Header Image: Andrey Martovskiy
The Indian landscape has an infallible beauty to it. From its sui generis Himalayan mountain range to the dense tropical forests of the south to the eclectic Ghats of Varanasi, there is a simplistic nirvana found in visiting these places. India should hold a place on your bucket list!
But, its one thing to describe this beauty. It is quite another matter to reach them. Specifically, traversing these regions in a fashion obtainable by the common man can be expensive.
Trains will get you to most places, if you are willing to brave an overnight train ride on India’s infamous railway line. This really is your only viable option for inter-regional travel. This leaves only one issue – intraregional travel.
India is typified by enormity. Its towns are vast and its iconic points seldom exist in proximity.
How are you going to get from the Dashashwamedh Ghat of Varanasi to the Tibetan Temple, nearly 10km away? I can tell you how. With great difficulty. Many of the streets of Varanasi, for example, are too narrow to be navigated by taxis or even Tuk-Tuk drivers, whom will refuse even an attempt.
Many of the truly unique places do not offer a persistent and easily accessible taxi service without you parting ways with a significant wad of cash. Even a seemingly novel task like chowing down on some veg curries will be costly.
There seems to be an unspoken rule amongst Indian drivers – accept no less than 4 times the price of that which a local pays from a foreigner.
It looks like you will be walking. What else can you do when your pockets run empty or, at least, reasonably empty?
Well, you could drive yourself. It is not the common avenue of travel for tourists nor the most stress free. But, then again, there is very little that is stress free in India. And, the constant availability of your own scooter and own heading may make navigating to your desired locations somewhat streamline and minimise interactions with locals.
Do you have what it takes?
I have driven scooters all around the world. From the novel task of navigating Bali to the hustle bustle of Bangkok. Getting from one point to another has been an interesting task at times, but I never found myself exiting my comfort zone. And, then I came to India.
There are certain places where scooter navigation is out of the question. Places like New Delhi and Mumbai, for example. Firstly, no local in their right mind would rent out their scooter unless they desired it to be returned scuffed-up with a beaten driver. Secondly, and more importantly, the roads take a special few to navigate. Many Indians seem happily complacent to accept rides from those that have mastered the art of not-dying-in-the-worst-traffic-in-the-world.
I had considered Bangkok a lawless road. While federal road laws do exist, it seems that no one accepts them and, instead, a community derived road conduct exists. It may not be perfect, but it seems to work. However, in India the only conduct that seems to exists is;
Every man for themselves.
The concept of give-way is determined by the trajectory and momentum of two or more drivers near collision; space is measured in centimetres; a honk has an infinite amount of meanings; cows are immovable objects that favour the middle of the road; stop lights are token gestures; cutting-off others is a high score game every driver plays; if you want to move nowhere, drive as fast and as close to others as possible – and nobody seems to want to go anywhere.
You would be hard-pressed to find places in the world that can rival Indian roads for the title of ‘Worst Roads in the World’.
But, it is important to distinguish the massive differences between a place like Delhi and a relatively banal road like those found in Khajuraho or Pushkar. A foreigner can navigate the roads of a place like Khajuraho without exiting the realms of sanity and relative safety. The rules listed above still exist, but there is a mere fraction of the amount of people.
Depending on the specifics of your location, it will be possible to hire a scooter. If you are staying in lowbrow accommodation, most locals will be able to put you in contact with someone who will hire out their scooter – most likely they will offer their own. Some are kind enough to simply request you pay for the fuel you use, which is rarely more than a few AUD dollars.
If you do manage to hire a scooter, visit all your desired locations and accomplish all meagre tasks that could not be reached on foot, you will inevitably ask yourself…
Is it worth it?
Between moving at a snail pace, continuously and unknowingly being honked, making every possible wrong turn and being in a constant state of flux, the whole ordeal will deplete your motivation. Furthermore, constantly teetering near the door of agonising pain that would follow a crash is unnerving, to say the least. And, the security and accessibility of your own scooter does little to compensate the whole ordeal.
In a place like India, you need to do as much as possible to reserve your motivation to travel. You will end up paying a larger, but still relatively small fee for a local taxi. But, in the end, the money that could have been saved by renting a scooter will offer little comfort.
Again, some places in India are suitable and maybe even more enjoyable on a rented scooter, but these places are few and far apart unless you get off the beaten tourist trail. (But, this opens up a whole other door of hardship).
You may have what it takes to drive in India. But, do you have what it takes to prosper in India while riding a bike?
Will you be driving in India?
For more articles with the sole focus of travel in India, check out How to smuggle a drone into India.