Chaos is a word that best describes Indian roads! For a first time visitor of the country, Indian roads and how Indian’s drive is real source of amazement and interest. With millions of vehicles, animals and pedestrians zig-zagging on the roads, a simple trip in a taxi or three-wheeled auto-rickshaw can be a hair-raising experience, let alone trying to cross a road as a pedestrian. While visiting foreigners fear for their lives when traveling on Indian roads…it’s just another part of everyday Indian life and culture.
You know you’re on an Indian Road when
Driving is like a game of Tetris..and you fill whatever space is left on the Road.
With a population of over a billion people you can expect to see a lot of vehicles on Indian roads. The sheer array of vehicles is also astounding. You’ve got trucks, buses, cars of all sizes, rickshaws (three wheelers), bicycles, bullock carts, hand-pushed carts, stray cows, buffaloes, camels, dogs and to top it of thousands of pedestrians. The quality of the roads are nothing to be proud of either. You’ll find huge pot-holes, open man-holes, dug up roads, rocks and pipes and wires are all part of what is supposed to be the drivable part of the road. Navigating your way through that…is not an easy task, but there is an unspoken system in place, whereby smaller vehicles usually give way to larger vehicles and the largest vehicles rule the road.
With the amount of activity on the roads drivers have to make do with what’s left of it….and every space counts. Weaving and guessing what a fellow driver will do next is all part and parcel of getting from point A to point B. There may be lanes but no one follows it. It sometimes feels like your chances of getting hit are higher if you stick to a lane painted on the streets. Where you see two lanes painted on the road you can expect to see at least four lanes created by traffic…which may not all be on the right side of the road as there are no dividers on a lot! This often confuses people as to which side are you actually supposed to drive on? Well, the answer is simple. We start on the left and if there isn’t any space we go to the right, unless that is also occupied. Then proceed to the nearest available gap you can fit in…just like the arcade game Tetris!
Indian road rules broadly operate within the domain of karma where you do your best and leave the results to your insurance company.
A horn is used more than the brakes
India is not a quiet country by any means. Indians love to use their horns when driving. They’ll honk when turning corners, when overtaking and incessantly when there are vehicles in the way or to just to mobilize a dozing cow in the middle of the road. Blowing the horn is not a sign of protest as is in some countries. In India it is a force of habit. The Mumbai government once tried to implement a “No Honking Day” but it was met with shock and disbelief from most drivers. People actually claimed it was near impossible for them to break the habit, if even for a day.
It is said that to drive in India you need three things- A horn, brakes and courage. The horn is the most used of the three followed closely by the brakes. The most common things you’ll see painted on the back of a truck or vehicle in India is the Phrase- ‘Horn OK Please’…so much so that it has earned itself a page on Wikipedia. The purpose of the phrase is to alert a driver of a vehicle approaching from behind to sound his/her horn in case they wish to overtake. Today in India, people are so immune and oblivious to Honking, that it really serves no real purpose anymore. But if an Indian were to drive a vehicle without a horn they would be lost.
The ratio of cars to animals is 5:1
Well the 5:1 ratio might me be quite a stretch. But the point is, it’s not uncommon to see as many animals and livestock on Indian roads as cars. You’ll find fearless creatures like cows, buffaloes, donkeys and dogs meandering along all over the place. They are so used to the traffic and people that the roads are no exception.
If you go to the desert state of Rajasthan, you’re almost guaranteed to see camels pulling carts through the cities or even some elephants. Monkeys along the side of the roads are not an uncommon site either. Farmers and animal herders can often be spotted moving walking their herd of sheep, goats, buffaloes or other livestock along the roads and not just across it. To a foreigner the roads of Indian can be compared to taking a Safari….and you won’t even have to leave the city to enjoy the wildlife.
Pavements and sidewalks are free spaces to set up an entrepreneurial venture
AAnimals are not the only things to feel right at home on Indian streets. The roads, pavements, dividers or sidewalks are where many Indian’s make their day to day living or feel right at home.
On these roads, young men and women with nothing but an entrepreneurial spirit set up shops. Farmers make temporary homes for their produce creating a bazaar of the freshest fruits and vegetables on the busiest roads. You can shop for some of the finest antiques from your car while sipping some tea and eating some snacks from roadside eatery stalls called ‘dhabbas’. Halting at the traffic signal?…even if just for a few seconds or a minute in the middle of the street, you’ll be offered to buy the day’s paper, flowers, toys, boxes of tissues and a host of other stuff by a enthusiastic boy or girl trying to earn a few rupees for a meal. The roads are where you can go to find your future: stop by the trees where astrologers will read your horoscopes or have parrots to speak for them.
Indian’s live a lot of their lives on the streets. If there’s a wedding…everyone’s happy for you, and people will dance on the roads in front of your wedding procession even if it means they may be late for office. Somebody dies? People will walk a mile or two with the a funeral procession on the road and strangers offer one or two words of kind sympathy. Religion isn’t kept off the roads in India either. Hundreds and thousands of temples, mosques, gurudwaras, ashrams, and other religious institutions line the roads, which are sometimes built around them. Trees scared to Hindu religion are not cut to build a road, which is why they are left as is and the road is paved around them. Trees, people, animals are all a part of Indian road culture. It can be said that Indian roads for a long time have been better suited for life other than motor cars.
The worst place to cross a road is a zebra (pedestrian) crossing
Something as simple as crossing the road is a high-risk adventure activity in most Indian cities. You look both ways and all you see is a sea of unending traffic. While there are some pedestrian lights in the city centers they should be used at your own risk. Even the zebra crossings dotted here and there are completely ignored by motorists.