Friday, February 12, 2010

My Trip to India...

Part Three: Driving in India…

I mentioned how insane the driving is in India in my last post. You can watch the video I posted when Paul first left for India at the end of this post if you like. Just keep in mind that the video is tame in comparison to the real thing. It’s easily twice as bad on a good day, but I’d multiply it by ten on most days.

First, they do have defined lanes; there are markings on the road. I have seen them. I also saw signs that read, ‘Lane Driving is Safe Driving’. Apparently it is only suggested that you stay in your lane. That being said, the majority of roads we were on had two ‘lanes’, but there were usually anywhere from three to I don’t know how many vehicles across them. And by vehicles, I mean buses, trucks, SUVs, cars, auto rickshaws, bicycle rickshaws, handcarts, motorcycles, scooters, bicycles, pedestrians and cows.

Second, I never saw a speed limit sign. There weren’t many stop lights and even fewer stop signs. Now while everyone is just all over the place trying to pass one another there is much honking of horns. In fact most trucks have the words ‘Horn Please’ painted above their back bumper.

Honk, Honk, HONK! It seems to be the way they let the vehicle in front of them know that they are coming up alongside them. And by alongside them, I mean inches away. See? Right alongside you, uh I mean me…

Not only are there lots of ‘vehicles’ on the road; there are lots of passengers in/on them. I saw auto rickshaws (three-wheeled vehicles at least half the size of a mini van) with as many as ten passengers…

…and motorcycles with whole families. I wasn’t able to get any pictures of this, but believe me it’s true. The man drives with a child in front of him, the wife is on the back with a child on her lap and a third child is in between them. As much as I tried, I wasn’t able to get that shot. I did get this one with just a man and woman. Notice how he is wearing a helmet and she is not…AND she’s riding side-saddle!

Vehicles aside; there are enough pedestrians to fill the street without them.

It is pure chaos and you can either white knuckle your way through it or just go with the flow of traffic.

I came across an article written by Peter Hughes in 1994 in which I have to include the majority of in this post. It is both funny and the way it really is there…and I couldn’t have summed it up as well as he did:

“Traveling in India is an almost hallucinatory potion of sound, spectacle and experience. It is frequently heart-rending, sometimes hilarious, mostly exhilarating; always unforgettable - and, when you are on the roads, extremely dangerous.

To the Westerner, the behavior of drivers seems to cross Space Invaders with a profound belief in reincarnation. There is an explanation for this behavior. Most Indian road users observe a version of the Highway Code based on a Sanskrit text. These 12 rules of the Indian road are published for the first time in English.

Article I
The assumption of immortality is required of all road users.

Article II
Indian traffic, like Indian society, is structured on a strict caste system. The following precedence must be accorded at all times. In descending order, give way to: cows, elephants, heavy trucks, buses, official cars, camels, light trucks, buffalo, Jeeps, ox-carts, private cars, motorcycles, scooters, auto-rickshaws, pigs, pedal rickshaws, goats, bicycles (goods carrying), handcarts, bicycles (passenger carrying), dogs, pedestrians.

Article III
All wheeled vehicles shall be driven in accordance with the maxim: to slow is to falter, to brake is to fail, to stop is defeat. This is the Indian drivers' mantra.

Article IV
Use of horn (also known as the sonic fender or aural amulet): Cars: Short blasts (urgent) indicate supremacy, i.e. in clearing dogs, rickshaws and pedestrians from path. Long blasts (desperate) denote supplication, i.e. to oncoming truck 'I am going too fast to stop, so unless you slow down we shall both die.' In extreme cases this may be accompanied by flashing of headlights (frantic). Single blast (casual) means 'I have seen someone out of India's population of 870 million whom I recognize'; 'There is a bird in the road (which at this speed could go through my windscreen)', or 'I have not blown my horn for several minutes.'
Trucks and buses: All horn signals have the same meaning, viz, 'I have an all-up weight of approximately 12 1/2 tons and have no intention of stopping, even if I could.' This signal may be emphasized by the use of headlamps

Article IV remains subject to the provisions of Order of Precedence in Article II above.

Article V
All maneuvers, use of horn and evasive action shall be left until the last possible moment.

Article VI
In the absence of seat belts (which there is), car occupants shall wear garlands of marigolds. These should be kept fastened at all times.

Article VII
Rights of way: Traffic entering a road from the left has priority. So does traffic from the right, and also traffic in the middle. Lane discipline: All Indian traffic at all times and irrespective of direction of travel shall occupy the centre of the road.

Article VIII
Roundabouts: India has no roundabouts. Apparent traffic islands in the middle of crossroads have no traffic management function. Any other impression should be ignored.

Article IX
Overtaking is mandatory. Every moving vehicle is required to overtake every other moving vehicle, irrespective of whether it has just overtaken you. Overtaking should only be undertaken in suitable locations, such as in the face of oncoming traffic, on blind bends, at junctions and in the middle of villages/city centers. No more than two inches should be allowed between your vehicle and the one you are passing - one inch in the case of bicycles or pedestrians.

Article X
Nirvana may be obtained through the head-on crash.

Article XI
Reversing: no longer applicable since no vehicle in India has reverse gear.

Article XII
The 10th incarnation of God was as an articulated tanker.”

Oh, and the marigold garland referenced in Article VI? We were never offered one from our driver, Dalip.

He did however have Marigolds on his dashboard, along with other religious articles and an incensed scented air freshener.

And because this post is already quite lengthy, why not show you this picture taken from our hotel (at night and NOT during busy daylight hours) to show you what a clusterfuck their traffic really is. You can click on it, if you like, to really see the insanity of it all.


Wait. What? said...

"Nirvana may be obtained through the head-on crash."

"Article XI
Reversing: no longer applicable since no vehicle in India has reverse gear."


How nuts must that have been?! Did you ever feel like you were gonna get nirvana while in traffic?


Welcome back!

Azile said...

Wow, good to know what to expect on India roads! I'm going there on Saturday and totally can't wait! Wishing you a pleasant stay :)

p.s. your blog is nice to read :)

Azile said...

I forgot to mention that i happen to come across this blog searching for posts about India. So I will definitely drop by often :)

Captain Dumbass said...

That was impressive. It's a wonder there aren't more professional race car drivers from India.

And hi, it's been awhile.

Anonymous said...

I like article three and the video was crazy!

Anonymous said...

It reminds me of the video game 'The Simpsons Hit and Run.' You wouldn't want to be a nervous driver in India. I don't know how they do it!