“Roadtrips aren’t measured by mile markers, but by moments”
How many of you have driven in India? Or a better question would be how many of you have taken road trips in India or plan to take them in the future? As someone who has been driving for years ever since she turned 18, I guess it is fairly safe to say that I have somehow become a veteran in this. No, it is rude to ask how many years it has been since I turned 18. It is generally rude to ask any lady their age.
So I thought I would write a comprehensive guide on what to expect if you are planning a road trip in India. It is definitely not easy and I don’t know why I am encouraging you to take one. But I haven’t caused a major accident (yet) in the past so many years and so I am assuming that you will be fine too if you follow my instructions word by word. Remember the key phrase: “word by word”. Your life depends on it. Also, I have been on 5 different road trips in the past 2.5 months.
Table Of Contents
- 1 A Guide To Road Trips In India
- 1.1 What side of the road do we drive on in India?
- 1.2 As a foreigner, can I drive in India?
- 1.3 How to get a driving license in India?
- 1.4 But do you guys in India ride camels on your road trips?
- 1.5 So how are the roads in India?
- 1.6 Traffic Rules and Regulations in India
- 1.7 Finding food during your road trips in India
- 1.8 Driving on the highways in India
- 1.9 Driving as a Woman in India
- 1.10 Driving with Kids
- 1.11 Music during road trips in India
- 1.12 Hiring Self Drive Cars in India
- 1.13 Roadside Assistance in India
- 1.14 Tolls in India
- 1.15 Accidents and Claiming Insurance in India
- 1.16 Driving in the Himalayas
- 1.17 Would I recommend a road trip in India?
- 2 Booking Resources
A Guide To Road Trips In India
If you do have any questions after reading this guide, then please do let me know in the comments and I will add them in subsequent versions. Please understand that the first rule of driving in India is that no one follows the rules here in India when it comes to driving (or anything else for that matter).
What side of the road do we drive on in India?
Let us get the basics right. I know it is confusing because sometimes it is really difficult to tell when you have cars coming at you from all directions. But we are supposed to be driving on the left side of the road with the driver’s seat being on the right side of the car. That means if you want to drive a car in India, open the right door and slide into the driver’s seat. Else you will end up being the navigator and the DJ.
As a foreigner, can I drive in India?
Seriously, why would you? I mean have you seen the way we Indians drive and you still want to drive? Well if you want to (no guarantees on whether you will not murder anyone or get killed in the process), then better get an International driving permit (IDP) from your home country if you are on a short visit to the country and you want to drive in India. Foreign licenses are not valid in India. If you are here for a while, then you need to apply for a license locally.
How to get a driving license in India?
In most states, it is quite easy to get a driving license. Turn 18 first. I know it may seem otherwise with the number of kids you see driving in India. But legally you are supposed to be 18 before you can appear for a driving test. First, you have to clear the written test and get the learner’s license. Most people start to drive on their own after getting a learner’s license. But if you really want to do things legally (I am obligated to say this to not land into any issues), then only drive in the presence of a registered permanent driving license holder. Try not killing anyone during the next 30 days in the presence of this person and voila you are ready to go for your DL test.
In states like Kerala, you are supposed to draw an H with your car without disturbing any of the poles. I tell you, we mallus love our art even when it comes to a driving test. If you are like me, you will ensure that you will at least hit one pole while attempting to draw an H on your first try. Poles are supposed to be disturbed. If you fail this, you can reappear after a month’s time.
But in most other states, you just have to show the guy sitting beside you that you know how to drive. My sister was asked to just reverse the car and that fellow gave her a license for the next 20 years. How unfair is that? Shouldn’t she also know the joy of failing a driving test at least once in her life? No wonder drivers in India are such maniac drivers.
But do you guys in India ride camels on your road trips?
I know it will be cool to ride camels on our road trips but unfortunately (or fortunately), I have never ridden a camel on any of my road trips yet. Then why did you include it here, you may ask? I once spent half an hour arguing with an ignorant fellow European traveller who once visited Rajasthan and felt that most people in India commute on camels or elephants. I mean why do such people even travel if they believe in these cliches? But I totally agree that it would have been so cool. Just imagine us doing that. Even though we would never reach anywhere on time. Like we needed another reason to be late.
So how are the roads in India?
I have never lied to you till date. Now, why will I start doing that now? We love our potholes and it is very common to find them on the highways too. Most roads in India have been on a lifelong repair mission and you can find the signboards ‘Diversion Ahead: Road work in progress’ all over India. We also love our speed breakers and speed barricades. In South India, most of them have been put up by the villagers themselves. I guess it is because some of them feel like going on a leisurely stroll in the middle of the highway and they don’t want you to disturb them while they are in the middle of it.
But that being said, one of my favourite roads to drive in India is the highway between Bangalore and Trivandrum. It is a 4 lane highway all the way up to Nagercoil. The section between Nagercovil and Trivandrum is pretty bad because it won’t feel like you are driving in Kerala unless you are literally going through someone’s house. The drive to Ooty is also pretty good since you pass few wildlife sanctuaries.
Traffic Rules and Regulations in India
Well like I said before, this is very vague. Even though most people don’t follow the traffic rules in India, there are some set of rules.
Is it compulsory to wear seatbelts in India?
Even in the major cities, it is only compulsory for the driver to wear a seatbelt. Even then, most people start searching for their seat belt only when they spot the cop in the distance. That is why in some of the cars, instead of a seatbelt you will find something else. I thought I will die of tetanus recently because there was not a single part of the car which had not succumbed to rust, including the seat belt.
So if you get into the backseat of a cab and don’t find a seatbelt there, don’t panic. It is pretty common here. You anyway don’t need a seatbelt. All you need is a lot of praying when you are in one of those cabs.
Is there a speed limit in India?
I find it a very funny question. In many of the highways, there is no way you can cross a certain speed. Why may you ask? Just try going above a certain speed on a road covered in potholes and you will know why I said that. If you have any consideration for the back of the person sitting in the rear seat and you will automatically know your speed limit.
On the other hand, 4 lane / 6 lane highways are the opposite and you can go up to 200kmph if you have a fast car. I drive a fast car myself but we tend to stick to 150-160kmph on such roads for safety reasons. The irony of that sentence. I have never seen a working speed interceptor on these highways till date.
Will I be fined if I drive on the wrong side of the lane on highways?
Technically it is illegal. But if cops had started fining such people, they would have already eradicated poverty from India. But unfortunately, that is yet to happen and you will always find people driving on the wrong side of the road. Remember. Don’t panic. Just take a deep breath and go back to your happy place by popping your favorite pill maybe (Again, you cannot say I encouraged you to do this. I will just vehemently deny it).
Can I pee on the road?
If you are a man, you are all the more welcome to do it. You see it is part of our culture and you should not leave India without peeing at least once in the open. As a woman, you are only allowed to pee in the Himalayas or other remote regions.
This is if you don’t want to die from a damaged bladder. There are no restrooms for miles and miles and even if they have, they are broken or ‘In repair’. So find a spot between the rocks and go relieve yourselves. Ah, the joy of peeing after 10-14 hours. It cannot be expressed in words.
Can I drink and drive in India?
There is a special hell for you if you think that it is perfectly fine to drink and drive in India.
Finding food during your road trips in India
It is quite easy to find food in most places around India when you are on a road trip. In case you are going for a short trip, then you can even pack your lunches. But you can always find a roadside dhaba in the North or a Saravana Bhavana in the South of India. Even though the food will be extremely tasty, I cannot guarantee that you will not catch any form of Delhi belly.
Carry lots of snacks and water when you are on the road. You never know when you will have to go hungry.
Restrooms at these stops will have to be handled with care. Carry your own roll of tissue paper and try shooting your pee into the Indian toilet while standing up. Ah, the joy of peeing in public restrooms in India.
Driving on the highways in India
You will need to know a lot of curse words if you want to survive any road trip. You will be cruising at a high speed, overtaking all cars from the left and you will almost have a heart attack. The truck driver in front of you got bored and he decided to swerve to the left lane without any warnings whatsoever.
Apply your brakes at once keeping in mind if there is a vehicle behind you. Start honking at once, roll down your shutter, scream a few expletives at the idiot while you are driving and go speeding past him. In India, honks are used at the convenience of the driver and I suggest you use them a lot to avoid such idiots.
Technically all slow vehicles are supposed to stay on the left. But come on you are driving in India and you know that none of them will ever follow the rules. Everyone thinks they are Michel Schumacher and it is their right to stay in the fast lane.
Sometimes you will be stuck behind two heavy vehicles for a long time, each trying to prove that they are the faster of the lot. It is sometimes really funny to see a race between a turtle and a tortoise.
The general rule is that if you are driving on a 4 lane, then stick to the middle of the road, half on either side. This way you can avoid the vehicles going in the wrong direction from both sides and also avoid giving way to a faster car behind you.
Win-win, you see. You will also see too many animals on the roads here. Try killing a cow and you will see what will happen to you here in India.
Driving in the ghat sections are even more fun.
Driving as a Woman in India
I drive a lot on these road trips. I don’t mean to boast. Ok, I am boasting but I am a pretty good driver. I also drive a fast car which means that I end up overtaking at least 99% of the cars most of the time. But the minute they realize that a woman is driving the car, their fragile egos come into play and they decide that they will not give way. Also, if you are driving in the small villages or towns, you will be stared at like you are from an outer planet or something.
Smile at such idiots and just race them like how I told you how to do before.
Driving with Kids
To tell you the truth, it is the same condition as every other country in the world. You are basically screwed. Unless you have a taped answer for the question ‘Are we there yet?’. Keep them happy and hope they sleep for most of the journey from all the boredom. You can only wish. Or you should have kids like my parents. We were so well behaved on all those numerous road trips. I am sure my parents would say otherwise.
Music during road trips in India
How can you go on road trips without a kicker playlist? One of our recent finds is the ‘Gaana app‘. It is a great way to play songs while you are on a road trip and you should ensure that your navigator constantly plays great songs. They should have some job while you are driving. But a fair piece of warning here. It will only work if you have great internet connectivity. In all other places, you will probably only hear songs like ‘Des-buffering-pa-buffering-ci-buffering-to’.
Hiring Self Drive Cars in India
If you still want to drive cars in India after reading all this, then you have basically many options. The two popular ones are Zoomcar and Myles. In my experience, it is choosing between the lesser of two evils. But they are slowly getting popular in India and hopefully, it will get better with competition in the future.
Also, if you are planning to drive in India, then learn how to drive a manual shift. All automatic cars in India are more expensive and less readily available when you are hiring self-drive cars. Another thing to remember is that you need to pay road tax every time you enter a different state.
If you want to avoid all this, then just hire a reliable cab in India.
Roadside Assistance in India
I don’t know if any of the roadside toll numbers actually work. But you can find them in many places and you can definitely try if you ever need assistance. For your sake, I hope it works. If you don’t know how to change a tyre, do learn it. But don’t worry. You will definitely find many tyre puncture shops in the vicinity of where your tyre was punctured. After all, they are the ones who put the nails that punctured your tyre in the first place.
Tolls in India
I wish they would automate this soon. But since the Fast tag is still in the process of completion in many parts around the country, we end up spending more time in the toll stations than on actual roads. I could write an entire blog post during one such stint at the toll station.
Accidents and Claiming Insurance in India
It is a worst case scenario but sometimes accidents do happen and it is inevitable to avoid them. Hope you guys remain safe. As someone who went through claiming insurance after a road accident in India last year, don’t succumb to the insurance guys. Find out what your rights are and fight till you get justice. It took 6 months for us but a car which they had declared as a total loss is still running after 9 months on the road. Touch wood.
Driving in the Himalayas
Till now, you must have got the impression that all Indian drivers are hopeless. But then you decide to drive in the Himalayas. That is when you realize the camaraderie of the people. After all, all of you are on the same side. The other side being nature. Here, all of you are just trying to stay alive without falling into the canyon beside you. When you have practically no roads and death on the other side, you will have to strike a partnership with fellow travellers (and a lot of praying).
Note: All photos in this post are from our drive up in the mountains.
Would I recommend a road trip in India?
Yes, I would still recommend in spite of what I have written till now. Yes, you may see a family or five on a scooter or a bus filled with 200 people or traffic jams caused by goats. But that is what makes India unique. With so many different landscapes to choose from, you will never get tired of road trips in India. And that is why you should definitely consider doing one when you are in India.
Find my recommendations on guidebooks for India
Find some of my favorite resources I use for booking during my travels.