On arrival at an Indian airport, take an official prepaid taxi service to avoid being cheated by private operators. Remember that there is a 10% surcharge for night services from 11pm-6am. Pick up maps and guides from the tourist office, or buy the Eicher series of detailed maps for different cities. Follow the usual precautions regarding money, credit cards and other valuables; keep a copy of the passport and other vital information separately.
Choose from the many convenient and economical modes of transport for domestic travel: airlines, buses, vehicles and trains. Apart from the national carrier Indian Airlines/Air India, there are a number of low cost airlines with wide connectivity. Tickets can be booked online.
Buses range from the (slightly ramshackle!) “local” ones to semi-deluxe/deluxe and air conditioned coaches. Take a tourist coach to enjoy a safe and comfortable trip. However, use strong locks for luggage, and never leave it unattended at any time, no matter who (even if it’s someone who looks “honest” and “kind”) volunteers to look after it! In trains and buses, it is best to secure the luggage handle with a padlock to the seat. Luxury buses have provisions for storing the luggage in a separate space, but in some cases it is carried on the roof. It is a good idea to not only lock the luggage, but also check at each stop that someone else has not made of with it by mistake, or otherwise!
Many trains in India are comparatively slow, though there are some super fast ones connecting major cities. There are different classes in trains, with reserved and unreserved seats and berths. Meals are provided in some trains. For other trains, people carry food or grab a quick bite at the numerous “stops”! You can buy bottled water and dry food like biscuits at stations and even aboard trains. However, be careful not to accept food or drinks from seemingly friendly and generous co-passengers, as there have been cases of people being rendered unconscious and robbed. All trains have Indian and Western style toilets, and bedding is provided in the first and second classes of overnight air conditioned trains. Prior reservation is required, and you can book at tourist offices, railway reservation centers and online. Sites like the official Indian railways site display availability, fares and other details. However, even if you have a confirmed ticket, check your name on the passenger list displayed on the railway platform before the arrival of the train. Some trains have a tourist quota for tickets. The Indrail pass (paid in foreign currency) for foreign nationals and Indian residents from abroad is good value for money, as it allows unlimited travel for a certain length of time.
Be careful of “guides” who befriend you and promise good deals. While sightseeing, go with government certified guides. Beware of local touts, and avoid visiting isolated destinations with unknown people who may have dubious motives. Public toilet facilities are not very good, so take the opportunity to use one when you visit restaurants!
You would need valid papers to drive within cities, but it is best to avoid the crowded streets and heavy (and sometimes chaotic) traffic. Cabs are easily available, be they the local yellow top black ones, or air conditioned radio cabs. Hire one through the hotel or travel agent, and request them to fix a fair price. Three wheeled vehicles or “autos” are a cheaper option in the metros. However, the charges showing on the meter may have changed, so check before embarking on a journey, or settle for a fixed rate. Finally, before you start, make sure the meter of the cab or auto is “down” or ready to start rolling. Cycle “rickshaws” are found in small towns. Some cities have the “hop-off-hop-on” sightseeing buses, while travel agencies and tourist departments operate convenient tours.
You may be moved at the plight of beggars, but refrain from giving generous amounts, or soon you will have a crowd following you! Moreover, watch out for scamsters who are pickpockets trying to create a distraction.
The mode of transport will depend on your destination, budget and time limit, but no matter what you choose, exercise some caution, and enjoy the ride!
Fodor’s Guide to India
Lonely Planet guide to India
Discovery Channel Guide to India