Transportation Field Note

The Many Modes of Transportation In India



Reliable transportation is essential in India. Read on to find out about the many modes of transportation used in India on a daily basis. Some are the same as we use in the United States, while others are entirely different.


Every day, I wake up and look out my window to see the crowded streets of Madurai, India.  The streets are full of people going from one place to another. Whether they are going to school, to work, to a shop, or to an event, just like you and me, Indian people use a variety of methods to get around. Some methods of transportation are similar to those in the United States, while others are quite different. I hope this article will highlight the methods of transportation used in Madurai, India and provide what, in my experience, are the advantages and disadvantages of each.

How do people get around?

How do you get to and from school every day? Perhaps you walk, like most children in Madurai do. In the mornings, when I travel from my host family’s house to the center where I take classes, I see dozens of children in school uniforms making the daily trek to school. The Indian government is supposed to provide neighborhood schools that are within about a mile of the student’s residence, but despite this, some children have to travel great distances each day to attend school. Usually school children walk in groups , because groups are safer than walking alone along the crowded streets. The groups are usually either all girls or all boys; the exception is if a brother and sister walk together. Walking is a popular mode of transportation among adults as well, generally for going short distances. One advantage of walking is that it is easy to maneuver through crowds and traffic on the streets. A disadvantage is that it takes a long time to get from place to place!

My favorite mode of transportation is bicycling. In Madurai, “biking” refers to motorbiking, while “cycling” is used to refer to bicycling. Bicycling is the main way I get around Madurai. All bicycles in Madurai have high pitched bells to warn people of an approaching vehicle.  Many young people choose to bicycle around Madurai, especially those who are too young to own motorbikes. However, most people do not wear bicycle helmets here, which, in my opinion, is dangerous. There are many advantages to bicycling. Bicycles are environmentally friendly because they do not use gasoline like motorbikes or cars do. Bicycles are easy to learn to ride and widely available throughout the city. However, my bicycle frequently gets flat tires because of the many potholes and trash that litter the roads.

Motorbikes crowd the roads in Madurai and are by far the most common type of transportation used. They range in colors from bright pink to black and I even see little kids driving them, sometimes! Motorbikes have very low pitched horns that their drivers constantly honk. Motorbikes are used primarily because they cost less to buy and operate than cars do, and they can weave in-between cars that are stopped in traffic. However, they do require gasoline, and frequent stops at gas stations.

Yellow and black auto-rickshaws  (or “autos” for short, as they are referred to here) dot the streets of Madurai. Everywhere I go, these small three-wheeled vehicles are present. They function as inexpensive taxis and drive people from place to place for a small fee. One advantage of the presence of auto-rickshaws is that whenever I get lost or don’t know where I am in Madurai, I can catch an auto-rickshaw and tell the driver to take me home. However, auto-rickshaws are quite tiny and sometimes very crammed with many people jammed together in them.

Buses are another way of getting around Madurai. I do not use buses nearly as much as I should. This is because bus schedules are not posted anywhere, so in order to find out which bus to take I have to ask residents of Madurai who know this information. Buses are typically crowded though inexpensive, but can take a while to get to a destination. There are also a limited number of school buses, though more commonly I will see auto-rickshaws packed with children.

Lastly, cars, vans, and trucks are another option for transportation. Many people in Madurai cannot afford cars and the gasoline it takes to run them, and this limits how many I see on the road at any one given time. I do, however, occasionally take advantage of Madurai’s “Fasttrack cars” which are essentially taxis, though the company claims they are “faster than taxis.” These cars car take a long time to arrive though, and so I prefer auto-rickshaws whenever possible.

How did I feel when I tried this way of getting around?

Riding on a motorbike and riding in an auto-rickshaw were the two modes of transportation that were new to me when I reached India. The first time I rode on the back of a motorbike, I was with my host mom. She showed me how to place my feet on the footrests and grip the handles on the back in order to stay on. She said I could hold onto her if I felt like I was going to fall off. However, I soon discovered that I had no fear of falling off. As we sped along the side roads, I felt like I was flying! Contrast this to my first time in an auto-rickshaw. The first time I was in an auto-rickshaw, it went very slowly and we had a bumpy ride. It even broke down part way and we had to walk the rest of the way to our destination.

 Is this way of getting around connected to the culture or environment? How?

One mode of transportation that is probably most connected to the culture and the environment are the different types of boats they use in India. When I was in the state of Kerala, we took a bamboo raft to get from one side of a river to the other. This was near a rural village area where bamboo forests grew everywhere, and hence the boat made of bamboo. Traditional circular bamboo boats are also popular in other parts of India, especially where tourists pay to ride on them. Canoes are commonly used in rural parts of India, and these are made from hallowed out tree trunks. Additionally, wooden houseboats cruse lazily among the waterways, and although they are mostly used for tourism, they can also function as houses for those with no other home. Fishermen are typically seen using tiny rafts with a sail attached to catch the wind and propel them over the waves. Commercial fishing boats and many boats for tourism are motor boats that can cut through the waves and are used to quickly and efficiently get from one place to another.



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