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 or Laxmi Holidays, these can be booked online on sites like RedBus.in, via.in or with local travel agents.
Sometimes though, there are no trains and no tourist buses 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 budget way to travel around India!
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 although in some ways, it’s not, it is ok and it benefits from being so so cheap.
To take a local bus in India you can either take one from a bus stop on the side of the road or from a main bus station. Unless you know the exact bus to take I would try to take it from the city or towns 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 and if someone cannot speak English that well, someone near by should and will be willing to help.
When you arrive at the bus station try to 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 everyday 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.
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.
The biggest problem for backpackers when using the 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 women) 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 incase.
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), 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, 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 long stops. If you need the toilet look out for when you arrive into actual bus stations 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.
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 as we said, 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 maybe make some new Indian 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!
Now you know how to take a local bus in India as a backpacker, do you need to know how to get a prepaid sim card? What about some advice on common scams to avoid?
Need to book accommodation in India? We recommend using Booking.com as we love the huge range of accommodation and flexible booking options.
Need to check out Flights to India? Kiwi.com is a great site to compare prices and routes to get the best deal!
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