A 1400 Kilometre Rollercoaster Ride on India's Roads
04.10.2007 - 05.10.2007 27 °C
You need to be in India for about three minutes to reach the decision NOT to drive here. If there is order to the chaos, we have yet to find it. The only guideline is that the bigger you are, the more aggressively you can ‘go for it’. Honking, of course, helps and is so frequently deployed that it must offer indemnity from responsibility; ‘yes, I did hit the cow/sheep/bicycle/tourist, but I honked to let them know the impact was imminent’. Our driver put it far more eloquently, explaining that driving in India isn’t lane-based, but space-based. Even on the rather attractive, new six-lane highway that links Jaipur and Jodhpur, much of the traffic ignores the clearly partitioned lanes. Government signs urge that ‘lane-driving is safe-driving’ but no-one’s listening.
About 300 people die each day on India's roads. Experts say that enforcing seatbelts isn't the answer because only around 5% of road users are in cars: the rest are on bikes, animal, or foot!
We covered 1400 kilometres in four days on the road (in a country where 300 kilometres is a very, very full day's drive). The bulk of our route was windy, two lane roads shared with animals, bicycles, tuk-tuks, pedestrians and the infamous brightly coloured TATA trucks with their ridiculous horns. Back home in California I spend a lot of time driving – maybe two-and-a-half hours a day to and from work, and I’ll call Lloyd maybe two times a year, trying to catch my breath as I share with him how I just about died because some idiot pulled into the fast lane without looking at his blind spot, or how some road-raged maniac just about forced me off the road.
There are more than four million TATA vehicles in India - they tend to be brightly decorated, both with paint as well as flowers and other offerings intended to protect the driver from harm.
But on Indian roads, near-death occur multiple times an hour. Overtaking on blind bends is absolutely the norm. Dozens of time, we'd pull out to overtake in clear sight of an oncoming TATA truck heavily laden with uncut marble. In the US, I’d never attempt the maneouvre. Hell, Lloyd wouldn’t even attempt these maneouvres in the beemer. In fifth gear at 30mph, the driver presses the accelerator but doesn’t seem to know that a lower gear would help. The TATA driver flashes his lights, making sure we know he’s there. It’s about this time that our driver decides to pass another vehicle. The TATA driver sets off his horn that will likely only be mid-ridiciulous-sequence by the time we get hit, head-on.
And then – somehow – it happens. When it becomes clear that we don’t have the space to pass the second vehicle, a space miraculously opens up for us, and we swerve to safety. Lloyd and I look at each other, eyebrows raised, but honestly our hearts don’t even skip a beat anymore. In California, you’d be considered a buffoon for even attempting the manrouve and the drivers would punish you by trapping you, fully exposed to oncoming traffic. In India, however, the traffic just somehow deals with it and everyone is – well – nice to everyone else. What goes around comes around, and Indians just want the good stuff!
Just the good stuff! Which reminds us of our driver’s adage for successful driving in India: good horn, good eyes, good brakes and good luck. Fortunately for us, our driver Suri seems to have the latter in spades.