Driving through India

We knew driving in India would be challenging.  We investigated taking trains and public transportation, but for 4 people was also challenging.  We decided to hire a driver for our 8 days.  Even with a driver and taking local transportation in the city, we found transportation in India an adventure!

Between Cities

There were expressways in India much like everywhere else we had been and there were frequent toll collection booths as well.  However, the similarities between India and other countries we traveled in ended here.

The most dangerous thing on the road was stray cows and goats.  The slaughter of cows was illegal in some Indian states.  Moreover there were multitudes that were not paddocked, and many were not shepherded, meaning they wandered wherever — including roadways.  I lost count of the roadside carcasses I saw.  On several occasions traffic stopped while the cows walked down the street or decided whether or not to get out of a lane.

This stray bull crosses a four lane freeway at its own speed.
A herd of goats on the freeway.
More goats in the road!

The second most dangerous thing was reverse traffic flow.  If people missed a turn they pulled a U turn on the side of the road and drive back the wrong way.  So on split highways with two lanes of one directional traffic on each side of the median became two-way traffic.  This wasn’t the only reason to go the wrong way.  Many locals on scooters, tractors, carriages, and small cars also went the wrong way along the road perhaps to avoid crossing the freeway and heading back on the proper side of the road.

Aside from this truck being WAYYYY overloaded, this two way traffic is traveling on a divided highway where only one way traffic should be happening.  You guessed it, our driver is on the wrong side of the divided highway…..yikes!

Like most localities, India was in the process of upgrading their infrastructure.  Road work was common; however signage was poor.  There were no cones or signs saying upcoming roadwork.  All of a sudden the freeway ended and we swerved onto a side dirt road or a one lane narrow pathway.

Many of the freeways were well kept and pothole free.  However, where people decided they want to cross, makeshift intersections were made.  Foliage was hacked away and the median curbs were also destroyed to allow motorbikes or cars to do either U-turns on the road or to pass from one side of the freeway to the other.

It appeared to me that everyone on the road was working hard.  The movement of items from place to place was integral to people’s success and some people had to work very hard at it.

A man pushes a heavy load road side.  We saw this same bike with this same load in every city we visited even between cities long the freeway.

I was also taken by the colorful outfit worn by just about all the women there.  Bright yellows, purples, fascias, greens, contrasted strongly against the dingy sky.

Colorful Outfits Everywhere!

Vehicles on the road

I was captivated by the vehicles on the road.  The trucks were massive and treated the height of the back as only as suggested limit to how far cargo could be stacked.  In some cases they were much higher and fatter than normal vehicles.

More colorful designs on the front of a truck loaded beyond capacity.  Well capacity is relative I suppose…it’s what can be made to fit.
“Of course we can fit one more bag in!”

The trucks and tractors on the road were also decked out in their “Sunday best” so to speak.  They were decorated with colors, flowers, ribbons, and banners.  It was almost like a parade as the the trucks sped down the road.

Many of the trucks and tractors were decorated.  Tractors like this also had giant speakers blaring music.  The drivers usually bundled up in blankets and rocking out to Rajasthani music.

There was a mix of freeway and road traffic.  I expected scooters, cars, and trucks. However there were also tractors and camel-drawn carts.

camel traffic

Road Safety

Road safety seemed to be what people were comfortable with, rather than an objective standard of safe conduct.  We saw one major accident in all our driving. However we also saw many car carcasses along the road —  some were stripped and rusted and some were new.  Helmets for motorcyclists seemed optional.  Motorcycles were not only the “family truckster“, but were also the family U-haul.   Passengers rode atop buses and in the back of trailers.

4th class seating, on the roof of the bus while going down the freeway.
How old is this kid?  Old enough to ride on the back of a motorcycle.  While common throughout Asia, it made me wonder about the relative safety standards versus the practicality of transporting people around.
India was cold in the north.  People just bundled up in blankets when driving their motorcycle.
The family “truck”?  Aside from carrying two passengers, this motorcycle carried supplies.
Safety may be relative, but this gave me pause for thought.  This tractor was hauling a trailer full of at least twenty people in the back.  Nearly all of them were children.  This may not be a problem on a rural road, but in the middle lane of a freeway with big rigs, stray livestock, and dense fog, really made us worry for these kids. “They could have at least closed the back” exclaimed Alyssa.

City Driving

Afternoon traffic was terrible everywhere.  Cars and scooters would inch in everywhere allowing only the most bold of drivers to make progress.  Sometimes people had to get out of their cars to discuss and agree how to unjam the traffic.  In Vrindervn, the city center was closed to outside traffic for New Year’s Eve.  Consequently we had to take a local tuk-tuk to our hotel.  At one point the side road was so bad we had to get out of our tuk-tuk and walk with our stuff while he navigated a giant hole in the road.  Later, our tuk-tuk side swiped another tuk-tuk.  There were some words exchanged, but both drove off in opposite directions.

Here we are, with all our stuff crammed in into a tuk tuk on our way to our hotel.  At least it had “Oh My God!” handles.  Riding in these things was likes an amusement park ride….Kylie loved it!

Although we fit 5 passengers plus luggage in this tuk-tuk, we saw other tuk-tuks that fit more than 8 people.  In some cases people were holding onto the side or standing on the back.

In Delhi we took several tuk-tuks to get around.  Most of the time we thought to negotiate a price in advance and assumed the driver knew where to go.  He took us to a wrong destination and then expected us to find the right location.  At the end he had the nerve to reopen negotiations.

Crammed into a tuk-tuk made for two, we sped down the streets of Delhi.

Dung Bricks

Dung bricks made by hand were drying everywhere roadside

We saw these dung bricks being made (by hand) everywhere.  Just about every rural village was making them.  I had to look into why they were so popular and I learned some amazing facts (Click here) as to why many Indians put cow dung bricks on the walls of their home:

  • Cows are holy in India, and adding dung helps make their house more holy.
  • It helps keep the house warm
  • It kills germs and bacteria
  • It keeps insects at bay
  • Natural mosquito repellent
  • It is also great building material
  • It can also be used as fuel

I loved the up-cycling of dung.  I also found online (Click Here) that India exports dung bricks through their micro economy.  Apparently if you are in need of cow dung, you can order them from India!

Driving through India provided another lens through which to see and experience the country.

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