What are my Options?
Wherever you’re planning on travelling from and to in India, you’ll have a range of options. Each method of transport has its own advantages and disadvantages; for example, air travel might get you there a lot quicker, but will cost a lot more. There are no right and wrong solutions, so however you are planning your holiday travel, here are the facts and figures to help you decide.
By far the quickest way to get around the country, a flight from New Delhi to Chennai or Bengaluru only takes around 3 hours. As well as the large carriers such as Air India and Jet Airways, low cost operators such as GoAir, Air India Express and IndiGo offer a no-frills service between the major transport hubs. Booking well in advance usually secures the best price on the budget airlines. Budget airlines will sell extras such as checked baggage and in-flight meals separately, allowing you to only pay for the items you think are necessary. You will need photographic ID such as a Aadhaar, PAN or a passport for airport security, even if you are only travelling within India. Why not combine some budget flights with hotel and self-catering accommodation to build your perfect holiday?
What could be better than relaxing on a comfortable train, as you watch the ever-changing countryside speeding past? The same journey from New Delhi to Chennai will take you around 32 hours, but with most trains offering comfortable sleeping berths, showers and on-board catering, isn’t it all part of the adventure? Also available is the Indrail pass, an unlimited ticket allowing you to explore as much of the Indian rail network as you like over a set period of time. Some degree of planning is still required, as you’ll need to reserve seats and berths, especially on overnight services. One of India’s most spectacular railways journeys is the route from Newjalpaiguri to Darjeeling through the foothills of the Himalayas, offering panoramic views of stunning mountain scenery.
Coach travel over longer distances in India isn’t as popular as it is in North America or Europe, probably because the Indian rail service is so comprehensive and relatively cheap. However, if you prefer to go by road or just can’t get a ticket for the train at a time which suits, BusIndia can help. Be prepared to make several changes on a long distance journey, but this also allows the opportunity to explore different cities or break your journey along the way. Coach travel is cheaper than going by train, but less comfortable.
India has the lowest density of expressway roads in the world, so it’s no surprise that driving between major cities isn’t a popular option. Driving yourself from New Delhi to Chennai would take around 35 hours. India has a wide range of car hire companies, so a popular option is booking a budget flight or relaxing train to your destination, and then arranging to pick up a hire car for sightseeing.
India’s busiest airport is Indira Gandhi International, with over 57.7 million passengers annually, catching both domestic and international flights. The next busiest are the airports in Mumbai and Bangalore.
The most visited places in India are the beaches in the Goa area, the waterways of Kerala, Agra and the Taj Mahal, the Golden Temple in Amritsar and the Ganges river and Varanasi. India is such a large and diverse nation that this ensures that there is a destination for everyone – you just have to know where to look.
Budget airlines such as SpiceJet, GoAir and Air India Express offer a “no frills” service. If you want to check in baggage or have an in-flight meal, this means you’ll pay extra. On the other hand, the flight tickets are often considerably cheaper than the more traditional airlines. Book in advance for the best prices.
You won’t need a passport to board a plane if you’re not leaving the country, but most airlines will require some form of photographic ID for security reasons. If you have a passport you could choose to use this, or some other form of official ID such as Aadhaar or the PAN.
As with other countries, India has banned passengers from carrying large quantities of liquid through security. You will not be allowed containers more than 100ml in volume. If you want to take water or other liquids onto the aircraft, wait until you have passed through security and then buy a drink to take on with you.
1A is the top tier of train accommodation, with two-berth accommodation on sleeper trains, showers and lots of space. 2A is cheaper but offers less privacy with sleeping berths arranged off a central aisle. Next is 3A, which has less privacy and more cramped sleeping arrangements. Check out the cost for the different classes before booking your tickets as you’re unlikely to be able to upgrade when boarding a train, especially when busy.
The Indian Railways website offers full schedules and reservations online, and this is the easiest way to get your tickets. You can also buy tickets on your mobile phone and show it at the station rather than using paper tickets. If you prefer to use cash, you still have the option of buying tickets at the stations in person.
Available to Indian citizens as well as foreign visitors, the Indrail pass gives you free access to rail services across India for periods of between half a day and 90 days. You’ll still have to book your berths and seat reservations in advance, but there is no charge for doing so. This is a great way of seeing a lot of the country in a short time with total freedom over where you go.
The Indian Ministry of Tourism classes hotels in five categories from 1 star through to 5 star, with the 5 star hotels being the most luxurious, and most expensive. Heritage hotels are a separate category, giving visitors the chance to stay in some of India’s most historic buildings.
According to travellers, the best beach in India award goes to Agonda beach, 30km south of Goa. Many of the country’s other best beaches are also in the Goa area, and this is a popular holiday destination not only for Indians but for visitors from around the world.
One of India’s most popular tourist sites, the Taj Mahal is open from sunrise to sunset every day of the week apart from Friday. Children under the age of 15 get in free, and Indian citizens also enjoy a reduced rate – take something with you to prove your nationality. Try to avoid the midday heat; seeing the Taj first thing in the morning or later in the evening is probably the best option.
The National Museum in Delhi is India’s most visited. It is home to a vast collection of decorative arts and historical artefacts from across the subcontinent. It is open every day from 10am to 6pm, with tickets costing 20 rupees for Indian citizens and 650 rupees for citizens of other countries.
The best times to travel in India are between November and February, when it isn’t too hot and well out of the monsoon season. Peak times for flights and train travel are around school holidays and major festivals such as Holi or Diwali; if you’re travelling for a holiday during these peak periods expect higher prices and more crowding on trains and in airports.
If you want to see the very best of India on one trip, the Golden Triangle of Delhi, Jaipur and Agra is an all-time classic, and there is no shortage of operators offering guided tours for visitors. Try to spend as long as you can on your trip, allowing yourself plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere before heading to the next stop.
Some of the big cities like Delhi have a modern and slick underground service which makes travelling easy. Smartphone apps such as Uber or OLA will let you book cabs easily to take you wherever you want to go, whatever time of day or night.
If a holiday wouldn’t be complete without some retail therapy, the biggest malls and shopping opportunities are in the big cities of Mumbai and Delhi. In smaller towns and tourist areas, there will be no shortage of people selling local crafts and other items.