India campervan guide
India has great potential for traveling with your own campervan. It's a big country though, and with so much to see you'll need plenty of time, at least a few months, preferable 6 months. Roads vary greatly in quality, but are generally poor. Driving standards are very low, and you'll need time to adjust confidently. There are no established campsites, but many safe campgrounds where you can camp for free. Costs are cheap, so guesthouses are also a consideration. You're unlikely to see any corruption as a tourist. Buying a vehicle has a few hassles.
Roads in India vary greatly. Between major cities there are some, and increasingly more, good quality, dual-lane, tarmac roads. These are often short though, returning to single-lane tarmac or dirt. You'll find many dirt lanes around smaller destinations. Newer, good quality roads are often toll roads, but the charge is small (about US$1).
Driving in India
Driving in India is like most developing countries. Driver use their horns to indicate their presence, particularity when about to overtake or when overtaking. Road safety knowledge is not so good, and you'll find many vehicles overtaking each other regularly. Overtaking on blind bends is common.
Larger vehicles such as trucks and buses often push motorcycles to the side, and often, off the road. It's better to get out of their way.
Because of the roads and regular traffic jams near big cities, expect to cover 200km per day, more if you drive throughout the day. Early starts in cities avoid a lot of traffic.
Tips for driving in India
- At road tolls ask to see the recipet before you pay. The prices are often doubled for tourists.
- There are many unofficial tolls. If there is no receipt and no official, drive on.
- Early starts are the best way to avoid traffic when leaving cities.
- Ask if you get lost.
- Pay tuk tuk drivers to guide you to your hotels in big cities.
- Overtaking on blind bends is a favorite pastime of all India drivers.
- Pot holes and other obstacles pose some danger.
- You'll often find wheat on the road, as villagers use the passing vehicles to thrash it.
- You'll regularly find cows wandering on the roads. As well as dangerous to your vehicle, these holy animals will get you in trouble if you don't respect them.
Finding your way about
There are a few road signs around. Often in English and Hindi, sometime just the later. Many junctions don't have any signs, but there is almost always someone arround who you can ask. Never ask a leading question though, such as 'Is this the road for Delhi?', as you may get a 'Yes' when in fact it isn't. This is simply because people don't know and they don't want to disappoint, or perhaps 'yes' is the only English they know. It's much better to simply ask 'Delhi?' and judge the responses you get.
Finding your way around cities is not easy. Almost certainly the best option is to get GPS, or, at the city edge approach a tuk tuk driver. Offer them INR50 to take you to your destination. Give them the money when you get there, and you can clearly see your destination.
Almost everything in India is made in India, and there are few exception to their vehicles. In cities almost all vehicles are tuk tuks (auto rickshaws), small cars and motorbikes. On the main roads you'll find trucks, buses and the occasional motorbike and small car.
Almost all cars are Maruti Suzuki vehicles (made in India). Most are small Zen cars (about 800cc) and there are a few bigger models. Costs are about INR300,000+ (US$7,500+) for a new small car, and half that for used vehicles. There are a few Hondas around.
Maruti Suzuki also make small vans. These cost about INR300,000 (US$7,500+) brand new, and about half that used. They are popular as taxi vehicles. Whilst not as comfortable as car for long distance driving, they do allow more storage, and with a little work you could create a simple bed in the back for emergency sleeping quarters.
Motorbike are very popular in India and a good way for traveling on your own. There are several India makes, including Baja, TVS and the Enfield, which is still made in India. There are also several Japanese makes around. Prices start from INR30,000 for a simple 125cc, which is normally big enough, and just a little more for bigger bikes. There are lots of used bikes around, but check them very carefully.
There are some Asia 4WD vehicles which would make for a comfortable drive and sleeping in the back, but they are limited in numbers and expensive. Old buses (made by TATA) can be found, but unless you want to a sizeable conversion and live in it, it's probably not worth it. If you want to do something really different try a tuk tuk, but their are not so comfortable for long trips.
Buying a vehicle in India
Tourists can buy vehicles in India. The paperwork takes 7 - 10 days. A signed affidavit from a magistrate is required, which a dealer can arrange for you. Be sure to check the regulations about selling the vehicle. Buy-back schemes are a good idea if you are returning to your start point.
Parking in cities such as Delhi is a problem, so find a guesthouse, away from the center that has good parking, and use taxis to get around. In Mumbai, the Colaba district has several leafy streets where vehicles should be find.
In rural areas you'll have no problems parking, but not always right in front of your guesthouse. Bigger hotels almost always have secure parking.
There are no western style campsites in India. You can camp in most areas where you are not causing damage or a nusiance. But it's always worth checking.
Orcha has a campground with stunning views of the castles. A little army of locals with come over to say hello and get anything you might need.
India is generally a safe country. The roads can be dangerous, but with care you should have no problems. Sleeping in a vehicle should also attract no problems. Hindus are generally very trustworthy as they believe strongly in karma. However they are bad people everywhere in the world, and you should always take care.
Before and after
It is possible to drive a vehicle into and out of Nepal, which is a wonderful country and worthy of a visit.
No vehicles can pass between India and Pakistan, and I suspect Bangladesh also.
Shipping your own vehicle to or from India is possible, with a bit of paperwork.