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Trains are the most popular way to do long-distance travel in India and the most comfortable, however, buses are also a good way to get around India and sometimes they are the only option. For long journeys, tourist buses can be booked with companies like RedBus, Volvo and Laxmi Holidays, these can be booked online on sites like RedBus.in, 12Go Asia, or with local travel agents.
Related Post: How To Book Trains in India as a Tourist Online!
Sometimes though, there are no trains and no tourist buses doing the route you want to go, especially in South India, so local buses are the way to get to your next destination in India. Or for shorter journeys, some travellers prefer local buses over trains and tourist buses because they are a good way to travel around India on a budget!
If you’ve ever seen a local Indian bus it may not seem like the most ideal way to travel, especially if it’s packed with people and in some ways, it’s not. But they are ok when you know how to catch them, where to put your bag etc, and they benefit from being so cheap!
Travelling India by Bus!
How to Catch a Local Bus in India.
To take a local bus in India you can either take one from a bus stop on the side of the road or from the main bus station. Unless you know the exact bus to take I would try to take it from the city or town bus station and in order to help you know where to go and the timings of the bus, I would ask your accommodation reception for help because there may be information online but from my experience, this cannot always be trusted!
The great thing about India for travellers is how much English is spoken, it’s pretty easy to communicate to most people in the bus stations and if someone cannot speak English well, someone nearby should, and will be willing to help.
When you arrive at the bus station look for a ticket counter or window or ask someone official looking for the bus to where you are going. As a foreigner in India arriving at the bus station, it’s likely they’ll know where you want to go if it’s a ‘tourist destination’ as they see travellers with backpacks arriving every day to do the journey you are doing.
If you are going to a destination that is not a really popular tourist destination, or even if you are, be sure to have where you want to go written on paper or on your phone so you can show people and they can help you. This is a good idea if you find that people do not speak English as well.
Most buses have 2 doors, one at the front and one at the back and there is no rule that you get on at the front and off at the back, so use whichever door is not as busy.
Generally, local buses in India have 2 seats, the aisle and then 3 seats. I’d recommend trying to sit in the 2 seat row as the 3 seats get very squished. With that being said, no matter where you sit, be prepared to be squashed if you’re by the window and be prepared to have people pushing past you for the whole journey if you’re on the aisle seat because most of the time the buses in India are full with people standing in the aisle too.
The biggest problem for backpackers when using public buses in India is the lack of space for our backpacks. There is usually a rack above the seats on both sides which will fit day backpacks on but if you have a big 65L backpack it will not fit, and there’s no room under the seats.
I personally found this the most awkward and off-putting side of getting local buses in India as a backpacker, however, after taking a few I realised that there’s often space right at the back between the set of chairs or at the front of the bus by the driver which is perfect for a few backpacks. If there is no space, keep your bag in the aisle and if it’s a problem the ticket man will help you put it somewhere or people will have to dodge it.
Remember that Indian people will often bring big bags and boxes onto the bus too so people are used to dodging items.
As well as the driver there will be a second man on the bus (I say man because it will most likely never be a woman) who takes your money for your ticket so don’t worry about paying until he comes around and ask’s you where you are going. He will give you a ticket with the station you got on at and the place where you are going. Double-check the destination and keep this on you as proof just in case.
In regards to how much buses cost in India, they are very cheap as I mentioned. In some cases, I have felt that I haven’t been charged a local rate, but many times I have. When I think I’m being charged more I usually just accept it as it is already cheap and we’re not locals…
Unless your stop is the last stop it’s hard to know when your stop will be. I use an app called maps.me which tracks exactly where I am even if I don’t have internet (although I do recommend you get a local Indian sim card, here’s why and how to get a sim card in India), so I can track when I need to get off.
The best thing to do is to ask the ticket man to tell you when you need to get off they will usually be willing to help as they know this is all new to you.
If you are faced with changing buses to get to your destination, again just ask locals for help. I’ve found that locals working in the bus stations and locals using the buses are very friendly and willing to help, and if their English is not good, clearly state where you want to go and show them the name on your phone and they should understand.
Just like local buses all over the world, there are no toilets on Indian local buses and limited toilet stops. If you need the toilet you’ll have to go in the bus stations so look out for when you arrive into actual bus station on your journey which should happen when you reach bigger towns. If the bus fully pulls in, stops and you see the driver get out, you should have time for the toilet, but I’d recommend asking the driver or ticket man if you have time and ask them to wait for you!
Remember that you may get some stares as a foreigner on a local bus in India because the locals may not be used to seeing tourists on their local buses, do not worry as the stares will just be showing interest, and remember that a smile to other passengers can go a long way.
I do recommend covering up on the buses in India. Don’t wear shorts and a small top. Wear trousers to cover your legs and a t-shirt.
Overall, in my opinion, travelling by local bus in India is not that ideal.
There are usually a lack of seats for the people that get on and if you do get a seat they are very narrow seats, normally there are no windows on the buses, just open space or pull-down shutters which block all light out, there are no toilets, the roads are usually very bumpy and windy which makes for a bit of a hair raising and uncomfortable experience.
BUT if you are backpacking India local buses are very cheap and a good way to travel India on a budget. They provide a really local way to travel so the best thing to do is to get some snacks and water in advance, get as comfy as possible, take in the scenery and make some new friends.
I spent 30 minutes pulling faces to 2 local children a few rows down on one journey, they loved it and thought I was hilarious and it helped pass the journey for me!
Do you need more help planning your India trip? Have a read of these posts: