Friday, 14 December 2012

Indian Roads and Driving

Indian Roads and Driving!
To sit in the middle of a shape-shifting mass of vehicles is quite something. Our driver said, “There are no rules.” Not completely accurate. Traffic generally drives on the left - apart from the times that they don’t. 

Most vehicles are small - many are tiny, Rickshaws, Bicycle carriers and men with huge bundles of sticks or straw on their heads wobbling along on ancient sit-up-and-beg boneshakers. Lane discipline is unheard of. Taxis particularly intrude their way between and through lanes. A blockage in the road as someone waits to turn right results in a string of cars simply turning in to the lane alongside irrespective of whether any other vehicles are there. All this is achieved with loud blasts on the horn. Our roads are massively underused compared to Indian ones. Where we are content to have a single lane of cars, the Indians will have three or even four lanes, tesselating together as a semi-homogenous mass. Buses and trucks, being so much larger, tend to get their own way. 

One of the more astonishing sights - and there is plenty of competition - is that of a bus stopping in the middle lane of a 3 lane highway to let people on and off. When the traffic is at a standstill this is not a problem. It also happens when the traffic is flowing fast and free. The bus stops suddenly. Following vehicles swerve to avoid it, and the passengers who get off in front of them. While we were in India, there was a report of a bus driver being arrested after two of his passengers were killed in exactly those circumstances. It appeared to make no difference to the practice which is widespread. 

Another doozy was to meet a taxi reversing back towards oncoming traffic off a highway sliproad - on a bend. Our driver avoided the taxi as though this was commonplace. Taxi drivers are something else. They negotiate their way through a three dimensional melee without the use of wing-mirrors (they have been knocked off in earlier scrapes). They seem to have a sixth sense of where traffic around them is going and switch their position frequently to make progress. Countless near-misses and 

Lorries and trucks frequently carry forlorn messages such as ‘Obey the Rules’ or ‘Drive safely’. Many carry the totally unnecessary plea to ‘Blow Horn.’ Many drivers have two horns: one a little blipper which is used semi-continuously to warn vehicles and pedestrians of their presence. The other is the blaster to be used when things get serious. 
Approaching busy junctions resembles a giant free-for-all. And amongst the chaos stroll pedestrians......

Many Indians believe in Karma or fate. If it is their destiny to be knocked over at a busy junction then so be it. For it is written. They insouciantly wander through a veritable minefield with nary a care. They die in their droves. But it is written...

One particularly horrific story came from a poor rural area. People exist by the side of main trunk roads. A 5-year-old boy was knocked over by a truck and killed. Several other trucks then continued to run over the remains of the boy. Locals called in the police who did not want to know. Eventually they staged a blockade of the road and the flattened remains of the unfortunate victim were removed by his family. The truck driver who killed the boy drove off and was not apprehended. Drivers do not stop because they would be attacked and possibly killed by the natives....

Road surface conditions vary enormously. We travelled over roads that were as good as anything in the UK. Unfortunately these were few and far between. The majority of roads resemble old time dancing. Smooth, smooth, crap, crap smooth. And the crap are really bad. Craters, collapsed gullies, grids missing or broken. This has the obvious and dangerous effect that vehicles traveling in opposite directions try and occupy the ‘better’ parts of the road - even though this may be on the wrong side of the road for them.

It all makes journeys never dull, often fascinating and occasional scary. Very scary.

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