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12 Tips to Help You Plan a Road Trip in India
India is a gigantic landmass, a subcontinent that passes through some of the most beautiful and varied terrains there is on Earth. Traveling through the country takes you everywhere from rolling hills and snow-frosted riverbanks to lush rainforests and desert-like sandstone cities. Now, I’ve written all about the many safari tours and experiential trips you can take in India, but you can never say you’ve been to the country until you’ve taken a veritable road trip.
Roads, for as long as history exists, have always been junctions of culture. It is here that commerce finds its lifeblood, and it is here that a civilization’s ideas transfer from one point to another. India is a remarkable example of this. Come with me, and I’ll show you just how enriching this experience this could be!
India Road Trip – What you need to know before you go
First off, you’ll probably not be driving by yourself — for most tourists, road trips consist of sitting in buses, vans, coaches, or jeeps as they admire the scenery flying by. But it helps to know these tidbits to make sure you’re well-prepared in your travel.
In India, you’ll be on the left side of the road
Factor this in when choosing which side of the vehicle to sit in! The driver is on the right side, and passenger doors open to the left. By experience though, this doesn’t matter very much in rural places and congested areas — you will see vehicles flying (or crawling) past in all lanes! It’s a colorful menagerie, but it might make you nervous if you’re not used to traffic chaos. You have been warned.
Rides can be… shaky
While we’re on the subject of warnings, you might as well be warned not to bring any open liquids during your travel. Indian roads contain their share of potholes, and in the South, there are a lot of speed breaks (put up by locals for their own safety, probably). When you’re in highways, however, expect a fairly smooth ride. Even if that’s not the case, very few tourists mind the bumps when they have sights to ogle at from all angles!
Traffic rules still apply
You can’t really break laws here unless you’re a local. So when you’re in a vehicle with seatbelts, use them. It’s not compulsory to wear seatbelts (unless you’re the driver), but it’s highly recommended. It’s for your safety, after all.
Food isn’t a problem
In most other countries, you’re well-advised to pack your lunch (or at least bring a ton of snacks) when on road trips. In India, this is merely optional — and only when you have that gut feeling (see what I did there?) that the food won’t agree with you.
Indian roads are paved with various eateries, called dhabas, serving really delicious fare! Some snacks are still advised for the trip, but you can most likely satiate your hunger easily.
Water, on the other hand, is a must at all times especially when you’re going to the rural areas.
Restrooms, on the other hand, may be an issue
Men will find themselves at home since peeing outdoors is just as Indian as breaking a traffic rule, but women won’t fare so well. Public restrooms along the roads are not always in good order, and when they are they can be pretty far apart from each other. Carry a contingency plan with you, or do it the easy way and relieve yourself before embarking on your journey.
It’s a riot of color (and some other things)
If you’re coming from a country that’s used to having everything spic-and-span, a road trip in India could get overwhelming on some levels. The parade of colors is definitely something to look at, the reds, whites, and greens shifting proudly amidst the gray and brown specks from the ground.
The warm Indian sunshine flits through the rising dust from the wheels, and if you look closely you can see just what it is that has legions of tourists fascinated with India. Almost everything you see here has its roots in India’s millennia of traditions!
If you have kids, bring them toys
You’ve got it easy since you’re not driving, and you’re free to give them your full attention. But it’s still a good idea to bring something for your kids to enjoy.
The little impatient ones are sure to nag when you’re stuck in traffic. If you fail to do so, you can always talk to them about the curiosities outside your window.
Download your songs beforehand
Some of us can only enjoy the road when we’re on our earphones. Streaming is fine, but only in certain regions — most of India doesn’t have reliable network connectivity, so you’ll only end up frustrated. Downloading your playlist beforehand is a way to keep you smiling.
And if you are going on loooong road trips, don’t forget to bring a battery pack, maybe even this solar powered one?
Noise-canceling earphones are a good investment
Now, I can relate to many things traffic-related in India. People back home in the Philippines aren’t such a stickler for traffic rules, either. But there are still significant differences.
There, for example, people only use horns as a signal, especially when something’s wrong. In the US, horns are barely used (and then only when the drivers are highly frustrated). In India, however, horns are a constant sound! It’s like horns are the language of the Indian road, and everything can be communicated this way. If this bothers you, the noise-canceling earphones to play your downloaded playlist in would be a good idea.
Know the emergency numbers
There are many roadside assistance services advertising themselves in India, though your guess is as good as mine if any of them are reliable. Nevertheless, you can take note of them just to be on the cautious side. Your driver should know who to call in case of emergencies, but it can’t hurt to have a backup.
In case something happens to you, the best number to call is 112. From there you will be directed to the appropriate help line. If you don’t have an Indian sim card, you have to dial +91 112 to reach the authorities.
Keep your camera handy
This is firmly tongue-in-cheek, but you’d soon find this is pretty practical. I’m not just talking about the beautiful landscape scrolling past your window or the occasional rare animal sighting on the road.
I’m also talking about the many things on the road that makes India… well, India. This includes seven people balancing themselves on a single motorcycle, or a herd of farm animals running around a highway and causing all manner of traffic problems. It might also be worth it to snap a picture of cows crossing, and everyone else halting — these holy animals have the upper hand in India wherever they are.
Expect all manners of delay
Aside from the traffic, which is basically a fact of life in India, delays are to be expected in almost each and every turn. You won’t feel this much when you’re traveling under the auspices (and near the vicinity) of a five-star jungle lodge, or a top-notch property. But when you’re in urban areas, you’ll be treated to wild and wacky reasons for traffic. Reasoning “it’s just a short drive anyway” before you leave is likely to leave you giving yourself a facepalm.
Of course, there are some legit reasons for stopping. Drivers may stop for tea every couple of hours or so, in order to rest. This is just as well, since you won’t want a driver lugging you through a long haul while struggling with fatigue.
But hey, look at the bright side — it’s much easier to appreciate what’s around you when you’re standing still, than when you’re zooming as fast as your vehicle (and the road conditions) allow.
How To Hire A Driver for your India Road Trip
Having a private driver in India is affordable and gives you the flexibility to create a dream just to your liking. There is no train schedule to follow or fixed meeting time. You decide where and when to go.
How much is it to hire a Driver in India
Expect to pay about 3000 RS per day for a middle-class sedan (like a Toyota Camry or similar). If you want an SUV or more upscale car, about 4500-5000 RS are a good ballpark. For a mini van that seats 8-10 people, expect to pay about 6000 RS per day. Prices also depend on the distances traveled and if it is a round-trip or a one-way trip.
While most hotels and tourism offices in India can arrange a driver for your road trip in India, I recommend using a travel agent. I used Nobel House Tours and they were excellent and not too expensive.
Best Places to Go on an India Road Trip
Here are some good road trips in India you can take when you make it to this subcontinent. Whether you want to just explore for a day or spend a few days on the road, these India road trip ideas take you on some of the most scenic roads in India.
Pune to Lonavala
Soar above fog-covered hills and the deep emerald greens of forests in this road trip! The road connecting these places is 56 miles (90 km) on a well-built expressway, devoid of most of the traffic plagues of the big city, and yet very scenic.
Ladakh Road Trip
Manali to Leh
If road trips are like mountain climbing, this one is a local take on Everest. The road is just over 300 miles (500 km) long, leading through the mountains and deep valleys of Ladakh. We definitely recommend adding some stopovers along the way. The trip is like Everest for another reason — it has peaks and snow everywhere!
Srinagar to Leh
This Ladakh road trip shows you the essence of this region and it is hard to describe it with without the overused words like: quaint villages, rolling green hills, gushing turquoise glacier rivers, but this is what you will find here.
Tawang to Guwahati
This northeastern trip takes you through a challenging but fun-filled ride, with a heavy dose of pretty surroundings to boot.
Bangalore to Bandipur
And here we’re back to the jungles! Don’t worry, the road cuts cleanly through the forest and you won’t get lost. There is some wildlife around, so drive carefully.
Golden Triangle Road Trip
The Golden Triangle is probably the most popular India road trip of all that we mentioned and is highly recommended.
While many would say driving through Delhi is a pain, this expressway from Delhi to Agra is considered one of the best roads in India. It also connects to many of the country’s top tourist attractions, such as Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal.
Note that this one doesn’t have any eateries by the roadside, though, so pack something that’s enough to sustain you until you reach the destination.
Agra – Jaipur
The second part of the Golden Triangle Road Trip is from Agra to Jaipur. The road is about 150 miles (240 km) and it takes about 4.5 hours. The road conditions are decent and traffic is manageable.
Jaipur – Delhi
The highway from Jaipur to Delhi is not very exciting, but definitely comfortable. The multi-lane highway is devoid of potholes and driving is a pleasure – at least until you reach the outskirts of Delhi. Plan at least 5 hours for the 171 miles (281 km), and even longer during Delhi rush hour (which is pretty much from 8 AM to 8 PM).
No country is perfect, and India isn’t either. Road trips in India may be fraught with danger and frustration for the uninitiated. But if you’ve read this guide, then you’re in luck — you’re ready to join the ranks of those who swear by India’s wonderful and inimitable road trips! Remember, Keep an open mind and have fun.
Text and Photos for Tips for Indian Road Trip ©Photos Karla Ramos 2018