The exoticism of Indian roads
Many things are surprising and fascinating in this strange country. Seasoned travelers, unlike those traveling abroad for the first time, may not pay attention to many traditions and events in India. However, when it comes to traffic, no matter how often you visit this country, it is impossible to get used to it and understand it. So what is the peculiarity?
The variety of vehicles
On the highways of cities and small country lanes you can find a variety of vehicles. In addition to the usual means of transportation, such as cars, bicycles, buses and motorcycles are often found:
In other words, anything that can move on the roads and carry cargo, you are sure to see on the roads of beautiful India. Regardless of the degree of exoticism, every vehicle is an equal participant in the road.
About the state of the roads and the presence of traffic signs
Even for tourists who have been to underdeveloped countries, they are surprised to cluck their tongue at the sight of Indian roads. For example:
- Literally everywhere there is one lane for two-way traffic without any markings. The road width in India is one lane width of our version of the roads, multiplied by about 0.8. A wider asphalt surface can be found on federal roads.
- Even in major population centers, you are unlikely to find sidewalks. They just don’t exist. But curbs, on the other hand, can be found at times. Thousands of passersby are forced to move along the road, mixed in with the traffic.
- Road warning or warning signs, as well as traffic lights, are very few. The local population gets along just fine without them. Most often you will find a sign that warns of a sharp turn, and the presence of a traffic light does not mean it works at all.
- The level and quality of pavement almost everywhere matches the quality of our rural roads – India’s roads really almost keep up.
- Road lighting (even on major highways) is absent.
- Mountain serpentine in India is a living hell. The bend radius of the serpentine can be up to 20 meters. The effect of the ride is multiplied by the lack of fences and zero visibility. And you shouldn’t expect the drivers to at least drive slowly and obey the elementary rules.
- It is not customary to yield to pedestrians here. If you want to cross the road, be more nimble. Without the skills of forcing on the roadway, you can stand in one place for hours (a step away from the home hotel).
- Sacred animal – the cow is the leader of any street. It should be carefully bypassed and under no circumstances shove it. Otherwise you will inevitably face an unpleasant conversation with the police and a fine.
Are there any rules?
Certainly, as in any more or less developed country in India there are precise rules of transport movement. They are studied to get a driver’s license. At least, the instructors mark that the entrant has taken a course of lessons and successfully passed the exam. In practice, everything is easier and faster. A small amount of money helps to get the coveted crust.
How things work in practice
Traffic rules in this country of contrasts are not respected at all. But there is an unspoken rule of driving according to the “rules. There are honking horns on the roads on all sides to alert the surrounding drivers of the upcoming maneuver of the “honking” driver. However, due to the fact that the buzz on the road is constant, drivers pay little attention to such signals and stubbornly move forward. Here we have described even more interesting facts about India.
Indian drivers rarely speed and almost never get behind the wheel while intoxicated. This is certainly commendable, but it does not protect local and foreign citizens from the increasing number of accidents on the roads.
India: Road chaos where the one with the louder honking horn is right
Any country far from home can be called a country of contrasts. But the real meaning of this phrase is in India. In its cities rich skyscrapers are next to shacks assembled from sheets of iron, and the palaces of the colonial era – to heaps of garbage. True, in one matter there is uniformity in India – the traffic. No matter what state you are in, whether you move through the city, the countryside or the mountain roads, there is chaos everywhere, say Eugene and Alexei, who returned from a trip to Southeast Asia in the spring.
We were intimidated by dashing drivers in many countries: in Georgia, in Iran, even in Scotland – but we haven’t seen traffic like this anywhere else. Chaos meets people right at the exit of the Delhi airport. You just dive into that chaos. You are swallowed up by the hum of the klaxons. Signals can be heard from everywhere. We found out later that the basic rule on left-hand roads in this country is to use the horn. They honk at any maneuver: when they want to change lanes, pass first at an intersection, warn at a blind turn. We saw a sign near the maternity hospital that said “horn is forbidden” – of course, no one paid attention to it.
In fact, the right of priority has the first to pass, and who is the loudest and most persistent “honking”, that is, the most aggressive and stubborn driver. If a motorist doesn’t use his horn, he will simply stay at the tail end of the stream. There is no other scheme. And automakers specifically provide a system so that the signal from a single push sounds for about 2-3 seconds, rather than “dotting”. The standard position of a driver’s hands in a car with a manual transmission is one hand on the steering wheel and the other on the gearbox lever. In India, motorists keep their other hand on the horn button.
Drivers swerve into the oncoming traffic lane as soon as there is a free space. The concrete separating fence is not an obstacle. Nobody controls observance of the rules, even if they exist. In the two weeks of our trip we did not see a single policeman. The only people we met were military. A checkpoint with machine guns at the entrance to an administrative or simply wealthy building is the order of the day.
In Mumbai we were met by frantic traffic jams consisting of local black and yellow minibuses, similar to English cabs. They look about 40 years old, no less. Behind the wheel is a typical Muslim man dressed in white with a dyed red beard. In India, it is not customary to wash cars, so it is impossible to determine the exact age of these cabs. In general, there are few new and well-maintained cars. The majority of the cars are made by the local Tata Corporation.
There are only a few traffic lights for all of Mumbai. Road signs in the metropolis are minimal. Outside the city, you may notice signs. On them is written either information from the road services (for example, who owns the highway and when it will be closed), or admonitions to the soul. It is hard for a European to understand how instead of direction or mileage signs a sign can say something like “May prudence accompany your destiny.” That’s what India is all about. The closest thing to our ideas of social advertising was a hand-drawn poster that read, “Speed is a knife that cuts through life.”
Every road crossing for a pedestrian is a battle with death. In other countries, drivers may not pass people on foot, but still detour around them. In India, motorists and scooter riders barge right at you. You have to rely on your reaction and luck. Sidewalks are provided in selected places in cities. Mostly everyone walks by the side of the road. We, who are not used to this, used to jump at every signal while walking. And hitting the horn there, as has already been said, is very common.
Riding in public transport is an ordeal. It is terribly hot in the cars. Very few of them have air conditioners. More often they are replaced by small fans directed at the driver. Therefore, people often choose tuk-tuks (motor rickshaws) as a means of transportation. Mopeds there move in the general flow and just as chaotic. There are practically no bicycles, but motor transport is common, if only because in some corners of the cities otherwise impossible to get. This is another peculiarity of the country: old cities remain authentic after many centuries. They are simply not rebuilt. There were narrow streets a thousand years ago – so they remain so now. There are whole cities that are impossible to drive into because of their size.
They do not appreciate time in India. And they spontaneously create traffic jams, which in our understanding are associated with hurrying to get somewhere. Traffic jams can appear there for several hours without an accident, without road works (and we haven’t even seen them), but for no reason at all. Typical reasons – a driver stopped in the middle of the road to buy a newspaper, someone decided to have a snack in the car, drink tea, noticed acquaintances. Parking lots in our view are not there, which generates another reason for congestion.
An incident that happened to us on the interstate illustrates the situation well. The state of Jammu and Kashmir has two capitals, a summer one and a winter one. Twice a year, the entire administration with documents moves. The only road is closed for most of the day, then the “civilians” are allowed in, then closed again. We happened to be in the middle of this event. There was a huge traffic jam of buses, trucks and cars. It was pouring with rain and we couldn’t understand why we were standing there. We noticed the traffic coming from the opposite direction and bumping into ours. The driver says, “Yeah, they’re breaking the law. But what can we do?” When this mess was over, we drove for 15 minutes and stopped again. We looked in the cabin: our driver decided to have something to eat. It was about time! We drove along again – we stopped again. Here the Hindu behind the wheel showed himself. He took the side of the road that was bordered by a precipice and started to drive around the jam – we remembered the news headline: “A bus with 80 passengers drove off a mountain road in India. Somehow we drove around and stumbled into the cause of the traffic jam. There was another bus across the roadway. Our chauffeur approached a colleague, yelled at him, and he moved his bus. And that was it! So the driver simply blocked the road for no good reason. Going down the mountain, below you can see the continuation of the route. The wonderful view is spoiled by the oncoming traffic – again! In the end it took us 20 hours to drive 300 kilometers.