Indian Roads - Advice From a Survivor
Chaotic, overcrowded and deadly. Congested and polluted. Distended, unstable and unsafe – even untenable. The word "maelstrom" comes to mind.
Any seasoned campaigner will recognize these as suitable adjectives for the state of Indian roads and the general behaviour of their users. It’s a situation that any would-be drivers (or riders) will have to confront on a daily basis and one which almost invariably leads to bouts of rage, incredulity and blind fear in roughly equal amounts.
But fear not o intrepid one, for not all is as it seems. As unlikely as it appears, there is another reality lying just under the cracked and turbulent surface. You can see it from above. Try it out from the Olympus-like view of a guesthouse rooftop. Look down into the street – notice anything? It’s called flow and on a certain level, it is the way of all things. What lacks is merely the Western motorist’s ability to surrender control and go with it. Once this simple step has been taken, the path becomes clear. It’s all right there in its breathtaking simplicity. Motoring Nirvana awaits and all one has to do is accept it for what it is. The rest will flow, have no fear.
Metaphysical mysticism aside, what all this means is that what at first appears to be virtually unnavigable can in fact be mastered easily, given some direction. Behold your sixfold path to automotive liberation.
1. The larger you are, the less you brake.
Potentially the biggest lifesaver on the list, it is also the most straightforward and neatly mimics nature’s very own food chains. If you’re on a motorcycle, you’ll need to give way to auto-rickshaws, jeeps, buses and, of course, trucks. You may notice that scooters and cyclists will give way to you, and if they don’t, it probably just means you’re not driving assertively enough. Never challenge a trucker on the road, regardless of the situation. Ignore this basic tenet and you’re potentially entering a (very brief) world of pain.
2. Cows overrule all.
Yes, cows are considered sacred, and yes, they do wander freely in the cities. Cows are the perennial exception to Rule #1. Everyone will make way for cows, and that had better include you. Being "the stupid tourist who just killed our living icon" is not desirable in any way.
3. Safe & Sound – the louder you are, the safer you’ll be.
You’ll notice that Indian drivers spend more time leaning on the horn than they do steering, and with good reason. Rather like the blue whale, or certain ground-dwelling mammals, Indian drivers seem to operate on some kind of sonar. Beep before and during overtaking manoeuvres. Beep to declare your entry onto a roundabout. Beep to clear the road of careless pedestrians. When in doubt, beep.
4. Hesitate at your own risk.
As with any other extreme survival situation, you need to make positive, assertive choices if you want to get out alive. When arriving at an intersection, either stop or go. Don’t almost stop, then ride the clutch a few more feet indecisively before slamming the brakes again with your nose sticking out. You will be obliterated by a festively-adorned freighter piloted by a guy too jacked up on energy drink to even notice the impact, and it’ll be no one else’s fault.
5. Acceptance is key – don’t fight it.
Indian traffic favours the bold, which in this case becomes a sort of "educated reckless abandon." Educated in that you’ll observe others and follow their lead. Fit in; don’t do things differently. Think "safety in numbers" and you’ll be ok. Don’t be afraid to act like a local – it’s much more dangerous to act like a tourist.
6. Develop an appreciation for insane situations.
You’re here by choice, remember? A big part of travelling successfully is making the best of unfortunate situations. Subcontinental roads are essentially just one big "unfortunate situation" so you’ll have plenty of practice! Roll your eyes and revel in the futility of it all. Stuck in traffic? It’s India – there’ll always be someone dying to roll down their window and chat to you. Even better – learn a few benign curses in Hindi and let the road have it at the top of your lungs. Joy will lead to a safe passage, while anger will only lead to bad decisions and probably injury.
And that, as they say, is that. Every road journey in Asia is a potential epic adventure just waiting to be experienced. It carries an inherent risk that is probably much higher than your home country. While this should be considered, it doesn’t have to be a deal breaker, and the reality is that it might just be the experience of your life. Kick it into gear and get out there!