Travels with George: India Week 2

It is said that one needs three things to survive driving in India: good brakes, a good horn and good luck.

We have covered hours of driving in this wild country in both rural and urban environments. In order to describe the conditions I must first detail the participants in the roadside community, beginning with animals…cattle, water buffalo, goats, pigs, dogs, and sometimes camels and elephants. Keep in mind that it appears these animals collectively own the right of way in most any circumstance, and they seem to know it. They are omnipresent on all kinds of roads, from small one-lane tracks to the biggest two-lane highways.

Next we have the vehicles: Ox-carts, pedicabs (three-wheeled bikes powered by one man) and tuk-tuks (three-wheeled motorized tin open-air cabs which logically would hold three people, but in many cases hold ten). Follow these with minibuses, overflowing with perhaps 30 people, half a dozen of which are hanging on with most of their bodies outside the bus. Just like home, there are also tourist vehicles and cars. Then there are the regular buses, all of which appear to be on their last legs. Finally, we have the open-air cargo truck loaded with merchandise and all gaily decorated in wildly colorful paint, ribbons and streamers.

It’s logical to wonder how this assemblage get from point A to point B without killing or maiming someone every ten feet? The key is the horn. It is not an instrument used in anger, but rather as a form of radar. Every truck has written on its rear panel “honk please” and “use your dipper at night” (which means “dimmer”). In India, they use the British system, driving on the left, but from our experience that is only a suggestion. It is not unusual to have three or four vehicles heading directly into one another’s path and somehow, miraculously, all pass safely. There do not appear to be any particular rules or police. Traffic lights are rare and seldom obeyed. Passing on a blind corner appears to be an absolute rule of the road.

Our drivers always told us that with their experience there was nothing to worry about; however, we read the Indian newspapers every day and invariably there are horror stories about entire families being eliminated in horrific traffic accidents. My advice to any future India travelers would be to follow what our first guidebook said: “Under no circumstances should a visitor to India ever attempt to drive in the country."