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Though hot and overcrowded, India is as culturally diverse and as spellbindingly enchanting as they come. There are awe-inspiring monuments, fun people and the best food at every turn. By car visitors can escape the choking cities and explore colonial hill stations, the palm-fringed beaches of Goa, the holy rivers of the east, see Bengal tigers in the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve or climb to the meadows of Kashmir.
The main cities have four-lane highways and decent signage, although roads are typically narrow and busy, and Indians tend to be erratic behind the wheel. Secondary and village roads are narrow and potholed, and feature bad signage.
Driving licences: the carrying of an International Driving Permit as well as a UK licence is obligatory.
Which side does India drive on: the left.
Motorways: 50-74mph (80-120kph)
Rural areas: 31-43mph (50-70kph)
Built-up areas: 31mph (50kph)
Alcohol limits: 0.03 per cent, which is less than the UK’s 0.08 per cent limit.
Driving age: 18 years, but usually from 21 years to rent a car.
Seatbelts: all passengers should wear a seatbelt by law and although this is rarely enforced, it is especially advised in this country where erratic driving is the norm.
Mobile phones and GPS: police are tightening up on those who flout the law regarding mobile phone use while driving. In-built GPS can be used while driving (iPhones with GPS apps hands-free only) and is useful in the cities, but coverage is poor in the countryside.
Cost of fuel in India: petrol is considerably cheaper than in the UK, while diesel is well under half the cost.
Car hire and fuel payment: the large urban fuel stations accept credit cards but they are rarely accepted out of town. Always carry cash and guard cards as fraud is a problem. Car hire firms ask for a credit card for verification on pick up.
Insurance: having third-party insurance is obligatory and hire cars typically come with fully comprehensive cover. Having excess insurance (collision damage waiver) is recommended.
Traffic and parking: it is always best to leave your car parked at your hotel when in the big cities as traffic is heavy at all times in New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and other large cities. Parking is tough and locals frequently double-park.
India has a large railway network run by Indian Railways and rail travel is preferred over bus travel, being both comfy and reasonably priced. While there are several classes, it is best to stick to first or second class sleepers, avoiding second class seated cars as they are uncomfortable. Travel times are typically long however the Shatabdi day service between main centres, such as the £8 Delhi-Amritsar route, is fast. Fares for the overnight Delhi-Mumbai Rajdhani line are about £25, while the Palace on Wheels luxury Dekhi-Delhi service costs over £300.
The main types of taxi are meter taxis and prepaid services (at airports, bus and train stations, and central locations) and auto-rickshaws (three-wheelers). Prepaid taxis save a lot of hassle as the price is set and you pay the driver at the destination. Standard meter taxis are more common but it can be hard to get the driver to turn the meter on. Auto-rickshaws may also be metered, but typically require setting the price before setting off. The flag fall price for these vehicles is £0.12 for the first kilometre and £0.10 thereafter.
Buses are not as useful as trains, have limited long distance connections and are less comfortable. They are good for short trips, however, and for hill station travel, plus they are cheap. Typical fares are around £1 for a five-hour trip on an ordinary government-run bus. These buses get very busy with commuters and are uncomfortable. Interstate bus travel is not common but there are such services, which are best taken up with private operators like Raj National Express.
There are major ports at Mumbai, Kochi, Goa in the west and Chennai in the east, though the profusion of cheap flights has made ferry services extinct from outside the country. Cruise liners call frequently.
There are many hubs, including Indira Gandhi International Airport, which is located in the capital New Delhi, north of India. It receives direct flights from London-Heathrow with British Airways. Flights from the UK also serve Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai, Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad, Anna Airport (Chennai), and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport in Calcutta (Kolkata). Flights also go directly from the UK to airports in Goa. Domestic carriers make getting about easy. Air India has the most flights and there are several low-cost airlines, including Tiger Airways and IndiGo Airlines, with flights of around £60. A six-month multiple-entry visa for India for citizens of the UK is £32 and should be applied for at home.
Many of the top attractions are situated within the New Delhi-Agra-Jaipur circuit known as the Golden Triangle, including the Red Fort in Old Delhi, the Taj Mahal at Agra and the Govind Devji Temple and City Palace of Jaipur, the Pink City. Not far away is the stunning Udaipur lake city.
In the east is overcrowded Kolkata, boasting some of the country’s best colonial reminders such as St Paul’s Cathedral. Varanasi lies in between the capital and Kolkata, and is noted for its riverside palaces on the River Ganges. The chilled out holy city of Bodh Gaya with its Buddha images is just east.
Mumbai is the main centre of the west coast, the Bollywood capital and the setting for the hit movie Slumdog Millionaire. Beyond the slums are huge skyscrapers and myriad cinemas. South of here are the beaches of Goa, the main draw for many visitors.
Main landmarks in the north include Keoladeo Ghana National Park and the sublime mountains of the Kashmir region. Himachal Pradesh’s Shimla hill station is also special.
India is tropical and hot barring the northern Himalayan regions. It remains humid for most of the year, with average temperatures of about 25 to 30°C, while daily highs in the March to June hot season can hit the 40s (°C). The best time to visit is between November and February, during the cool season, while most rain falls between July and October. The northern mountainous regions are best visited when it’s warmest, during the summer from June to August.