If you’re landing in Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi, Bangalore or Mumbai for the first time, be prepared for some culture shock. Getting around the city on your own can be extremely intimidating, given the foot crowds and the seemingly chaotic buses, two-wheelers and auto rickshaws that choke the roads and push their way in no matter what.
It’s advisable that you do not attempt to drive around until you get the hang of how things work. You drive on the left side of the road, and you have to watch people’s hands (as opposed to indicators) to see if someone ahead of you is going to turn. There’s no such thing as jay-walking and people can jump into the roads to cross over whenever and wherever they see a break in the traffic. Never shout at people or other drivers to get out of your way - you just honk and wait until the road clears.
Traveling around a city with 20 million people like Mumbai will be a challenge. Think the following: millions of people are packed into a row of suburbs and islands linked by road and rail and they all need to get on to their business. It’s astonishing that the transportation system in Mumbai is functional, and a minor miracle that it actually works pretty smoothly. Your two main options to get around are the BEST buses and the electric trains called “locals”.
The best thing you can do is understand how the sharing taxi system works in South India. Buses will be a bit too much for new visitors, given the crushing crowds. All the seats will be taken and standing space will be full. You’ll be hanging at the exits when you try to get on a bus, and you have to push your way in.
Assuming you’re not up for this kind of contact sport transportation, the next best option is a sharing taxi. They run all over South India, and they’re faster than the buses, albeit a lot more expensive. The sharing taxi is basically a van that functions like a bus, and you’ll find them parked near the same bus stands where you get on the bus. You get on one, wait till it’s full and then they drop passengers along the route. It’s far cheaper than a private or metered taxi, and without any of the hassles of public transport
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You can book car rentals with drivers, cool cabs and other air-conditioned “call taxis” if you want to move around the city and still emerge in one piece with all your bones and muscles intact. You can call them up using easy to remember (eg: 60 60 30 30) local phone numbers you’ll find plastered all over the place and on the taxis you see moving around on the roads.
Our suggestion: arrange a private drive beforehand, a local that will show you around and make sure you go over your cultural shock faster. You’ll probably still wait in traffic, but hey, at least you’ll be comfortable in the process.