Importance of Cars in India
Cars are essential to travel in India. No ifs, no buts, without a car,
you will be stranded, late, hassled and generally stressed. Of course,
we're biased, and you would be right to think we want to convince you
to rent a car from us when you visit India. But to be perfectly honest,
we entered this business because a car is essential in India.
One day in Delhi is enough to persuade anyone of this.
But it's better that we offer an explanation of the necessity of car
rental, whether for one day or one hundred.
You may wonder how locals get around and between India's cities and villages.
After all, not everybody has access to a car. Buses are the main form
of public transport within cities, and trains provide intercity links.
Airports are few and far between, so air travel is limited to journeys
between just a handful of locations.
Travel Within a City
Buses are notorious for taking on more passengers than there is capacity
for, and the resulting atmosphere in the non-air-conditioned bus is sticky,
sweaty, and smelly. Life is particularly difficult for those carrying
bags, and women are almost guaranteed harassment. Safety has always been
an issue: before a merger between bus companies, there was an operator
going by the name of Blue Line. This particular operator had killed so
many people in accidents, that Delhiites took to describing the service
as the Blood Line.
Bicycle Rickshaws and Auto-Rickshaws
Rickshaws are only good for short journeys: those operated by pedal power
are quaint and arguably romantic, yet for long distances or when in a
hurry, they can't be considered seriously. Even if you're on a local shopping
trip, you need to be careful that you don't overladen the rickshaw with
bags and packages. On the other hand, the more modern auto-rickshaw clearly
can be used for longer distances and can actually travel at a decent clip.
In fact, at times it's hard to beat an autorickshaw for speed. Drivers
are attuned to the city streets and have a sixth sense for impossible
gaps and daredevil routes.
There are two main problems with the auto-rickshaw. First of all, you
will arrive at your destination dusty, dirty, and on a hot day, sweaty.
Not great for a business meeting. Secondly, and I have to choose my words
carefully here, a fair proportion of the drivers are dishonest. A westerner
will often be quoted four or five times the normal rate for a journey.
Probably not an issue if you just need to make a single journey, but after
3 or 4 trips the logic of taking the 'cheaper' option starts to break
down, especially when comfort is considered. Saying that, if you've never
used one before, and feel a little adventurous, try a ride with one. In
small doses they are enormous fun, just not a practical regular solution.
Taxi cab services are another intra-city solution. Most taxis are old
black Ambassadors with no air-conditioning. They act as suntraps during
the day, and on winter evenings you may as well ride around on a rickshaw,
for all the warmth they provide. Taxi drivers treat westerners in the
same way auto-rickshaw riders do: as mugs with too much money. Not all
are like that, of course, but how are you going to know whether your taxi
driver is being fair or not. Some meters on taxis and rickshaws have even
been doctored to increase at the will of the driver! Taxis generally provide
value when you just need to make one or two journeys over a short, 5-10km
Certain cities now have metro systems, which are recent projects, and
they are proving to be very popular. However, some systems are only partially
complete (as is the case in New Delhi). As with metro systems globally,
once your journey ends, you are still faced with the prospect of finding
a way to your destination from the station, which generally equates to
a walk in 30 degrees sunshine.
The only viable option in large cities like Delhi is the automobile,
whether a taxi, a friend's car or your own. Taxis offer a relatively inflexible
solution of debatable value. If you have a friend or family member who
can lend you a car, great! You're one of the lucky ones. Otherwise, rental
cars are by far the best option for the majority of visitors to India,
as they are relatively cheap to hire, and offer enormous flexibility.
One day you can use your car for a trip to the cinema, the next, you could
be on the road to the Himalayas!
Avis and Hertz have both set up operations in India now, so if you would
like a self-drive option, that is available. However, you would be ill-advised
to pursue this, unless you already have considerable experience of driving
in India. When you hire from the big boys, you pay a premium to cover
their expensive advertising costs, so bear this in mind. Read this independent
to see just how much extra you will pay. The daily rates shown are comparable
to our standard rental rates, in terms of hours and distance allowed.
In some cases their rates are more than double ours, and you
don't get a chauffeur to drive you around!
Chauffeur-Driven Rental Cars
This leaves us with the chauffeur-driven car rental option, the most
sensible choice by far. Driving in India can be chaotic: zero lane discipline,
no discernible rules of right of way, and poorly maintained roads and
signs. Therein lies the advantage of a chauffeur: they know the roads,
they know the routes, and more importantly, they have years of experience
of road convention and safety. Some routes are so well used and well-known
to these professional drivers, that they even know the locations of the
worst potholes and speed breakers. When you add prices to the equation,
you'll find the chauffeur-driven rental option offers by far the biggest
bang for your buck.
Travel Between Cities and Long
Distance Tours of India
When travelling between cities and sites of interest in India, your options
are even more limited. Aircarft is best in terms of speed and convenience,
and recommended for journeys where you need to cross the breadth or width
of the country quickly. Many people visit India to take in the sights,
in which case, travel by road or rail is appropriate.
With respect to trains, it is hard to beat the romance of a steam engine
travelling from the tea plantations in the distant east of the country
to the hill stations of the west, with the magnificent Himalayas in the
background. Most other train journeys evoke different emotions. Prone
to stoppages, slow-running, and with limited toilet and washing facilities,
train travel leaves most tourists dishevelled and emotional. On the other
hand, great friendships are often made on these journeys, between backpackers
and locals alike. Everyone has great stories to tell, and on Indian trains
there's lots of time to tell them.
By Road: Coach
Travelling by road between cities and sights can be done by coach or
car. Many travel companies own relatively modern, air-conditioned coaches
which tour all the famous routes and places of India. The advantages are
that you have a chance to meet new people on the coach, and when you sign
up to these deals, hotel accommodation will be arranged for you. What
you don't have is any flexibility. Everything runs to the tour operator's
So if you find you're having a great time in Manali, Jaipur, or wherever
you happen to be, you'll have to end your fun at the appointed time. Equally
if you visit a place which doesn't appeal to you in the slightest, unless
your fellow coach passengers feel the same way, you're going to have to
endure it until the hour of departure. For example, the reaction people
have to the Taj Mahal varies considerably. For some, it is simply spellbinding:
poetry in marble. Others think, "Great. Been there, done that, let's
By Road: 4x4 (SUV)
That's where a rental car comes into its own. You could hire an air-conditioned
4x4 with four or five like-minded friends (for around £7 each a
day), and have the roadtrip of your life. Your chauffeur will take you
wherever you want to go, whenever you want to go, and will let you spend
as much time there as you want. And he'll get you out of any place you
hate, straight away. On top of that, the money you save versus a tour
organised for you by an operator can be spent on the hotel of your choice,
Whether you are on a quiet, reflective pilgrimage, or whether your group
is raucous and ready to party, with your own car you have the freedom
to be as you wish, without being bothered and without bothering others.
And should you pass a place of awesome beauty, or feel the need to stretch
your legs, the chauffeur will stop immediately. That flexibility is totally
lacking on coach tours, where everything runs to a schedule of somebody