, I would like to give you an overview of both national train travel in India and city rail networks, including metros and local trains.

Trains in India

Mumbai CST station interiors
One of the most beautiful train stations in India – Chhatrapati Shivaji, Mumbai

The train network in India is managed by the IRCTC corporation. It offers extensive coverage, various classes, and amenities. However, for first-time travelers, train travel can be a bit overwhelming.

Before the journey: Since the IRCTC website was updated in 2018, you can now search for trains on the platform without logging in. Alternatively, you can look for options on the Cleartrip website.

In my opinion, trains are an excellent option for journeys lasting under 24 hours. However, for longer distances that take 2-3 days by train, it might be rather a stressful experience. In such cases, consider taking a flight or splitting the trip into a few days, allowing you to visit destinations on the way.

I strongly recommend booking train tickets at least one week in advance, unless you are traveling during major holidays such as Holi, Diwali, or New Year. Given the vast Indian population, imagine the number of people booking tickets to visit their families during these holidays. If you are a foreigner, you can avail the tourist quota at the stations in many tourist cities.

By following these recommendations and staying informed about the intricacies of train travel in India, you can enhance your experience and enjoy a smoother journey while exploring the diverse landscapes and cultural richness of the country.

During the journey: Consider that trains in India can be late, sometimes by several hours. For instance, in Kerala, where multiple places in the state are connected by just one track, if one train is delayed, all the subsequent trains traveling in the same direction get late too.

To avoid unnecessary frustrations, it’s advisable to check train reviews online and use train apps to track the train during the journey. Some apps even provide you with live updates. It also helps to know when you need to get off as no one announces the stations.

Read more: Guide to train travel in India – everything about train classes, quotas, ticket booking procedures, best travel times, and other train tips.

Metro in India

Delhi metro train
Big fan of Delhi Metro here – one of the best transport systems in India and in the world.

Metro is one of the best types of urban road transport in India. Currently, it is operational in 10 Indian cities: Delhi – NCR, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Chennai, Jaipur, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Kochi and Gurugram.

Kolkata has the oldest metro service in India, while Delhi is a benchmark of the metro system in the world. Hope I’m not the only one getting goosebumps seeing exciting Delhi metro expansion projects.

India is a digital country, so you can expect local transport apps. For instance, the DMRC app is a life-changing solution for Delhi – it gives you all information about routes, the nearest tourist attractions to the metro stations, fares, and other useful tips. You can also find information about buses connecting to the stations.

Mumbai has a small metro line, but it has a huge local train network coverage that can take you almost everywhere in the city and its suburbs.

Consider that some metro systems have an “airport type” security – e.g. scanning bag, security check. Also, there are often separate spaces (queues, coaches) for women, where men are not allowed. In rest, metros work as in any other country.

Also read: Guide to riding Mumbai Local

Other rail transport in India

There is some rail transport which I didn’t know where to classify. For instance, there is still a functioning tram in Kolkata. Indian Government plans to invest money in its modernization.

Also, there are UNESCO Heritage toy trains in India, for instance, in Darjeeling, Shimla or Ooty. It’s a slow scenic ride through the mountains, valleys and tunnels.

These are more of a tourist attraction than a mode of transportation. I do recommend experiencing one of these rides however. Take a look at my guide to Ooty toy train.

Road transport in India

State bus stand in Bangalore, Karnataka
State bus stand in Bangalore.

India has the second largest road network in the world. According to statistics, roughly 80% of passenger traffic travels by road. As much as people joked about bumpy roads in India, the situation has totally changed in the past few years.

There were so many highways built making commuting between neighboring cities seamless and fast. Here are a few national as well as urban types of transport you can use to travel by road in India.

Buses in India

Intercity buses in India: there are private and government buses in India. Private you can find on and state buses you can search at Bus India or on individual transport websites of each state (e.g. Karnataka buses, Rajasthan bus network, etc.)

Government buses can be either very cheap if it’s a local non-AC simple bus or very expensive – if it’s AC bus with comfortable seats. If you travel by local non-AC bus 100 INR (~1.5 USD) can take you really far in India. The average cost is 0.8 – 1.2 INR per km. The longer is the distance, the cheaper are tickets.

There is also a concept of sleeper buses which are quite popular for night journeys. They are managed by private companies as a rule.

State buses you can book directly at the stations, they circulate regularly especially between popular destinations. Private Volvo buses you need to book at least one day before the journey.

Urban transport in India

Each metro city provides tiers of bus services for different budget categories: non-AC bus, AC bus.

Tip: I wouldn’t suggest using buses in metro cities of India unless there are no other options. The traffic in big cities is insane, and sometimes commuting from one part of the city to another can take you a few hours. I’m talking as a person who lived in a few major Indian cities.

Taxis in India

Taxi in India
Taxi in Kolkata. Credit: Girish Gopi

If you are flexible with the budget, one of the best and comfortable modes of transport in India will be organized taxi companies. There are many established companies in the Taxi industry, like Ola CabsUberMeru, Mega Cabs.

Ola and Uber are the biggest players in the market in all India taxi service. I gave my preference initially to Ola as this is a local company with clear knowledge about Indian market requirements. It was quite often ahead of Uber with its offerings, prices, and packages.

After the market was established, Ola has increased its prices a bit, thus both companies have the same costs overall. Talking about user experience – I find Uber a bit ahead with the customer service and individual approach.

Let’s talk about packages. Both companies have car options for any budget. I do like that they offer a bike taxi and shared car rides (gives a possibility to share ride and costs with other passengers).

Bike taxi is a thing in South Asia. It’s versatile and seems to be the best solution in high traffic. Try both, it’s just a matter of preference.

Besides the companies in the radio taxi industry, there are independent taxis on Indian city roads. In some cities like Mumbai and Kolkata you can catch them on the road, while in other places, you will have to register your cab in advance.

Read also: Tipping in India in different situations: how much to tip and when. 

Rickshaw in India

Rickshaws bring authenticity to the transport system in India and at the same time create huge traffic jams because of the unorganized moving. Currently, there the following types of rickshaws:

Hand-pulled rickshaw – when a man pulls by hands a rickshaw with one passenger. This rickshaw type was widely spread in Asia in the 19th century, though even nowadays it exists in Kolkata. There was an attempt to ban this rickshaw in 2006 for inhuman working conditions, though no real measure have been taken till now.

Auto Rickshaw
Auto rickshaw. Credit: Aaron C

Cycle rickshaw – a 3-wheeler cycle with a driver pedaling in front. These rickshaws are helpful when you need to get somewhere inside the yards.

India is a country that was initially created for cars. There are exceptions like Chandigarh, several cities in North-East, though walking is not a common way to commute in India. There is less or no space for pedestrians, thus even for short distances, people take cycle rickshaws. I haven’t seen any in South or West India to be honest, but these are quite popular in the North India.

Personal remark: I got to know that many rickshaw wallas became drivers by choice(if I may call it a choice): either one of their elder family members was a driver and the next generation inherited the profession or they’ve chosen it by themselves. Although I feel pity for the working conditions of these people, I have immense respect for each one of them as they work hard every day to earn instead of begging, stealing, and cheating on the streets.  These people come to big cities from the villages to earn more money in order to sustain their families and give basic education to their children. Most of these drivers speak only the local language of the state, where they work.   

Auto rickshaw is a noisy CNG-based three-wheeler rickshaw normally of green, yellow, or black color with no doors and a comfortable sitting capacity for two people (not comfortably we’ve done seven). There is a standardized rate for such rickshaws in Mumbai and according to the law, you can demand Delhi auto drivers to go by meter. Most of them speak or understand basic English. The auto rickshaw price in India can vary from 8 to 12 INR per km depending on the city. In some cities, a cab with AC will almost cost the same price as an auto.

Delhi traffic with cars
The usual situation on the Delhi streets (outside of the traffic hours of course).

Shared Auto is a bigger CNG vehicle that normally connects cities with suburbs.  This auto has a huge passenger capacity. This is one of the cheapest yet extreme ways to commute.

Electric auto-rickshaws is an electric vehicle for 6 people (as a rule). It has started gaining popularity since 2014. Whenever it’s available I recommend this type for commuting to/from the station as it’s silent, eco-friendly, fast, and cheap.

Car transport in India

Car rental has recently become popular due to the convenience of this service. ZoomCar and Revv are the transport companies in India revolutionizing this space.

If you are a group of people who are planning to stay at least three days in the same city, the car rental can cost you around INR 4250 (~65 USD) for 72 hrs (additional costs will apply for petrol). If there are long distances between the places you would like to visit, this will be a nice and comfortable option. The main question is if you dare to drive on Indian roads.

India is a country with a left-side driving system, the same as the UK. Before hiring a car, check up your city for the following: traffic jam spots and parking facilities at and close to popular tourist spots. Other than that consider a maddening rush that challenges the driving skills of any foreigner.

Bike rental in India

Bikes in Delhi
Bikes in Delhi. Credit: Nikhil B

Bikes and Superbikes are also available in Indian cities for rent. Though bike rental was always present in India, some companies have organized the sector and standardized the prices so that you don’t feel cheated.

If you are in the Northern part of India, check out Stoneheadbikes for their both normal and Superbike offerings. For people looking for two-wheelers on rent in Goa, RentABike caters only for them.

Planning a trip to India? Check out my India travel guide for first-timers 😉

Public transport in India

Found it useful? Pin to share with others 😉

The transport system in India is catering to millions of people daily. Mumbai local train only transports 8m people daily. Think of it as a population of New York (almost).

If you have been on this blog for a while, you might have noticed that I encourage people to use public transport and I have written many step-by-step transport guides on the same: Mahabaleshwar, Ladakh, Kashmir, Karnataka – you name it.

Though there are many more companies and transportation types in addition to the ones mentioned in this post, the information in this post will cover a good 95% of commuting cases in India.

What about you? How do you prefer to commute in India? What other tips you would advise for better travel around India?

19 thoughts on “Transport in India – guide how to navigate through crowds”

  1. Excellent advice. One tip is to have Googlemaps to hand which you can use to pre-download the map of the area you are going to before hand to use offline. That way you can use it to check the taxi driver/rick shaw driver’s not taking you to the wrong place, which is sadly common in North India we found!

  2. This is a very settling post with you laying it all out and being able to see a plan in action. I had no idea India used Uber. Cool! I hope to visit there some day soon but finding a friend to go with has been the issue. I want to see so much of the beautiful country.

    • Thank you for feedback, Melody! Uber has few years back entered the Indian market and there are tens of local alternatives of it. Startups grow like mushrooms in India haha.
      I’ve heard from quite a few people that they would like to visit India, maybe you will agree with each other in some Indian travel group. If you decide, I will be happy to advise some))

  3. Thanks for the great tips–this will come in handy when we finally get to make a trip to India! India definitely seems confusing and a bit overwhelming, but it’s great that there are posts like this to help out with the planning! 🙂

    • Thank you Jenna for feedback. India has it’s own specifics, it’s true. Whenever you decide to visit it, feel free to shoot questions! I will be more than happy to help you.

  4. Thanks for the extensive post! I would love to get an authentic Indian experience, so have always wanted to go for a ride in a rickshaw. I had no idea there were so many types though!

    • Thank you for feedback, Megan. Rickshaws are quite popular way of commuting especially among youth. India is more of a car country. It’s not common to walk on the streets, unless you are in the parks or mall areas, thus it’s possible to ride rickshaws quite often)

  5. Thank you for feedback, Alina! You are so right, though it took me few months to come to the same conclusion you wrote))) It’s very tough to accept social inequality in India, though if we ignore the labor class, we are taking some potential income from them…. I’m happy as well that more Eco friendly transport is introduced that will make city air a bit cleaner.


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