Off we went with Ansari, our driver, maneuvering through the hordes of vehicles and me snapping away from the front seat. Paul Theroux has it right when he says despite all the levels of privilege available in this India, the great leveler is traffic. All vehicles share the space and no matter if you’re in a luxury limo, a three-wheeled tuk tuk, a bicycle or a bus, you will still wait behind a man coaxing a donkey to pull an overloaded two-wheeled cart. At this point in my journey, I’m amused. Not sure how long that will last but it was working for me at that moment!
Congestion is a given and lanes are non-existent for all drivers. The hired drivers are very cautious and well trained. Ansari won’t buzz past others and won’t nudge his way in where others will. That said, he won’t let anyone else budge past him either. Sort of a safe middle-of-the-road approach and it means no gasping from the backseat.
Taxi drivers have no restrictions in those regards so the few times we’ve taxied anywhere have been more exciting. I don’t mind but my companion keeps announcing, “This taxi is probably 60 years old and we’re sitting on the propane tank”. Makes me laugh. All sorts of fanciful fleece prints have been used to cover all interior surfaces so there’s no way to gauge the age by wear and tear. One of today’s examples was red and black in big block-print roses on the ceiling, door panels, seat covers, the dashboard, everywhere. It was like a florist vomited coating everything.
This particular taxi driver got impatient waiting his turn at a busy intersection and decided to go around directly into oncoming traffic to beat others out of the light. In essence, he passed at least 15 cars at a stoplight around a blind curve guessing he could cut in front of all of them and beat the approaching lanes. And he did! I thought it was impressive. (But sorry I didn’t capture it on camera for the memory!)
I mostly filled the five-hour journey developing my Indian road evolution theory. (If you’re ever on a bus thru this region, be forewarned of this phenomenon.) So here goes, in order of speed…
- Free range animals – cows, goats, dogs, pigs and chickens
- Man pushing fully loaded two-wheeled cart
- Bike/pedal carts and bike rickshaws
- Animal drawn carts
- Fully loaded tractors pulling carts
- Construction vehicles like cranes and bulldozers
- 3-wheeled propane tuk tuk taxis
- Medium and huge trucks including the rare 18-wheeler
- Local and longer haul buses
- Tourist vans and cars
- Privately-owned cars
Within each of these types is the independent streak and insistence that they can pass their own type. Now everyone who has a horn uses it to notify the slower traffic to get out of the way. Our little drag strips on US interstates PALE in comparison.
Sometimes when we travel, it’s all about perspective with a little patience and a sense of humor thrown in for good measure.
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