Today Padma and I had another day in the car travelling between Fort Cochin and Salem. For the uninitiated your first time travelling on Indian roads will be like something out of your worst nightmare! Buses and trucks careening towards you at breakneck speed. Auto-rickshaws doing a u-turn straight in front of an oncoming bus. Goats nibbling on the side of the road and then suddenly making a break for the other side of the road just as you are passing. All of these and more will you too experience when you travel the great Indian roads.
The only way to survive the Indian roads is to learn who is boss. In my experience the order of importance is as follows:
1. Cows ~ they have full right of way and right of passage. They even have the right to sit wherever they like even if it is in the middle of a three lane highway.
2. Buses ~ if you don’t see them coming their elaborate horns will let you know quick smart. Never get in the way of a bus or you will surely end up just like a chapatti.
3. Trucks ~ most drivers are on a deadline and nothing will stop them getting to their destination as soon as they can.
4. Cars ~ if you see a truck and two buses all heading towards you don’t slow down, keep driving but just make sure you’re driving off on the side of the road!
5. Motorbikes ~ usually keep to the side of the road so as not to be squashed by a wayward bus.
6. Auto-rickshaws ~ much slower but still out in force on the major highways.
7. Push bikes ~ ride at your own peril!
Something I love about Indian roads is the use of the horn. Most trucks have painted on the back a sign which says “USE HORN PLEASE”…In the west we can’t believe you would want anyone to honk you in the car as it is usually meant as a sign of aggression. However in India the liberal use of the car horn is generally used as a gentle reminder that “I am going to pass you now so please don’t change lanes!” I wish everyone listened to that message as way too often just as you want to pass a truck he wants to pass someone else and pulls out into your lane with no indication!
Ah…the joys of Indian travel…I like to call it co-ordinated chaos…However a day trip in the car does have its rewards. There is a slice of Indian daily life at every turn, great coffee from the roadside cafes, smiles and waves from those you pass and a constant stream of colour, culture and life on the move.