Below describes how one can get around Rajasthan, with a particular emphasis on the last option, Driving. This assumes of course you’re doing a do-it-alone sort of trip vs. a package tour in a nice comfy bus with a bunch of like minded travelers. Your options:
Planes. Not real practical as they don’t go to most places. One or two flights might work, but ultimately, you’ll need to rely on one of the other options.
Busses. Exceedingly cheap, crowded, and hot. Add to that the excruciatingly long journey times, and this would only be the choice of last resort, or if you are on a painfully small budget, or you are really looking for the” True Indian Experience”. You could also try drinking some local water and spending a few days on the toilet and call that a “true Indian experience”; however, I wouldn’t recommend it.
Trains. Still pretty damn cheap, but the trains are crowded and overbooked weeks in advance (they do hold back some tourist tickets, but you are taking a gamble on the type of seat you might get), they are very slow-going resulting in long journey times, and are notoriously late besides. Plus, there are some places that trains simply don’t run, so you’ll still need to supplement that choice with a bus or taxi.
Taxi’s. See hiring a car and driver.
Driving: Hiring a car and driver. This appears to be the common choice, as evidenced by the fact that most hotels have “driver sleeping rooms”. This is a relatively expensive choice, though; relative to trains it might cost you an additional $20/day premium. The good side is you have flexibility, your schedule is reasonably predictable, there’s air-conditioning, and you can use the driver at your destinations to take you places, so in theory there are zero additional transportation costs (see last paragraph where theory meets reality).
However, there is one downside to this choice, and you might think what I’m about to explain about “being on the roads in India” is a tad over-stated, but after spending 8 days driving around Rajasthan, I am NOT exaggerating.
In the annoying but not inherently deadly category are the horns. Or should I more accurately say, the FUCKING HORNS. Drivers of all vehicles beep their horns incessantly. So, just how incessantly you ask? Well, at every turn, at every vehicle passing (more on this), at every cow, when driving past a person on the side of the road (we’re in India, so as you might imagine, there are lots and lots of people on the sides of the roads), and when coming close to other vehicles (see previous comment on passing by people).
In the cities, some motorcycle drivers have decided to forego the whole beeping process, or at least the part between beeps where there is a nanosecond of silence, and simply just lay on the horn continuously. This adds a new level of background sound to the otherwise oscillatory din.
During one bout of particularly harrowing driving I asked my driver to take it a bit easy and try and drive more safely. His response? Instead of actually changing any of his driving habits, he just honked the horn more. Once on a very quiet stretch of hilly road that was amazingly devoid of cars and people, I was sitting in the back seat just wondering how long my driver would go without beeping because there was nothing to beep at. He actually beeped the horn at a BIRD!!! I think he was having an episode of horn beeping withdrawal and had to beep at something, anything.
Passing is a continuous part of the traffic flow on Indian roads. The highways are jam packed with trucks hauling heavy goods. These trucks go somewhat slow, and they actually have large lettering on the back that says, “please honk”, like anyone would need a reminder. So, trucks are passing trucks, and cars are passing cars and trucks. The result of which is that on a two lane road – and here is where you might think I’m really overstating things a bit – you have a full-on near death experience about 10 to 20 times per hour.
How near-death are we talking about here? Well, pretty damn near. Two trucks would regularly be coming at us taking both lanes so that my driver had to, and only at the last minute mind you, drive off the side of the road to keep us from becoming a hood ornament on the oncoming truck. This was particularly troublesome when two trucks were coming at us at the same time my driver was also passing a vehicle. So, you have four vehicles all barreling down the highway at each other, everyone waiting to see who blinks first… or who has a screaming American in the backseat. This situation was the most bothersome when all this was about to occur when there were concrete barriers on the side of the road, thereby limiting our options to drive into the bushes for safety.
Now you might think that a four-lane road would solve these problems. But you would be dead (sorry, bad choice of word) wrong in that assumption. Even on four-lane roads that have a solid divider between them there are STILL vehicles coming at you on your side of the highway. And every road is in some state of repair, disrepair, or construction, which means that a four-lane road isn’t for very long anyway. In short, it’s an absolute free for all.
Oh yes, one more minor item that is probably fairly obvious at this point, stop signs and stop lights are mere decorations, speed limits are obeyed by using a factor of 2, “no-passing” (excuse my while I chuckle) signs are dutifully ignored, and the number of policemen on the roads are in inverse proportion to the number of cars.
My last day of driving is supposed to be tomorrow. It’s an 8-9 hour journey back to New Delhi, which my driver will have a joy of doing solo. I’m flying.