Indian traffic is something special. You will see everything on the road: taxis, colourful trucks with ‘HORN PLEASE!’ painted on the back, rickshaws, busses, carts laden with fruit, scooters overloaded with passengers, goats, cows and if you’re lucky a few camels and elephants as well. Animals roam free in most of India, and they will happily go for a snooze in the middle of the road. How do 1.1 billion people move from place to place?
Let’s take a closer look at the different means of transport in India.
Walking is popular in India. People walk to work, to school, and especially on pilgrimages. Religious pilgrimages to holy places are common. The pilgrims will walk for days and weeks, sometimes crossing large parts of the country. People will even cross rivers and climb mountains to reach their holy site.
Rickshaws are mini taxis on 3 wheels. Some are motorised and others function as large 3-wheel cycles. They can carry two or three passengers. You may have seen them on television.
In India, rickshaws are cheap, fast and easy. No doors, no seat belts, and a cost of only 15 pence a mile. In many cities you will also find larger motorised ‘share rickshaws’ for up to 9 passengers. These rickshaws will pick and drop people on a set route, much like little buses.
In the past, rickshaws were simply carts with two wheels that were pulled by one person.
This was hard and cruel labour under the hot Indian sun. These hand-pulled rickshaws have now disappeared.
Palanquins or Palkis were first used to carry statues of gods on holy days. A palki is simply a box with long horizontal rods attached. They are borne by two or four carriers. From the 15th century onward, nobles and rich people thought ‘This is not bad! We can use this also!”.
Over time, many important people and princes started to be carried around in palkis. It was a nice way to relax and let everybody know how important you were. Today palkis are still used, especially in weddings. The bride will make a grand entrance and be carried into the wedding hall like a princess!
Taxi’s are very popular and quite cheap. Bargaining over price is a common practice. The taxis are expected to have meters, but meters don’t always work. A ride will cost you 20 pence a mile on average.
The nicest taxi in India is the old ‘Hindustani Ambassador’ It’s such an old model; it’s hard to believe it’s still on the road.
In the city, most people take the bus. If there are more busses, there will be fewer cars and taxis and more space on the roads.
Busses are even much cheaper than taxis. You will be paying no more than 8 pence for a local fare. But the bus speeds are slow. In cities like Mumbai, with a population of almost 20 million, the average bus speed is only 5 miles an hour!
The Indian rail network is enormous. It covers almost 40.000 miles with 9000 trains. About 20 million passengers travel on Indian Rail every day.
It’s a good and cheap system, but slow. On average you will be going 35 miles an hour. It takes several days to get from the South coast to the North of the country.
The railway network was built from 1853 onward, when India was still under the British government. Today 1.4 million people are employed by Indian Railways. That makes it the largest commercial employer in the world!
Travelling by train in India is an interesting experience. At every station, you can buy tea, omelettes, fruit and snacks from the platform. Aboard the train, vendors will do the rounds with anything you can imagine: coffee, toys, pens, drawing books and food.
If you travel overnight, you can pull out the back rest of your berth like a bed, and let the train rock you to sleep.
Sometimes the trains get so full, that a number of passengers climb onto the roof. There they may sit for many hours or even sleep, until they reach their station!
You will see many different cars on the Indian roads these days. From Honda and Toyota to Indian brands like Maruti and Tata. But driving in India can be risky. India has only 1% of world’s vehicles, but 8% of the world’s fatal accidents. Many roads are in bad condition, and the traffic is dangerous.
Most families don’t have cars. Often people save up all their lives in order to buy a small car when they retire.
Two wheelers like scooters, mopeds and motorcycles are very popular in India. They are cheap and do not use much petrol. How many people will fit on a scooter? Ask an Indian! A family of 5 can easily fit on. One child sits in front of the driver, one child between the parents, and a third child at the back, holding on to their parent’s waist. For many people in India, the scooter is the family vehicle.
95% Of the goods imported to India come in by ship. India has 12 major ports. The biggest port are in Chennai, Calcutta, Mumbai and Cochin.
With a fast growing middle class, air travel is India is growing every year. The country now counts 80 domestic airports and 20 international airports. New private airlines like 'Jet', 'Vistra' and 'Go' are giving the old goverment run 'Air India' good competition!