On my travels through India I faced many challenges: the monsoon rain, too spicy food, pushy staring Indians, too large crowds – just to name a few. But the hardest one was always the decision which transportation I will take to get from my starting point to the destination. Sure, if you travel within a city or go to work or go shopping, then the choice is limited. For example, you can just take the bus. But what is already uncomfortable on hot days in Germany, can become quickly unbearable in India. Because especially in the rush hour, between nine and ten o’clock in the morning and 18 and 19 o’clock in the evening, the buses are totally overcrowded. People are herded together close to each other as on an animal transport. You can hardly stand up and breathing is difficult. Air conditioners are of course non-existent. If you want to get off on a certain bus stop, this can become difficult. The standing line of people blocks the entire aisle. If you are far away from the exit, coming through is sometimes impossible. I have seen some Indians who missed the bus stop just because they were not able to get through.
Because of the sweltering heat in the bus, the ride can be burdensome especially for elderly or sick people. I have seen some Indians vomitting in the bus or collapsing. The problem in India is that many people do not know that they are sick. Or simply do not have the money to go to the doctor. Whether typhoid, cholera and jaundice – In India, some diseases are widespread, which are diagnosed rarely in Germany. Some companies prevent and invite monthly or biweekly a doctor, who examines all employees – if necessary – free of charge.
In public buses not just the heat and the overcrowding are major problems. Also getting off is a real adventure. Many bus drivers do not stop, but pull over slowly to the bus stop. If you want to get out, then you have to jump on the road. Because some moped riders like overtaking the buses from all sides, there can be collisions. Or you turn your ankle while jumping and fall down. Over time I have perfected my jumping technique. Now I know that I always need to jump in the direction of running and to land with both feet at the same. Some bus drivers even had mercy on me and stopped specially for me.
Another popular transportation in India is the two-wheeler. But only the motorized. There are several reasons: Mopeds and motorcycles are relatively affordable. Because gasoline prices are low and MOT standards do not exist. In dense traffic you can even drive on the footpath or squeeze your way through the smallest gaps. And of course you can always find a place to park. Absolutely practical. I know a lot of Indians who go by bicycle to work or even on vacations. A feeling of independence, because you neither rely on public transport nor on lifts. And you can even go on two wheels in a three- or foursome. As long as you have enough space and money, if necessary to bribe the police.
The non-motorized model, the bicycle can hardly be seen on the road – apart from the cycle rickshaws that ride about in New Delhi. In some larger cities some bicycles for rent exist. You put a coin into the bike and you can ride a few kilometres. I myself have never ridden a bicycle in India. It is just too dangerous. In heavy traffic – without any rules – bicycling seems to be a suicide attempt. I – and all foreigners that I know – could comfortably live without that. Finally, we wanted to come back home alive.
The most typical transportation in India is the rickshaw. As a motor or bicycle rickshaw, whether used by locals or tourists. You cannot imagine the city traffic without this little vehicle. The rickshaw drivers work for a pittance and transport their customers well to every conceivable target – even if the engine stops to work or the hill is extremely high. I have even already gone with a drunken rickshaw driver. Each curve was twice as dangerous and I was so glad that we finally arrived. Of course, the rickshaw drivers always try to make the best business. They negotiate sly with the tourists about every rupee and asked for too high prices to transport them to their destinations. Sometimes even the odometers are manipulated. So I recommend not to pay the kilometres price. Offer a fixed price. A distance of three blocks should not cost more than thirty rupees and prices such as four hundred rupees are a fraud – except you have to traverse the entire city.
For several hours rides or cross-country trips, Indians mostly use coaches, sleepers or trains. Only once I went by train. And it was probably the most comfortable transportation that I got to know in India at all – insofar you pay enough money. In the low-cost carriages, there are the same conditions as in public buses. It is totally overcrowded, you are afraid of thefts and sexual assault and heat and diseases run through the carriage. People hold fast onto the outside of the train, just to be able to go by it. Partially also illegal because they can not even afford one hundred or two hundred rupees for the ride. In the air-conditioned carriages you don’t witness anything from these problems. It is like a manifested class society. In the front part of the train rich people travel, those who have enough money and space. Each of them has his/her own daybed, which is fixed on the wall and can be closed with a curtain. So you can also keep some privacy here. Hourly – except at night – sellers walk through the compartments and sell food and drink. All very affordable for European taste. The further behind you book a seat in the train, the cheaper are the tickets and the more simple are the conditions. In the rear carriages, poor people travel, those who have to sleep in less than a half square meter close together with other strangers. Seats are scarce. You just sit on the floor. Bad air accumulates and nasty smell spreads. Unacceptable conditions for many, but it is the reality for most travellers. Because India is still an incredibly poor country.
I am happy to have gone by the sleeper, a coach with sleeping cabins. As in a bunk bed, there are two cabins that are stacked. Each cabin can be closed with a purple curtain. I do not know how big each cabin was, but I guess it was about two square meters. Legroom is nil report. Because the cabins are about 1.60 meters long. For an average Indian woman with 1.55 meters tall it is enough space, but for me it was a little too small. But compared to ordinary coaches this is the absolute luxury class. Have you ever tried to sleep at night in a bus? Most of the air conditioners are too cold, you do not know how to feather your nest and every half hour you wake up. In contrast, a sleeper is like a little too small, rolling bed. You sleep really good and you can even watch the stars and the road through the window – before you fall asleep smoothly. For the first time I went by sleeper to Mumbai. That was one of my last trips to India. Would I had known before how comfortable these coaches, I would travelled by them much sooner in India. But this form of travel was previously not known to me, not in India and in any other country that I had travelled so far.
The transportation in India are incredibly diverse. I have travelled with each of them once or a few times more. And I would do this again and again. Because all the experiences that I was able to make, made me more resistant and also more self-confident for my further trips in India and the whole world.