Sunday, May 6, 2007

Driving in India – Indian Driving 101

I was in my car, SWIFT, this afternoon waiting at the lights. There was a Ute in front of me and a SUV behind me. The lights were red. The traffic was standing impatiently and honking the horns for no reasons as they always do in India. I was enjoying some good ol Metallica in me car. And was not worried about looking at the lights, coz I was gonna move when the guy in front of me starts moving. After a minute or so, the traffic starts to move. Nothing wrong. I shift to first and start moving too. But wait, I notice that the lights are still red! What the hell was wrong with the guy in the front I thought, or should I say, guys, who started zooming past me ignoring the lights totally. …. Well I did stop when I saw red lights…. but with the impatient idiot behind me honking his horn, I had no other option but to break the rules and go along with the traffic…As I started slowly, the truck driver on the opposite end was signaling to me that I should move!! I gestured back asking him to look at the lights! …. He ignored me as if nothing was wrong….

…if you think that is one off incident, you are completely wrong, coz when it comes to driving in India…It is your worst nightmare come true.

I take a deep breath every time someone mentions driving in any Indian city during peak hours…for driving is no longer a pleasure on Indian roads; it’s become a nightmare.

There’s one Holy rule of driving on Indian roads that is assiduously followed by almost all the drivers and it is – There are no rules and if there are, break the rules.

Keep this in mind - you can break the rules anywhere and get away with it almost all the times. No one seems to care about it. Not even the cops.

Here are a few important guidelines/warnings for tourists planning on visiting India and planning to drive! Yeah, these things would also help even if you are not going to drive coz you are going to walk, right?:) So it’s better to be prepared…

1) You can see all kinds of vehicles on Indian roads and also don’t be surprised to see cows, buffalos, elephants, camels, dogs, cats, sheep, donkeys, pigs, etc in the middle of the roads … Thank God Dinosaurs are extinct! I am waiting for that day when a UFO lands on the the road and aliens come out of it and start walking on roads too. Coz there is a high probability of this happening on Indian roads than somewhere in remote wilderness.

2) Cricket is a national passion and any outsider would know this just by driving in India…Playing cricket on roads, low flying kites and hoards of pedestrians walking on the roads are normal sights. So don’t panic….

3) Do not wait at a T- junction. If you expect that someone would slow down and allow you in or you hope to see the traffic subside, you will be completely wrong. The key here is not to wait at all. When you come to any junction, just drive as if no one is coming from left or right. If there is someone coming from anywhere, you both will figure out who goes first when you meet in the middle of the square…The trick is to have loud horn or great manual transmission driving skills.

4) Honk, Honk and Honk…Honking is a characteristic of Indian traffic. It doesn’t mean that you are insulting anyone. Honking is letting other person in front of you know that you are coming at breakneck speeds and that he/she/it has to give way to you immediately. How immediately the other person has to get out of the way depends on the loudness of the horn. Horns are quite creative too. A baby crying or an “ I love you” will still be heard in traffic although it is banned now.

5) Pedestrians don’t have the right to cross roads. So don’t wait for them.

6) In India, footpaths are meant for Hawkers and two wheelers. Pedestrians walk on the roads mostly on left lanes…sometimes in the right lane too. So don’t worry if you see a pedestrian walking non-chalantly in the fast lane with his back facing the traffic. Quite normal in India, these things. Drivers have to make sure they avoid them.

7) Zebra crossings and lane markings are just some beautifully drawn designs on Indian roads. There is no functional use of zebra crossing or lane markings. No one travels in a lane and the zebra crossing means that your car or two-wheeler should ‘cross’ the zebra crossing mark or totally cover it.

8) There are speed limits boards set on various expressways and freeways. Unlike other countries, you have to be consistently over the speed limit by about 20-30 kmph. Whenever you see a speed-limit board, take that as challenge and prove to the Road Transport Authority that you can break it.

9) If you are driving a two-wheeler and there is a traffic jam, do not worry, you can use the footpath and find your way through. Just make sure you honk to get some pedestrians off the footpath.

10) In India, no one will notice you if you break the rules, but if you do not, everyone will and you will be severely rebuked by others for following the rules. So flow along with the traffic. If one of them breaks the rules, you should too.

11) Auto Rickshaws (Small taxis) are at the forefront when it comes to breaking the rules. You will see an Auto Rickshaw making a U-Turn suddenly in the middle of the road or stopping in the middle of the road. Indian drivers are the most alert drivers because of such things.

12) Two-wheelers like motorcycle and scooter riders are very scientific. They drive like sine waves i.e. driving in a curve like fashion. For an illustration of sinewave check out this Merriam-Webster link. You will rarely see them driving straight. They also try to fill up spaces between two cars or trucks.

13) Overtaking means that you have to somehow get in the front of the other vehicle. Officially you have to overtake from right. But if you find other vehicle overtaking on the right you can overtake from the left at the same time. You can also drive on the wrong side just for your convenience and you can overtake in wrong lanes too.

14) Trucks are efficiently used in India than other developed countries. They are loaded more than mathematically maximum possible limits. Hence, I say they are efficient. Yeah, there are cases of trucks overturning, but who cares.

15) Public Transport Buses are crowded these days. There are 6-7 people hanging out of the buses. When I used to travel in buses, there were only 2-3 people clinging to the exit doors.

16) There are all kinds of fuels used in vehicles. Apart from petrol, diesel and LPG, there is kerosene mixed with petrol or diesel or just kerosene. Did you say pollution? What is that?

17) Parking is no headache in India. You can park almost anywhere where there is free space and what’s more parking is free of cost!! Isn’t that wonderful? You don’t have to worry about handicapped space or an entrance. Just park if you find an empty space.

18) And the last and the most important one…Remember when you drive in India, drive as if you own the roads.

So make sure you get your manual transmission skills sharpened up. And All the Best.

Indian drivers, please let me know if I have missed anything.


Amit said...

Parking is no headache in India. You can park almost anywhere where there is free space and what’s more parking is free of cost!!

Dont quite go generalising on that one yet. You can park almost anywhere IF you're lucky enough to find an empty parking spot. We all know buggers are charging for parking on most major streets now.
While you're talking of UFO's I'm sure you must've read abt the 747 parked right in the middle of the road in Mumbai. a sight to savour, I'm sure =))
All said and done driving in Pune is fun (esp 2 wheelers) and I quite enjoyed it while I did that last December. Now driving cars is a whole different monster ;) No use complaining though, when in Rome do as the Romans do!

PS: gosh, I think such a long comment serves some justice to such a long post LOL

Amit said...

Rohan, a very generalised, sterotyped post. Not all places in India are horrendous to drive.
But, nonetheless, Driving in all those conditions is sooooo much fun!!! I love it. With a small 'Swift(y)' car like yours, you can make driving so much fun in Bombay or in Pune.
After driving in Oz, and gettin my license suspended for speeding, I would have Bombay driving conditions any time dude. Maamu, naya gadi hai, chod do na. And u know what that booklet license we got, is only to slip in a 50 totally discreetly! Imagine that here (in OZ). Mate, here's 10 bucks, go treat urself to a meatpie and a beer!(chai pani).
Parking wise, been to a movie in Bombay these days?? at onna those 'shopping malls'. Parking's such a bitch. Rs. 30 - Rs. 40 later!!
My advice: Keep the metallica pumping (wherever I may roam, Enter Sandman, gr8 driving tracks) and just keep honking dude!

Rohan S said...

@ Amit Mandhre
Yeah right, How did I miss that one!..there are no parking spaces in Pune these days. I went to MG road the other day and circled it twice to find a legal spot!
..talking about 747 in the middle of the road! I fell of my chair reading that dude!

Rohan S said...

@Amit Bhat

Mate, if you come to Pune now, you would go crazy!What I have written is really not an exaggeration! After coming from OZ, I thought the traffic was its worse.. there is no fun at all driving on roads in Pune or Mumbai. Always bumper to bumper! ...A decent patch would be somewhere out of the city and that too late nights may be!
But yeah...some things, like kharcha pani are so true... Meatpie and beer! that is so Aussie! Talking abt tucker,I am better get offline;)