Do not even contemplate hiring a motorbike, moped or car in India…it simply would be the action of a lunatic. Starting my tour of India in the quieter Kerala province convinces me that unless you are tuned to the Indian psyche you would not survive on the roads. Yet it is essential to master the art of traveling if you want to make it here. Let’s say you’re traveling from Warangal to Hyderabad, which many refer to as the “City of Pearls.” First of all, this is a trip that takes about two hours, and that’s if there are absolutely no problems. This is something you definitely need to take into account if you plan on traveling to or vacationing in India. You may also need to stay in Hyderabad if you’re traveling through India, in which case you should definitely consider booking a hotel.
For example, Red traffic lights exist but for no apparent reason so the disciplined western driver would be totally at a loss to deal with junctions. There are roundabouts and forms of junctions but again there is no discernible rule of priority so again the western discipline would serve only to confuse. I know for sure that any experience in this relatively quite part of India will be amplified no end once I travel further up country to the more frenetic larger, more densely populated towns and cities.
I spent yesterday in a taxi going to Cochin Fort about 50 minutes from our homestay and this journey assaulted all the senses to the extent that it felt like I had spent 4 straight hours on the highest level of a “shoot em up” console game with aliens and random attackers coming at me from all directions!!! I was exhausted by the end of the day and yet we had barely driven faster than 40 mph. Had I counted it up I figure we could easily have killed dozens of people and could easily have been wiped out ourselves by oncoming buses and trucks but in the course of the day we only witnessed one minor altercation between a bus and motorcyclist. Our taxi driver did inform us that there are still loads of accidents and most of these are young motorcyclists.
Driving in India for a westerner is not recommended and most visitors probably feel that it is because the Indian driver are nutters, reckless or simply can’t drive. Even after my trip yesterday I am developing a slightly different view; not about the above recommendation but rather about the way the Indians drive. I believe that the western world has developed intolerance to most things and driving is high on the list of things prone to intolerance of others.
My experience so far has been limited to the journey from the airport and a few hairy trips in the local area but by observing the drivers (of cars, motorbike, tuk tuks and for completeness cycles) I see a certain calmness and tolerance in their apparently haphazard driving. This tolerance and consideration for other road users is virtually gone from existence in all but the most rural parts of the western world.
Yes, Indian drivers do overtake in what are seemingly dangerous places but they appear to be conscious that the drivers coming the other way are driving in the same fashion and so understand to slow down if there is a risk. Unlike Europe for example the driver being overtaking is made aware with a quick tap on the horn but in so many instances we found ourselves driving completely against oncoming traffic as if this were the norm…and it seemingly often is.
The horn is THE most important part of any vehicle in India but it is not used in the same way as it is used in the western world. In Europe for example the horn is an extension and outlet for the frustration and intolerance of the driver whereas in India the horn is used so very effectively to warn other drivers, riders or pedestrians that you are approaching or overtaking. In Europe the horn blast usually provokes an even greater reaction from those it is directed at and even to the extent of developing “road rage” …so far in India the horn toot (from any direction of course!!) only adds to the number of sensory inputs available to the road user to survive the journey.
For the uninitiated the Tuk Tuk is a great mode of transport because it is so easy to use and costs very little. It is a small engine vehicle with 3 wheels with the driver up front effectively driving a 3 wheeled motorbike with the two passengers in the rear. Lights are optional!!! (maybe being over dramatic here) but the horn is essential. They can turn on a sixpence (old British speak for turn on a dime) and often do so when least expected. Following a bout of friendly haggling, we took a tour of Cochin Fort which lasted some two hours and we jumped on and off with ease … cost? 100R just over a quid! Great value.
There are few if any “boy racers” here and this must be partly due to the fact that they cannot afford to be, but for those in charge of a vehicle they are driving relatively slowly compared to the way we act, say, in UK.
The drivers here seem to have greater spatial awareness than in the UK for example…I cringe to think of some of our drivers, who struggle to pull out of a junction into another road or a roundabout, if they were to attempt ANY manoeuvre here in India. I actually believe that a westerner driving (in a western fashion) here would disrupt a chaotic but balanced system causing all sorts of chaos themselves.
Theory yet to be proven
I will of course give it some more time and visits to the more densely populated areas before forming a full blown theory on the driving culture in India!!! And I could well though eat my words but would still rather believe there is a real method in their madness and change my own ways a little to adopt a more relaxed, tolerant approach to driving and perhaps apply it to life itself.
We could do worse in the west than to observe how the Indian drivers survive in such a chaotic fashion…it cannot all be just luck!!….either way; heed my warning and “enjoy riding in a tuktuk or taxi for the experience and in the knowledge that it is still costing very little.