Within Rajasthan, there are airports in Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Udaipur. However, Jaisalmer may be closed as efforts to reopen it have stalled.
Security at airports is stringent. In smaller airports, all hold baggage must be x-rayed prior to check-in. Every item of cabin baggage needs a label, which must be stamped as part of the security check (don’t forget to collect tags at the check-in counter). You may also have to allow for a spot-check of your cabin baggage on the tarmac before you board.
Keeping peak hour congestion in mind, the recommended check-in time for domestic flights is two hours before departure – the deadline is 45 minutes. The usual baggage allowance is 20kg (10kg for smaller aircraft) in economy class.
Airlines in India
Airline seats can be booked cheaply over the internet or through travel agencies. Apart from airline sites, bookings can be made through reliable ticketing portals such as Cleartrip (www.cleartrip.com), Make My Trip (www.makemytrip.com) and Yatra (www.yatra.com). Keep in mind that fares fluctuate dramatically, affected by holidays, festivals and seasons.
Rajasthan offers an immense array of experiences for a long-distance cyclist. Nevertheless, long-distance cycling is not for the faint of heart or weak of knee. You’ll need physical endurance to cope with the roads, traffic and climate.
There are no restrictions on bringing a bicycle into the country. However, bicycles sent by sea can take a few weeks to clear customs in India, so it’s better to fly bikes in. It may actually be cheaper (and less hassle) to hire or buy a bicycle in India itself. Read up on bicycle touring before you travel – Rob Van Der Plas’s The Bicycle Touring Manual and Stephen Lord’s Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook are good places to start. The Cycling Federation of India in Delhi can provide local information.
- Tourist centres and traveller hang-outs are the easiest spots to find bicycles for hire.
- Prices vary between ₹40 and ₹200 per day for roadworthy, Indian-made bicycles. Mountain bikes are usually upwards of ₹600 per day.
- Hire places may require a cash security deposit (avoid leaving your airline ticket or passport).
- Roadside cycle mechanics abound but you should still bring spare tyres and brake cables, lubricating oil, a chain repair kit and plenty of puncture-repair patches.
- Bikes can often be carried for free, or for a small luggage fee, on the roof of public buses – handy for uphill stretches.
- Contact your airline for information about transporting your bike and customs formalities in your home country.
- Indian mountain bikes such as Hero and Atlas start at around ₹6000.
- Reselling is easy: ask at local cycle or hire shops or put up an advert on travel noticeboards. If you purchased a new bike and it’s still in reasonable condition, you should be able to recoup around 50% of what you originally paid.
- Vehicles drive on the left side in India but, otherwise, road rules are virtually nonexistent.
- Cities and national highways can be hazardous places to cycle, so, where possible, stick to the backroads.
- Be conservative about the distances you expect to cover – an experienced cyclist can manage around 60km to 100km a day on the plains and 40km or less on dirt roads.
- The Rajasthan state government bus service is Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation (RSRTC; http://transport.rajasthan.gov.in/rsrtc/), sometimes still known as Rajasthan Roadways.
- Often there are privately owned local bus services as well as luxury private coaches running between major cities – these can be booked through travel agencies.
- Avoid night buses unless there’s no alternative, as driving conditions are more hazardous and drivers may be suffering from lack of sleep.
- All buses make snack and toilet stops (some more frequently than others), providing a break but possibly adding hours to journey times.
- Females enjoy a 30% discount on RSRTC buses in Rajasthan (often extended to some private buses).
Bus Types & Classes
- On the main routes in Rajasthan you have a choice of ordinary, express and deluxe. Express and deluxe buses make fewer stops than ordinary buses – they’re still usually crowded though. The fare is marginally higher than ordinary buses, but worth every rupee.
- On selected routes there are AG Sleeper buses – these have beds and make overnight trips more comfortable. Beds have a bunk-bed arrangement, with rows of single beds, each with a curtain for privacy.
- Air-conditioned Volvo and Volvo-Mercedes Line buses are the best bus options and serve the Jaipur–Delhi and Agra–Udaipur routes.
- Private buses also operate on most Rajasthani routes; apart from often being quicker and usually more comfortable, the booking procedure is much simpler than for state-run buses. However, private companies can often change schedules at the last minute to get as many bums on seats as possible.
- Luggage is either stored in compartments underneath the bus (sometimes for a small fee) or carried on the roof.
- Arrive at least an hour ahead of the scheduled departure time – some buses cover the roof-stored bags with a large canvas, making last-minute additions inconvenient/impossible.
- If your baggage is stored on the roof, make sure it is securely locked and tied to the metal baggage rack.
- Theft is a risk – keep an eye on your bags at snack and toilet stops and never leave your daypack or valuables unattended inside the bus.
- Most deluxe buses can be booked in advance – usually up to a month in advance for government buses – at bus stations or local travel agencies.
- Online bookings for many routes can be made through the portals Cleartrip (www.cleartrip.com) and Redbus (www.redbus.in).
- Reservations are rarely possible on ‘ordinary’ buses and travellers often get left behind in the mad rush for a seat.
- To maximise your chances of securing a spot, send a travelling companion ahead to grab some space.
- Many buses only depart when full – you may find your bus suddenly empties to join another bus that’s ready to leave before yours.
- At many bus stations there’s a separate women’s queue, although this isn’t always obvious because signs are often in Hindi and men frequently join the melee. Women travellers should sharpen their elbows and make their way to the front, where they will get almost immediate service (and a 30% discount on the bus fare).
Car & Motorcycle
Few people bother with self-drive car rental – not only because of the hair-raising driving conditions, but also because hiring a car with a driver is wonderfully affordable in India, particularly if several people share the cost. Hertz (www.hertz.com) is one of the few international rental companies with representatives in India.
Hiring a Car & Driver
- Most towns have taxi stands or car-hire companies where you can arrange short or long tours.
- Use your hotel to find a car and driver – this achieves a good level of security and reliability and often a better rate.
- Not all hire cars are licensed to travel beyond their home state. Even those vehicles that are licensed to enter different states have to pay extra (often hefty) state taxes, which will add to the rental charge.
- Ask for a driver who speaks some English and knows the region you intend visiting, and try to see the car and meet the driver before paying any money.
- Ambassador cars look great but are rather slow and uncomfortable if travelling long distances – consider them for touring cities.
- For multiday trips, the charge should cover the driver’s meals and accommodation. Drivers should make their own sleeping and eating arrangements.
- It is essential to set the ground rules with the driver from day one, in order to avoid anguish later.
- The price depends on the distance and sometimes the terrain (driving on mountain roads uses more petrol, hence the ‘hill charges’).
- One-way trips usually cost the same as return ones (to cover the petrol and driver charges for getting back).
- To avoid potential misunderstandings, ensure you get in writing what you’ve been promised (quotes should include petrol, sightseeing stops, all your chosen destinations, and meals and accommodation for the driver).
- If a driver asks you for money to pay for petrol en route (reasonable on long trips), keep a record (he will do the same).
- Operators usually charge from ₹8 to ₹10 per kilometre per day (depending on the car and if it has AC), with a 250km minimum per day and an overnight charge of up to ₹300 (covering driver expenses).
- For sightseeing day trips around a single city, expect to pay anywhere upwards of ₹1400/1800 for a non-AC/AC car with an eight-hour, 80km limit per day (extra charges apply beyond this).
- A tip is customary at the end of your journey; ₹150 to ₹200 per day is fair.
- Cruising solo around India by motorcycle offers the freedom to go when and where you desire. There are also some excellent motorcycle tours available, which take the hassle out of doing it alone.
- Helmets, leathers, gloves, goggles, boots, waterproofs and other protective gear are best brought from your home country, as they’re either unavailable in India or are of variable quality.
- To hire a motorcycle in India, technically you’re required to have a valid international driver’s permit in addition to your domestic licence.
- In tourist areas, some places may rent out a motorcycle without asking for a driving permit/licence, but you won’t be covered by insurance in the event of an accident and may also face a fine.
- The classic way to motorcycle round India is on an Enfield Bullet, still built to many of the original 1940s specifications. As well as making a satisfying sound, these bikes are easy to repair (parts can be found almost everywhere in India). On the other hand, Enfields are less reliable than the newer, Japanese-designed bikes.
- Plenty of places rent out motorcycles for local trips and longer tours. Japanese- and Indian-made bikes in the 100cc to 150cc range are cheaper than the big 350cc and 500cc Enfields.
- As a deposit, you’ll need to leave a large cash lump sum (ensure you get a receipt that also stipulates the refundable amount), your passport or your air ticket. It’s strongly advisable to avoid leaving your passport, which you’ll need to check in at hotels and which the police can demand to see at any time.
- For three weeks’ hire, a 500cc Enfield costs from ₹25,000; a 350cc costs ₹18,000. The price can include excellent advice and an invaluable crash course in Enfield mechanics and repairs.
Secondhand bikes are widely available and the paperwork is a lot easier than buying a new machine.
Finding a secondhand motorcycle is a matter of asking around, checking travellers’ noticeboards and approaching local motorcycle mechanics.
A looked-after, secondhand 350cc Enfield will cost anywhere from ₹50,000 to ₹120,000. The 500cc model costs anywhere from ₹85,000 to ₹140,000. You will also have to pay for insurance. It’s advisable to get any secondhand bike serviced before you set off.
When reselling your bike, expect to get between half and two-thirds of the price you paid if the bike is still in reasonable condition. Shipping an Indian bike overseas is complicated and expensive – and you may find it can’t be registered owing to safety and pollution regulations in your home country.
Helmets are available for ₹800 to ₹2000 and extras like panniers, luggage racks, protection bars, rear-view mirrors, lockable fuel caps, petrol filters and tools are easy to come by. One useful extra is a customised fuel tank, which will increase the range you can cover between fuel stops. An Enfield 500cc gives about 25km/L: the 350cc model gives slightly more. A good site for Enfield models is www.royalenfield.com.
The following dealers come recommended:
- Delhi Run by the knowledgable Lalli Singh, Lalli Motorbike Exportssells and rents out Enfields and parts, and buyers get a crash course in running and maintaining these lovable but temperamental machines. He can also recommend other reputable dealers in the area.
- Jaipur For hiring, fixing or purchasing a motorcycle, visit Rajasthan Auto Centre. To hire a 350cc Bullet costs ₹600 per day (including helmet); if you take the bike outside Jaipur, it costs ₹700 per day. Ask for Saleem, the Bullet specialist.
There’s plenty of paperwork associated with owning a motorcycle; the registration papers are signed by the local registration authority when the bike is first sold and you’ll need these papers when you buy a secondhand bike.
Foreign nationals cannot simply change the name on the registration like the locals. Instead, you must fill out the forms for a change of ownership and transfer of insurance. If you buy a new bike, the company selling it must register the machine for you, adding to the cost.
For any bike, the registration must be renewed every 15 years (for around ₹5000) and you must make absolutely sure that it states the ‘fitness’ of the vehicle, and that there are no outstanding debts or criminal proceedings associated with the bike.
The process is complicated and it makes sense to seek advice from the company selling the bike – allow two weeks to tackle the paperwork and get on the road.
Fuel, Spare Parts & Extras
- If you’re going to remote regions it’s also important to carry basic spares (valves, fuel lines, piston rings etc).
- Spare parts for Indian and Japanese machines are widely available in cities and larger towns, and Delhi’s Karol Bagh is a good place to find parts.
- Make sure you regularly check and tighten all nuts and bolts, as Indian roads and engine vibration tend to work things loose quite quickly.
- Check the engine and gearbox oil level regularly (at least every 500km) and clean the oil filter every few thousand kilometres.
- Given the road conditions, the chances are you’ll make at least a couple of visits to a puncture-wallah – start your trip with new tyres and carry spanners to remove your own wheels.
- Only hire a bike with third-party insurance – if you hit someone without insurance, the consequences can be very costly. Reputable companies will include third-party cover in their policies; those that don’t probably aren’t trustworthy.
- You must also arrange insurance if you buy a motorcycle (usually you can organise this through the person selling the bike).
- The minimum level of cover is third-party insurance – available for ₹500 to ₹600 per year. This will cover repair and medical costs for any other vehicles, people or property you might hit, but no cover for your own machine. Comprehensive insurance (recommended) costs upwards of ₹1000 per year.
- Given the varied road conditions, India can be challenging for novice riders.
- Hazards range from cows and chickens crossing the carriageway to broken-down trucks, pedestrians on the road and perpetual potholes and unmarked speed humps. Rural roads sometimes have grain crops strewn across them to be threshed by passing vehicles – a serious sliding hazard for bikers.
- Try not to cover too much territory in one day and avoid travelling after dark – many vehicles drive without lights and dynamo-powered motorcycle headlamps are useless at low revs while negotiating around potholes.
- On busy national highways expect to average 45km/h without stops; on winding backroads and dirt tracks this can drop to 10km/h.
Organised Motorcycle Tours
- Buses, cycle-rickshaws, autorickshaws, taxis and urban trains provide transport around cities.
- Apps such as Uber and Ola Cabs have transformed local transport. If you have a smartphone, you can call a taxi and the fare is electronically calculated – no arguments and often cheaper than an autorickshaw.
- On any form of transport without a fixed fare, agree on the price before you start your journey and make sure that it covers your luggage and every passenger.
- Fares usually increase at night (by up to 100%) and some drivers charge a few rupees extra for luggage.
- Carry plenty of small bills for taxi and rickshaw fares as drivers rarely have change.
- Carry a business card of the hotel in which you are staying, as your pronunciation of streets, hotel names etc may be incomprehensible to drivers. Some hotel cards even have a sketch map clearly indicating their location.
- Some taxi/autorickshaw drivers are involved in the commission racket.
Autorickshaw & Tempo
- The Indian autorickshaw is basically a smog-belching three-wheeled contraption with a low tin or canvas roof and sides, providing room for two passengers and limited luggage.
- They are also referred to as autos, tuk-tuks, Indian helicopters or Ferraris.
- Jaipur has increasing numbers of quiet, comfortable, electric autorickshaws.
- Autorickshaws are mostly cheaper than taxis (except Uber and Ola Cabs) and while most have meters, getting the driver to turn on the meter can be a challenge.
- Tempos and vikrams (large tempos) are outsized autorickshaws with room for more than two passengers, running on fixed routes for fixed fares.
Urban buses, particularly in the big cities, are fume-belching, human-stuffed mechanical monsters that travel at breakneck speed (except during morning and evening rush hours, when they can be endlessly stuck in traffic). It’s usually far more convenient and comfortable to opt for an autorickshaw or taxi.
- A cycle-rickshaw is a pedal cycle with two rear wheels, supporting a bench seat for passengers. Most have a canopy that can be raised in wet weather, or lowered to provide extra space for luggage.
- Many of the big cities have phased out (or reduced) the number of cycle-rickshaws, but you can still find them in Jaipur and they remain a major means of local transport in many smaller towns.
- Fares must be agreed upon in advance – speak to locals to get an idea of what is a fair price. Remember, this is extremely strenuous work and the wallahs are among India’s poorest, so a tip is appreciated and haggling over a few rupees unnecessary.
- Share jeeps supplement the bus service in many parts of Rajasthan, especially in areas off the main road routes, such as many of the towns in Shekhawati.
- Jeeps leave when (very) full, from well-established ‘passenger stations’ on the outskirts of towns and villages; locals should be able to point you in the right direction. They are usually dirt cheap and jam-packed and tend to be more dangerous than buses.
- Taxis are usually metered, but drivers often claim that the meter is broken and proceed to request a hugely elevated ‘fixed’ fare instead – threatening to get another taxi will often miraculously fix the meter.
- Apps such as Uber and Ola Cabs are the most efficient option in larger cities.
- Analog meters are often outdated, so fares are calculated using a combination of the meter reading and a complicated ‘fare adjustment card’. Predictably, this system is open to abuse.
- In tourist areas in particular, some taxis flatly refuse to use the meter and you have to negotiate a fare.
- To avoid fare-setting shenanigans, use prepaid taxis where possible.
Most Indian airports and many train stations have prepaid taxi and radio cab booths, normally just outside the terminal building. Here, you can book a taxi for a fixed price (which will include baggage) and thus avoid commission scams. However, officials advise holding on to the payment coupon until you reach your chosen destination, in case the driver has any other ideas.
Radio cabs cost marginally more than prepaid taxis, but are air-conditioned and manned by the company’s chauffeurs. Cabs have electronic, receipt-generating fare meters and are fitted with GPS units, so the company can monitor the vehicle’s movement around town. These minimise chances of errant driving or unreasonable demands for extra cash by the driver afterward.
Smaller airports and stations may have prepaid autorickshaw booths instead.
Metro systems have transformed urban transport in India’s biggest cities and are expanding. Joining, Delhi, Kolkata (Calcutta), Mumbai (Bombay) and Chennai (Madras) is Jaipur’s new Metro, which cuts right under the Pink City.
Travelling by train is a quintessential Indian experience. Trains offer a smoother ride than buses and are especially recommended for long journeys that include overnight travel. India’s rail network is one of the largest and busiest in the world and Indian Railways is the largest utility employer on earth, with roughly 1.5 million workers. There are around 7000 train stations scattered across the country.
Although we list the most useful, there are hundreds of train services. The best way of sourcing updated railway information is to use relevant internet sites such as Indian Railways (rbs.indianrail.gov.in), India Rail Info (http://indiarailinfo.com), IRCTC enquiry (erail.in) and the useful www.seat61.com/India.htm. There’s also Trains at a Glance (₹45), available at many train station bookstands and good bookshops/news stands, but it’s published annually so it’s not as up to date as websites. Nevertheless, it offers comprehensive timetables covering all the main lines.
- Air-Conditioned 1st Class (1AC) The most expensive class of train travel; two- or four-berth compartments with locking doors and meals included.
- Air-Conditioned 2-Tier (2AC) Two-tier berths arranged in groups of four and two in an open-plan carriage. The bunks convert to seats by day and there are curtains for some semblance of privacy.
- Air-Conditioned 3-Tier (3AC) Three-tier berths arranged in groups of six in an open-plan carriage; no curtains.
- AC Executive Chair (ECC) Comfortable, reclining chairs and plenty of space; usually found on Shatabdi express trains.
- AC Chair (CC) Similar to the Executive Chair carriage but with less-fancy seating.
- Sleeper Class (sl) Open-plan carriages with three-tier bunks and no AC; the open windows afford great views.
- Unreserved/reserved 2nd Class (II/SS) Wooden or plastic seats and a lot of people – but cheap!
Booking Tickets in India
You can either book tickets online, through a travel agency or hotel (for a commission) or in person at the train station. Larger stations often have English-speaking staff who can help with reservations. At smaller stations, the stationmaster and his deputy usually speak English.
- At the station Get a reservation slip from the information window, fill in the name of the departure station, destination station, the class you want to travel and the name and number of the train. Join the long queue to the ticket window where your ticket will be printed. Women should use the separate women’s queue – if there isn’t one, go to the front of the regular queue. Larger stations often have a counter for foreigners.
- Tourist Reservation Bureau Larger cities and major tourist centres have an International Tourist Bureau, which allows you to book certain tickets in relative peace – check http://indiarailinfo.com for a list of these stations.
You can book online through IRCTC (www.irctc.co.in), the e-ticketing division of the government’s Indian Railways, or portals such as Cleartrip (www.cleartrip.com), Make My Trip (www.makemytrip.com) and Yatra (www.yatra.com). Remember, however, that online booking of train tickets has its share of glitches: travellers have reported problems with registering themselves on some portals and using certain overseas credit cards; you may also need an Indian phone number to register.
When booking online, it pays to know the details of your journey – particularly station names, train numbers, days of operation and available classes. Start by visiting http://erail.in – the search engine will bring up a list of all trains running between your chosen destinations, along with information on classes and fares.
Step two is to register online for an account with IRCTC. This is required even if you plan to use a private ticket agency. Registration is a complex process, involving passwords, emails, scans of your passport and texts to your mobile phone. The ever-helpful Man in Seat 61 (www.seat61.com/India.htm) has a detailed guide to all the steps.
Once registered, you can use a credit card to book travel on specific trains, either directly with IRCTC or with private agencies.
You’ll be issued with an e-ticket, which you must print out ready to present alongside your passport and booking reference once you board the train.
Bookings open 120 days before departure and you must make a reservation for all chair-car, sleeper, and 1AC, 2AC and 3AC carriages. No reservations are required for general (2nd class) compartments. Trains are always busy in India so it’s wise to book as far in advance as possible; advanced booking for overnight trains is strongly recommended. Train services to certain destinations are often increased during major festivals but it’s still worth booking well in advance.
Reserved tickets show your seat/berth number and the carriage number. When the train pulls in, keep an eye out for your carriage number written on the side of the train (station staff and porters can also point you in the right direction). A list of names and berths is also posted on the side of each reserved carriage.
Be aware that train trips can be delayed at any time of the journey, so, to avoid stress, factor some leeway into your travel plans.
If the train you want to travel on is sold out, be sure to enquire about the following:
Reservation Against Cancellation (RAC) Even when a train is fully booked, Indian Railways sells a handful of RAC seats in each class. This means that if you have an RAC ticket and someone cancels before the departure date, you will get that seat (or berth). You’ll have to check the reservation list at the station on the day of travel to see where you’ve been allocated to sit. Even if no one cancels, as an RAC ticket holder you can still board the train and, even if you don’t get a seat, you can still travel.
Taktal Tickets Indian Railways holds back a limited number of tickets on key trains and releases them at 8am two days before the train is due to depart. A charge of ₹10 to ₹500 is added to each ticket price. 1AC and Executive Chair tickets are excluded from the scheme.
Tourist Quota A special (albeit small) tourist quota is set aside for foreign tourists travelling between popular stations. These seats can only be booked at dedicated reservation offices in major cities, and you need to show your passport and visa as ID. Tickets can be paid for in rupees (some offices may ask to see foreign exchange certificates – ATM receipts will suffice).
Waitlist (WL) Trains are frequently overbooked, but many passengers cancel and there are regular no-shows. So if you buy a ticket on the waiting list you’re still quite likely to get a seat, even if there are a number of people ahead of you on the list. Check your booking status at rbs.indianrail.gov.in/pnr_Enq.html by entering your tickets’ PNR number. A refund is available if you fail to get a seat – ask the ticket office about your chances.
Tickets are refundable but fees apply. If you present more than one day in advance, a fee of ₹20 to ₹70 applies. Steeper charges apply if you seek a refund less than four hours prior to departure, but you can get some sort of refund as late as 12 hours afterwards.
Shatabdi express trains are same-day services between major and regional cities. These are the fastest and most expensive trains, with only two classes; AC Executive Chair and AC Chair. Shatabdis are comfortable, but the glass windows cut the views considerably compared to non-AC classes on slower trains, which have barred windows and fresh air.
Palaces on Wheels
To travel maharaja style, try the Palace on Wheels, Royal Rajasthan on Wheels and Maharajas Express train services.
- The Palace on Wheels (www.palaceonwheels.net) operates one-week luxury tours of Rajasthan, departing from Delhi. The itinerary includes Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Ranthambhore National Park, Chittorgarh, Udaipur, Keoladeo National Park and Agra. Fit-for-a-maharaja carriages are sumptuously decked out and there are dining cars, a bar, a lounge and a library. Trains run on fixed dates from September to April; the fare per person for seven nights starts at US$6500/4890/4325 (in a single/double/triple cabin). Try to book 10 months in advance.
- The Royal Rajasthan on Wheels (www.royalrajasthanonwheels.co.in) is the most luxurious and runs one-week trips from October to March, starting and finishing in Delhi. The route takes in Jodhpur, Udaipur, Chittorgarh, Ranthambhore National Park, Jaipur, Khajuraho, Varanasi and Agra. The fare (seven nights) per person per night is US$875/625 for single/twin occupancy of deluxe suites.
- The Maharajas Express (www.palacetours.com) operates three- to seven-night packages starting from US$4125 per person. All itineraries include parts of Rajasthan.
Rajdhani express trains are long-distance express services running between Delhi and the state capitals, and offer 1AC, 2AC, 3AC and 2nd class. Two-tier means there are two levels of bunks in each compartment, which are a little wider and longer than their counterparts in 3-tier. Costing, respectively, a half and a third as much as 1AC, the classes 2AC and 3AC are perfectly adequate for an overnight trip.
Fares are calculated by distance and class of travel; Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains are slightly more expensive, but the price includes meals. Most air-conditioned carriages have a catering service (meals are brought to your seat). In unreserved classes, it’s a good idea to carry portable snacks. Male/female seniors (those over 60/58) get 40/50% off all fares in all classes on all types of trains. Children below the age of six travel for free; those aged between six and 12 are charged half price, up to 300k
Thanks to Lonely Planet for information about Rajasthan