India is one of the most intense places in the world to travel in, so it makes sense to assume that overland travel is uncomfortable, hectic, crazy, and just downright bad. Fortunately certain methods of overland travel, particularly trains, is one of the easier parts of coming to this sometimes maddening yet beautiful country.
Trains In India
The rail system in India is extremely extensive, easy to figure out, cheap, comfortable, and gives you the opportunity to book online rather than braving the chaotic train station filled with shady touts trying to milk tourists for every penny they have. As long as you buck up for 1st or 2nd class, you will have an air conditioned car and comfortable seats. It’s not unusual to be given a free newspaper and a pitcher (yes, a pitcher!) of chai upon departure. For longer, overnight journeys, sleeper cars are available with quite a bit of privacy and comfort. Most travelers who decide to travel India by train are blown away at the comfort. They even have western style toilet options!
Navigating the confusing and crowded train stations can be a nightmare, though, as there is no shortage of touts waiting in the wings to steer unsuspecting tourists away from the proper ticket windows and into their buddies’ travel agency. Fortunately you can bypass all bychecking timetables and prices online and booking online through several different sites. It’s easy to navigate, check schedules and pricing, and book tickets. Just another perk of traveling India by train.
To give you an idea just how affordable it truly is, here are a few sample fares, all in air conditioned cars that include at least one meal (which are not too bad for train food):
- Delhi to Agra: $11 (2 hours)
- Delhi to Calcutta: $60 (20 hours, overnight sleeper train)
Buses In India
Getting around India by bus is completely different than the train. While in some areas it could be a bit faster, most of the time it’s not, and very rarely is it more comfortable. Most buses don’t have air con, the seats are not terribly comfortable, there are no bathrooms on board, and the roads are not the best. You could probably save some money, and there are some places buses go that trains don’t, so traveling by bus for some legs of your trip may be your best option. But if you have the choice between a train or bus while in India, it’s better to choose the train.
That being said, there are tourist buses that travel in some regions of India, and they can be quite nice. Sleeper buses are even available in certain places, complete with beds everywhere. The problem is these types of buses are not widespread, with the local buses described above as the norm. Be sure to check around and do your homework before booking a bus, and know which one you are booking as they vary drastically.
Hiring A Driver
If you have the extra capital to do so, hiring a driver in India is a great way to see the country, and it’s not nearly as expensive as you might think. Having the freedom to go where you want when you want, and not actually have to drive yourself, is a fantastic experience. While most Indian drivers can be a bit crazy, the time you’ll save traveling by car as opposed to bus or train is amazing.
Don’t forget to check out the FAQ’s on the same subject, which asks all the right questions and offers tons of great information for getting around the world on the ground (or in some cases, over water).
For specific information on overland travel in each region of the world, be sure to check out the following guides, with resources and sample pricing for various overland journeys:
Overland Travel In The Americas
Overland Travel In Africa And The Middle East
Overland Travel In Europe
Overland Travel In Russia And Central Asia
Overland Travel In China And Southeast Asia
Overland Travel In Australia And New Zealand