It has never been easier to get from one place to another. With tons of options and types of public transport in India available in our times, it is usually no problem traveling or commuting. Yet, in an age when even space travel is a possibility, the old world charm of travel is not too hard to recreate.
In India, there is a stark existence of many worlds that interact and collide with each other. A lot of modes of public transportation ply within the country, yet they all manage to exist as unique entities. Modern travel entails the use of the airways, railways and several road transports, such as cars, bikes, buses etc. But in rural, as well as urban areas there still remain transportations that dates back to many years. Some have been retained due to their practical usage, whereas others are remainders of relics of eras gone by.
Is Connectivity the Key?
Every country has its unique modes of transportation. They are an integral part of the economy, as well as the infrastructure of a city. Also, connectivity to different places along with the ease and speed of travel are important indicators of the efficiency of a town. Big metros are always well connected either through air, rail or road routes. Highways, railway stations and airports are signs of prosperity that make a destination accessible. On the other hand, a place least connected is often considered economically less viable.
In India the metros and Tier 1 and 2 cities are often well connected. However, there are still many parts of the country that do not have a railway station, let alone an airport. There are towns and villages that are connected by roads or waterways only. In fact, there are thousands of villages that still do not have proper road or rail connectivity. Also, there are other areas that are connected by one form of transport and not the other. For example, Sikkim is the only state in India that is not connected by railroads.
However, the remoteness of a destination often makes it a place of untouched beauty. A large number of natural wonders are difficult to get to. The limited crowd and reduced connectivity help retain its unadulterated natural splendor.
Types of Public Transport in India – A Cultural Overview
In India there are a set of basic public modes of transport that are by and large the main mediums of connectivity across the country. The Indian Railways for example, is the fourth largest network in the world covering more than 67000 km in route. Similarly, the roadway system is a labyrinth of networks that veer into the different parts of the nation. The National Highways for instance, connect all the states but contribute to 2% of the entire road infrastructure. For water transport too, there are inland, ocean and coastal transportation.
Yet, there are some distinct types of transports that are typical and representative of the Indian landscape. Railways are an important line that connects places intra and inter states, districts and even cities. One cannot forget the Mumbai Local trains when one thinks of trains. Neither can the cultural and social bonhomie that are attached to travel by Indian trains.
No matter the distances, the railways have always been a colorful experience. Whether it is the ‘chhuk chhuk’ that is synonymous with trains in rhymes and literature or the pantry that keeps sending its uniformed goodie men into compartments at regular intervals. The hustle at stations, the sound of announcements and beeps, the book stalls and snack counters or the juice and hot chai. Railways invoke memories of summer holidays or are the reality of commuting on a daily basis. Either way, rail travel is always a bit more than just a way of getting to another destination.
Similarly, road travel conjures images of roadside dhabas. The sumptuous lip-smacking food that accompanies a good stretch of legs. The toll stations, the overcrowded buses with people on rooftops, the deliriously busy bus stations or the breezy, sometimes bumpy, sometimes dreamy ride all along.
When one thinks of water travel, the ferry is an instant pop up. The tourist boat rides or the large ships that dock on the horizon. The houseboats of Kerala and Kashmir or the coracle and paddles.
Every mode of transport that is an integral part of the economy and infrastructure, also carries with it social, cultural and regional nuances.
Uniquely Special Public Transport in India
There are a few transport systems of the country that are special. They are special not necessarily because of their speed or technology driven inventions. But their uniqueness lies in their regional and cultural context. Here is taking a look at some of the transports that are distinctive to parts of India.
1. Hand Rickshaws
Hand rickshaws are pulled by a human and are still seen in parts of Kolkata. Though a lot of debate continues to be centered on whether this kind of transport is inhuman, the pullers see it as their means of survival. With a gamcha and their little round bells they run pulling the handle of the rickshaw as passengers sit on the chairs sheltered by a roof.
Another old world nostalgia from Kolkata trams were quite popular several decades ago. But today, trams survive only in the City of Dreams and trudge along in quietude and traffic at its own peaceful pace. A wonderful mode of transport for those who are not in a hurry.
3. Cycle Rickshaws
Cycle rickshaws are where the riders cycle the passengers from one place to another. The cycle rickshaws are structured differently in different parts of the country and may vary in shape and size. For example, the cycle rickshaws in Old City Hyderabad make passengers squat tight, whereas, in parts of UP, West Bengal etc. are higher in elevation.
4. Tanga/horse Carts
Tonga, tanga or horse carts are horse driven and made iconic by Basanti in Sholay. However, the tanga is a mode of transport in many parts of India, such as MP, Rajasthan, Punjab, UP, West Bengal and more.
Coracles are popular amongst tourists visiting South India. However, in places like Hampi, Tungabhadra it continues to be a mode of transport for the locals. Ferries are the best transports in cities that are divided by rivers or waterways. In Kerala and West Bengal the ferry is a cheap and fuel saving mode of transport for many.
6. Auto Rickshaws
Auto rickshaws ply in many other parts of the world too. Yet, in India it is one of the most convenient for local travels. Hugely helpful in traversing narrow lanes and zipping through traffic, the autos are spread across the country. Some have lights, some music. Some are shared, some private. But this three wheeled wonder is a packed cultural bonanza for sure.
The chhakda is most popular in Gujarat. A motorcycle driven vehicle the latter half of it is a carrier. Often called the ‘commercial lifeline of Gujarat’, the chhakda is seen within cities, as much as across city borders on highways.
8. Toy Trains
We of course, do not mean trains that children play with. But a toy train ride is a fabulous experience. Built during British time, some of these narrow gauge trains are still in use. The most famous toy train rides can be taken to or from Darjeeling, Matheran, and Kalka-Shimla.
9. Tourist Rides
There are several rides that tourists can enjoy. They don’t essentially always are considered as modes of travel or transport. But it is a great leisurely tour of constricted areas. Some of these include, the houseboats in Kashmir and Kerala, camel rides and hot air balloon rides in Rajasthan, the horse rides in Matheran, elephant rides in parts of Kerala and the Yak rides in Sikkim.
Transport is far more than just a way of travel. The conversations with riders/drivers and fellow passengers, the sharing of food and topics, the understanding of the culture of the land are all a vital part of travel in India.