Tuk Tuk • The Only Way to Travel in India

This tip comes from Boston based Explorer Bonnie Marko.

Traffic in India is organized chaos. Cars, trucks, people, and cows all weaving down streets with no discernible lanes. Horns blaring at every turn to announce their presence to each other. Holding its own in this throng, with a pop of yellow and a blast of song, is the auto rickshaw.

The auto rickshaw, or tuk-tuk, as it’s affectionately called, is a staple of local travel. From the temples of Rishikesh to the beaches of Goa and almost everywhere in between, it’s a given you will encounter them. They look like covered 3-wheeled carriages with a yellow top and black base. Inside you will find padded seats that fit 2-3 passengers, open windows, and a dashboard that speaks to the driver’s personality, typically featuring any combination of garlands, lights, and deities. They cruise at speeds topping 30 mph, groaning and bouncing their way around any obstacle in the road. This is the transportation of choice for the budget-minded traveler who seeks protection from the elements while still feeling very much a part of the outside.

As far as I’m concerned, there is no better way to travel in India.


But just like anything, there are ways to ensure a more positive experience. Here are just a few pointers on riding tuk-tuks, gleaned from my various trips to India.

  • Negotiate a price first

Establish a price before you get in, and don’t go with the meter (if it’s even working). If the driver doesn’t like your offer, don’t be afraid to walk away. Chances are, another driver will accept.

It’s true that they may expect you to pay higher prices as a foreigner. In cases like these, it helps to have someone who speaks the local language do the bargaining. I’ll admit that in Agra, whenever it was time to hail a tuk-tuk, I hid while my friend, a native, negotiated a price with the driver.

  • Consider your return trip

If you’re going to a more remote area, or know you’ll only need a set amount of time at your destination, you can arrange for the driver to wait for you and then bring you home. You may even opt for this if you simply like your driver and prefer to stick with him over hailing a random tuk-tuk. The extra wait time shouldn’t run you more than Rs200 (around $3) per hour.

I once had a driver who took it a step further…instead of waiting for me while I visited the Mysore Zoo, he joined me! (In this case, I was not charged for the time in between travel.)

For those who are staying in an area for an extended period of time and need regular transportation, you can also coordinate this with a driver. Then you’re guaranteed to have a ride on hand for those early morning yoga classes.

  • Be mindful of your bags

Although your bags may be safely tucked away behind your seat, you should always be mindful of them. Make sure they’re easily retrievable, and don’t forget them! Don’t be careless about the handbags in your lap either; flying straps hanging out the side can be easily grabbed by passing bikers.

  • Enjoy the experience

Once you’re on your way, nothing left to do but enjoy the tuk-tuk experience. Take in the sights, sounds, and smells that are so distinctively India. Roll up those window shades to let in the sunshine and breathe in the air. (Or don’t – you may find that new scarf around your neck doubles nicely as a nose & mouth cover).

  • Pay your fare & clear out

Tipping is not common; save that for the long taxi rides to and from the airport.

Featured Photo: Didier Baertschiger

Additional Photo Credit: Bonnie Marko



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