missing by mile

Transport in India

Traditional means


In ancient times, people often covered long distances on foot. For instance, Adi Sankaracharya traveled all over India. Even today it is not uncommon for people in rural areas to commute several kilometers every day.

Bullock carts have been traditionally used for transport, especially in rural India. They can still be seen in many of the cities and villages. In the recent years some of the cities have banned the movement of bullock carts and other slow moving vehicles on the main roads during daytime.


Palanquins or "palkee" was one of the luxurious methods used by the rich and nobles for travelling purposes. This was primarily used in the olden days to carry the deity or idol of the god (many temples have sculptures of god being carried in a palki) later on during 15th century we have references that the nobles were also using it for transportation. Girls and ladies from rich families were ferried in palkee and were escorted by males riding on horses.

The word "Palkee" came from the word 'Palanki'. The Portuguese called it "Palan Queem" and the Britishers "Palan Queen". In Sanskrit it is called as "palkee". In Tamil it is called as "Pallakku". During the fifteenth century many Muslim families used it. Gradually many landlords and people with royalty also started using it. Modern use of the palanquin is limited to being an ostentatious method for the bride to make her entrance at some Indian weddings.

Horse carriages

The advent of the British saw drastic improvements in the horse carriages which were used for transport since early days. To today they are used in smaller towns and are referred as "Tonga", and buggies (Victories of Bombay) are still used for tourist purposes around india.The horse carriages are now rarely found in india.

Cycle rickshaw

From the early part of the century the bicycle rickshaws also became popular and are still used in rural India. They are bigger than a tricycle where two people can sit on an elevated seat at the back and a person will pedal (driver) from the front. In urban areas they have been mostly superseded by auto rickshaws.


Bicycles are an important mode of travel for much of India. A significant prejudice against bicycle riding for transportation exists in some segments of the population, generally stemming from the status symbol aspect of the motor vehicle.

In India, the word "bike" generally means motorbike, and "cycle" means bicycle.

Manually pulled rickshaw

This type of transport was prevalent until 2005 in Kolkata wherein a person pulls the rickshaw. The Government of West Bengal banned these rickshaw in 2005 describing them "inhuman". While this was lauded in general, questions about alternative means of livelihood of those who directly or indirectly depend on hand pulled rickshaws were not immediately addressed. Manually pulled rickshaws are still a common sight on the streets of Kolkata.


The advent of the British saw trams being introduced in many cities including Mumbai and Calcutta. They are still in use in Calcutta and provide a pollution-free means of transportation. The nationalised Calcutta Tram Company has introduced buses on certain routes in order to generate more revenue and reduce losses.

Local transport

Local transportation is predominantly by road, with a small fraction (depending on the city) by trains. Most Indian cities are connected to surrounding towns by buses or trains. The vast national rail network also enables farmers to transport their farm and agriculture produce to larger towns, where they get better prices.

The roads in most cities are poorly maintained and full of potholes, while in villages they are frequently non-existent. Traffic generally moves slowly and erratically, and traffic jams and accidents are very common. A Reader's Digest study of traffic congestion in Asian cities ranked several Indian cities within the Top Ten for worst traffic.On the contrary, newly developed highways and expressways are among the best in subcontinent.


The use of buses is very popular for all classes of society. They are a cheap and easy mode of transport. The government is encouraging the people to use the bus since it reduces the number of vehicles on the road thus reducing traffic jams.


Vans or minibuses are a more prevalent form of transportation especially in remote areas and common route with consistent yet small transportation needs. Not to mention their presence in other cities, where they are often a traffic is need to be civilized

Auto Rickshaws

An auto rickshaw (auto or rickshaw or tempo in popular parlance) is a three wheeler vehicle for hire. They typically have no doors or seatbelts. They are generally yellow or green in colour and have a black or green canopy on the top. An auto rickshaw is generally characterized by a tin/iron body resting on three small wheels (one in front, two on the rear), a small cabin for the driver in the front and seating for three in the rear. Their design varies considerably from place to place. In some locations, they have an extra plank on the seat to accommodate a fourth passenger. Hiring an auto often involves bargaining with the driver.

In some cities like New Delhi, there are larger autos called fat-fat, which is an onomatopoeic derivation of the phut-phut crackle of their exhausts. These run on fixed routes on fixed fares and are very fuel efficient. Only six passengers are allowed legally but they usually take as many as ten adults. These autos are the new incarnation of old fat-fats, which were Harley-Davidson and similar powerful motorcycles modified by removing the rear wheel and bolting a two-wheeled platform with bench seats onto the rear. These types of transport no longer exist in Delhi. In some regions they are called two-wheelers


Taxicabs in India are mostly Premier Padmini or Hindustan Ambassador cars but newer ones are prominentally Tata Indigo(specially in the big cities). They have a yellow-black livery, and taxicab drivers paint many signs and slogans such as God is Great etc. Most of these cabs do not have an air conditioning system but there are numerous private taxi operaters like "Cool Cab" are air-conditioned.The newer taxis are white, one of the many reasons why the expensive taxis have been dubbed White Taxis by the locals in cities.Taxis and all other commercial vehicles have a yellow number plate so charging taxes and toll in highways is easier for the officials.

Depending on the city/state, taxis can either be hailed or are hired from taxi-stands. In cities such as Bangalore, taxis need to be hired from taxi stands, whereas in cities like Kolkata and Mumbai, taxis can be hailed on the street. There are additional surcharges for luggage, late-night rides and toll taxes are to be paid by the passenger. Thanks to the booming economy but due to disparities in income many types of taxis have come up. For example in Delhi there are 5 types of taxi. Autorickshaws- which are the cheapest form of taxi-, Normal Taxis, Radio Cabs, White Taxis and Tourist Taxis. In posher areas like Noida and Gurgaon auto rickshaws are banned thus giving the taxis a monopoly.

By Government regulations all taxis are required to have a fare-meter installed. However, enforcement by authorities is lax and many cabs operate either without fare-meter or with defunct ones. In such cases, fare is decided by bargaining between the customer and the driver.

Taxis face stiff competition from auto rickshaws but in some cities, for example Mumbai, auto rickshaws are banned in the main city district, thus giving taxis a monopoly.


Motorised two-wheelers like scooters, small capacity motorcycles and mopeds are very popular as a mode of transport due to their fuel efficiency and ease of use in congested traffic.The number of two-wheelers sold is several times that of cars.

Hero Honda, Bajaj Auto and TVS Motors are the largest two-wheeler companies in terms of market-share while models from Honda,Yamaha,Suzuki and Kinetic also sell in decent numbers. Royal Enfield is an iconic brand name in the country and elsewhere.It manufactures different variants of the Bullet motorcycle which is regarded as a classic motorcycle that is still in production.

Motorcycles and scooters can be rented in many cities.Wearing protective headgear(helmets) is mandatory for both the rider and the pillion-rider in most cities but riding a two-wheeler on Indian roads can be an extremely daunting and dangerous task for most Western tourists.


In 2006-2007, more than 350,000 new vehicles were bought in Delhi alone, totalling 5,139,549 on March 2007. Compact cars,especially hatchbacks predominate due to affordability,fuel efficiency,congestion and lack of parking space in most cities. Maruti, Hyundai and Tata Motors are the most popular brands in the order of their market share. The clunky Ambassador once had a monopoly but is now an icon of pre-liberalisation India, and is still used by taxi companies. Maruti 800 launched in 1984 created the first revolution in the Indian auto sector because of its low pricing. It had the highest market share until 2004, when it was overtaken by other low cost models from Maruti like the Alto and the Wagon R,the Indica from Tata Motors and the Santro from Hyundai. Over the 20 year period since its introduction, about 2.4 million units of the Maruti 800 have been sold.

Utility vehicles

The first utility vehicle in India was manufactured by Mahindra and Mahindra. It was a copy of the original Jeep manufactured under licence. The vehicle was an instant hit and made Mahindra one of the top companies in India. The Indian Army and police extensively used Mahindra vehicles for transporting personnel and equipment.

Tata Motors, the automobile manufacturing arm of the Tata Group, launched its first utility vehicle, the Tata Sumo in the mid-1990s. Till then the appeal of such vehicles had been restricted to the rural areas. The Sumo (owing to its then-modern design) was the first utility vehicle which captured a share of the urban market from cars. Many people used them as avenues of employment and till today they are lent on hire for personal purposes. However, research from indicates that Toyota's Qualis and Innova are by far the most popular hired vehicles amongst tour operators and foreign visitors. The Tempo trax from Force Motors till recently was ruling the rural areas.

Sports utility vehicles now form a sizeable part of the passenger vehicle market. Models from Tata,Honda,Hyundai,Ford and other brands are available. Mahindra and Mahindra's Scorpio is the market leader in the segment as of 2007.


Mass rapid transit systems are operational in Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Delhi. The first rapid transit system in India, Mumbai Railway, was established in Mumbai in 1867. The Mumbai Suburban Railway commutes 6.1 million passengers everyday and boasts to have the highest passenger density in the world. Rapid transit systems are under construction in Hyderabad and Bangalore. To decongest Mumbai's growing traffic, another metro system is under construction. Presently three metro lines are operational in Delhi and more are under construction. Rapid transit systems are proposed in NOIDA, Goa, Thane, Pune, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, Amritsar, Ludhiana and Kochi.

Safety and Accidents

At least 39 people died, most of them schoolchildren, on April 16 2008, when a bus plunged into a canal near Vadodara city in Gujarat state.

Long distance transport


India's rail network is the longest of any country. Trains run at an average of around 50-60 km/h, which means that it can take more than two days to get from one corner of the country to another. Rail operations throughout the country are run by the state-owned company, Indian Railways. The rail network traverses through the length and breadth of the country, covering a total length of around 63,000 km (39,000 miles). Out of this a total 16,693 km of track has been electrified till now and 12,617 km have double tracks.

Indian Railways uses three type of gauges : Broad Gauge, Metre Gauge and Narrow Gauge. Broad gauge at 1.676 m is one of the widest gauge used anywhere in the world. Indian Railways is in the process of converting all the metre gauge (14,406 km) into broad gauge. Narrow gauge (3,106 km of track) with a width of to is restricted to very few places.

Railway links with adjacent countries


  • May 17 - The missing link in India is from Jiribam (in Manipur) to Tamu, Myanmar in Myanmar. The construction of this missing link, as per the feasibility study conducted by the Ministry of External Affairs through RITES Ltd, is estimated to cost Rs 2,941 crore.
  • According to the Economist, a railway line is to be built through Imphal to Moreh near the Myanmar border.


Next only to railways, the most preferred long distance transport option for the public are the buses. Most of the state road transport corportations have buses which connect major cities and towns.

There are private bus operators who run regular schedule of buses for connections between major cities and towns. Most long distance buses are scheduled during the night. Long distance travel in buses is quite common for distances up to 500 km. In some cases there are connections for distances like 1000 km (eg. Bangalore to Mumbai), with a travel time of 24 hours. With the advent of better buses (eg. Volvo's popular Volvo B7R) and better highways, road transport has become a fast and comfortable option for travellers.


India has a network of National Highways connecting all the major cities and state capitals. As of 2005, India has a total of 65,569 km of National Highways, of which 4,885 km are classified as expressways. Most highways are 2 laned, while in some better developed areas they may broaden to 4 lanes. Close to big cities, highways can even be 8 laned.

All the highways are metalled. In most developed states the roads are smooth, however in less developed states and in sparsely populated areas, highways are riddled with potholes. Very few of India's highways are constructed of concrete, the most notable being the Mumbai-Pune Expressway.

Highways form the economic backbone of the country. Highways have facilitated development along the route and many towns have sprung up along major highways.

In recent years construction has commenced on a nationwide system of multi-lane highways, including the Golden Quadrilateral expressways which link the largest cities in India.

A bus service Srinagar Jammu and Kashmir) - Muzaffarabad (Pakistan controlled Kashmir, part of what India calls 'Pakistan-occupied Kashmir'), with one bus service every two weeks, at the same time in both directions, opened on 7 April 2005.

Length: total - 3,319,644 km; paved - 1,517,077 km; unpaved - 1,802,567 km (1999 est.)


India has an extensive network of inland waterways in the form of rivers, canals, backwaters and creeks. The total navigable length is 14,500 km, out of which about 5200 km of river and 4000 km of canals can be used by mechanised crafts. Freight transportation by waterways is highly underutilised in India compared to other large countries like USA, China and European Union. The total cargo moved (in tonne kilometers) by the inland waterway was just 0.1% of the total inland traffic in India, compared to the 21% figure for USA. Cargo transportation in an organised manner is confined to a few waterways in Goa, West Bengal, Assam and Kerala. Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) is the statutory authority in charge of the waterways in India. It does the function of building the necessary infrastructure in these waterways, surveying the economic feasibility of new projects and also administration and regulation. The following waterways have been declared as National Waterways till now.

  • National Waterway 1 - Allahabad Haldia stretch of the Ganga Bhagirathi Hooghly river system (1620 km) in October 1986.
  • National Waterway 2 - Saidiya Dhubri stretch of the Brahmaputra river system (891 km) in September 1988.
  • National Waterway 3 - Kollam Kottapuram stretch of West Coast Canal (168 km) along with Champakara canal (14 km) and Udyogmandal canal (23 km) in February 1993.


The above information was calculated in 1995.

Ports and harbours

The ports are the main gateway of trade. In India about 95% of the trade by quantity and 77% by value take place through the ports. There are 12 major ports and about 180 minor and intermediate ports in India. The total amount of traffic handled at the major port in 2003-2004 was 345 Mt and the minor ports together handled about 115 Mt.

The major ports are Kolkata, Haldia, Paradip, Visakhapatanam, Ennore, Chennai, Tuticorin, Kochi, New Mangalore, Mormugao,JNPT, Mumbai and Kandla. The distinction between major and minor ports is not based on the amount of cargo handled. The major ports are managed by port trusts which are regulated by the central government. They come under the purview of the Major Port Trusts Act, 1963. The minor ports are regulated by the respective state governments and many of these ports are private ports or captive ports.

Merchant Marine

There are 321 ships (with capacity of or over) totaling /.

Air travel

India's booming economy has created a large middle-class population in India. Five years back, air travel was a dream for the majority of the Indian population. But rapid economic growth has made air travel more and more affordable in India. Air India, India's flag carrier, presently operates a fleet 135 aircraft and plays a major role in connecting India with the rest of the world. Several other foreign airlines connect Indian cities with other major cities across the globe.

Air Deccan, Jet Airways, Kingfisher Airlines, IndiGo Airlines and Air India (formerly Indian Airlines, before merging with Air India ) are the most popular brands in domestic air travel in order of their market share. Of these, Jet, Indian and Kingfisher also operate overseas routes after the liberalisation of Indian Aviation. These airlines connect more than 80 cities across India. However, a large section of country's air transport system remains untapped, even though the Mumbai-Delhi air corridor was ranked 6th by the Official Airline Guide in 2007 among the world's busiest routes.

India's vast unutilized air transport network has attracted several investments in the Indian air industry in the past few years. More than half a dozen low-cost carriers entered the Indian market in 2004-05. Major new entrants include Air Deccan, Kingfisher Airlines, SpiceJet, GoAir, Paramount Airways and IndiGo Airlines. To meet India's rapidly increasing demand for air travel, Air India recently placed orders for more than 68 jets from Boeing for 7.5 billion USD while Indian placed orders for 43 jets from Airbus for 2.5 billion USD. Jet Airways, India's largest private carrier, has invested billions of dollars to increase its fleet. This trend is not restricted to traditional air carriers in India. IndiGo Airlines came into the news with a bang when it announced orders for 100 Airbus A320s worth 6 billion USD during the Paris Air Show; the highest by any Asian domestic carrier. Kingfisher Airline became the first Indian air carrier in June 15 2005 to order Airbus A380 aircraft. The total deal with Airbus was worth 3 billion USD.


More than 20 international airports are located within the Republic of India. These include:

The Indira Gandhi International Airport and the Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport handle more than half of the air traffic in South Asia. Besides these airports several other domestic airports are located in India.

In total, there are more than 334 (2002 est.) civilian airports in India - 238 with paved runways and 108 with unpaved runways.

Airports - with paved runways (2007 est.)

10,000 ft (3,047 m) or more: 18

8,000 to 9,999 ft (2,438 to 3,047 m): 52

5,000 to 7,999 ft (1,524 to 2,437 m): 75

3,000 to 4,999 ft (914 to 1,523 m): 84

Under 3,000 ft (914 m): 21

Total: 250

Airports - with unpaved runways (2007 est.)
10,000 ft (3,047 m) or more: 1

8,000 to 9,999 ft (2,438 to 3,047 m): 1

5,000 to 7,999 ft (1,524 to 2,437 m): 7

3,000 to 4,999 ft (914 to 1,523 m): 40

Under 3,000 ft (914 m): 47

Total: 96

Heliports (2007 est.)

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