Last updated: 10:00 PM ET, Sat May 07 2016

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  • Shannon Wolf | May 7, 2016 10:00 PM ET

    An India Transportation Primer

    An India Transportation Primer

    PHOTO: A snapshot of what it looks like to sleep on top of a luggage rack in General Class trains. (photos by Shannon Wolf)

    Since the start of my journey in India, I have somehow managed to take the lowest classes of transit available, which has led to some of the most interesting and authentic experiences that are worth far more than the cost of a cozy, air-conditioned tourist bus or train.

    My first week in the south of India, I found myself on a local half-sleeper bus in which we got in an accident in the middle of the night. We drove away minutes later leaving us all to fall back asleep.

    A few days later, I went on a 48-hour journey missioning to Pushkar in time for Holi where I took a cozy sleeper bus (which we almost missed not being able to find the office) that ended up being not-so-cozy due to a bout of food poisoning. This was followed by another 20-plus hour train ride on general class where I slept on top of a luggage rack for the duration of the trip.

    I have driven a scooter through hectic winding roads in Munnar; taken ferries, boats, tuk-tuks, taxis, trains and buses and it hasn’t even been a month yet in this beautifully crazy country.

    READ MORE: Young Travelers Driving India's Outbound Market

    Transit days alone are an adventure in itself whether you decide to go the cheap or expensive route. Just remember to keep an open mind and never forget to keep a sense of humor — because you’re going to need it.

    PHOTO: In smaller towns, driving around on a scooter or motorcycle can be a lot of fun but be sure to have previous experience as the roads are still quite hectic.

    Below are the main types of transit you will take while in India:

    For short distances you have the option of taking many kinds of transit including a hand-pulled rickshaw, tuk-tuks, local buses, scooters/motorcycle, taxis and Uber (found in bigger cities).

    For Longer Distances:


    If you are on a budget, it is advisable to avoid taking buses if you can. In the south of India, buses are more common but the prices are exorbitant in comparison to the trains. You have two options for long-distance buses:
    Private Sleeper Bus: The most expensive option and most comfortable.

    Comes with air conditioning where you can lay down and have a curtain for privacy.

    Half-Sleeper Bus: The name says it all. Get half the sleep for half the cost.
    No air conditioning, only windows.


    When taking long distance trains, be sure to book at least one day in advance at the train station. Go to the ITB Office (International Tourism Bureau). If the station does not have it, you can just book through a regular ticket reservation office.

    When taking a train, there are different types of classes and prices associated with each class as seen below:

    1 A/C: The best and most expensive option

    Comes with:

    • Your own private room

    • Sheets

    • Meals

    • Air conditioning

    • Bed

    2 A/C:  The same as 1 A/C except there are four beds to a room

    Comes with:

    • (Semi-) private room

    • Sheets

    • Meals

    • Air conditioning

    3 A/C: six beds to a compartment. They’re not proper beds but they’re softer than a Sleeper Class.

    Comes with:

    • Sheets

    • Meals

    • Air conditioning

    Sleeper Class: If you are a backpacker, you typically take this class, as it is the most cost effective.

    • Eight fold down beds without cushion

    • No air conditioning

    • No meals

    • No sheets

    Reserved Seated:

    There are no beds. You reserve a seat and that’s it.

    2nd Class:

    You pay for a ticket and try to get a seat. There is no reserved seating. First come, first serve basis and if you don’t get a seat, you’re standing the entire journey.

    READ MORE: Carlson Rezidor Plans Rapid Expansion in India

    General Class:

    One of the lowest class systems on a train typically only for locals. However, if you show up at the train station and ask for General Class, you can typically get a ticket for incredibly cheap. This class is similar to 2nd Class in terms of no reserved seating. For shorter distances (five or so hours), this class is fine to take.

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Shannon Wolf Tales From the Leap

Shannon Wolf Shannon Wolf is a freelance photographer and writer, traveling across the globe with an open itinerary and no intent of stopping. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she left behind a fast paced life to truly live and not just exist in an attempt to inspire others to follow their bliss. At age 26, Shannon has visited 20+ countries on four continents around the world. She has travelled overland by chicken-bus and tuk-tuks, hitchhiked by fruit trucks and through islands on horse and buggy. She has slept in the jungles of Nicaragua, on benches in London, secluded hidden beaches and she’s only getting started.
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