One thing really annoys me when driving in India. Okay, several things annoy me when driving in India, but with most of them, I have learned to give as good as I get. I regularly hear comments about how well I’ve taken to driving in India. (I still only mostly drive on weekends)
But leaving the high beams on in traffic will always annoy me.
It takes virtually no effort to go to low beams and it is churlish not to do so; yet people regularly leave the high beams on. Sometimes I estimate the high beam crowd at more than fifty percent. Our driver also rants about it and about how people don’t lower theirs when you lower yours, or flash your high beams at them. He also rants that busses always use the high beams, which I suspect to be true from my experience.
I do have one funny anecdote about highbeams. When we were in Rajasthan, we drove from Ajmer to Pushkar at night. It is a twisty, mountain road with a lot of traffic. We passed a sign reading “Use Dippers”. Right afterwards, the next three oncoming vehicles all had their high beams on. I turned to the driver we had there and said:
They don’t know how to use the dippers in Rajasthan either
Then I noticed the high beam indicator was lit up on his instrument panel.
There is a place up in the Himalayas called Amarnath. It is an ancient Hindu shrine in a pretty spot. It also happens to be in Jammu. It also happens to be a favorite target of Islamic terrorists. Oh and somebody recently suggested transferring some 40 acres from a forest over to the board responsible for handling pilgrims there. Environmentalists opposed it, which was why it ultimately was not handed over, but nothing in India can ever be over something as simple as the environment.
I don’t see how this affects me, an expat living in the very south of India. Oh wait! The BJP and some other not worth remembering political party declared a Bandh over it because it was obviously against the dignity of Hindus. For those who have never heard of a Bandh, it is sort of a general strike with a twist. The twist is that the supporters of the people who declared it go out and do a bit of mob violence against those who dare to break the picket line. The insanity was apparently at fever pitch yesterday (seriously people! Is this actually worth people getting killed over?) up north. Down here in Bangalore, life was pretty much normal with the exception that our driver, a Roman Catholic, used it as an excuse to take the day off. I usually don’t keep up on my Vatican news, so I guess I missed Herr Ratzinger issuing a Papal Bull in support of the Bandh.
Daniela worked from home during the morning, but really, really had to go in for a video conference. The kids’ schoolbus took them to school normally and Whitefield road looked normal, so it was apparent that the Bandh was not really in effect here. We were hesitant to drive. Neither of us is licensed to drive in India and I’ve been absolutely content to leave the driving to someone experienced with Indian roads. I’ve driven in Italy, but Italians drive like Midwesterners in comparison. Plus, if we got into an accident, it would likely get troublesome given that we are not legally allowed to drive here. Eventually, we decided to brave it. I would drive Dani in. Despite being my first time driving a right hand drive vehicle, complete with a tendency to start the windshield wipers when I wanted to indicate (the wiper controls and blinkers swap positions here), I LOVED it!
There are a few rules to consider when driving in India;
- You must know how to operate a clutch and manual gearbox.
- There is an indicator switch for left and right turn signals. That is optional. The standard binary indicator is to be used in all situations with optional accompaniment by the lever operated blinking lights if the driver finds that kind of thing pretty.
- Try not to hit the stray dogs, cows, goats, pigs, monkeys and woolly mammoths that may be in the road. If there is a living woolly mammoth anywhere in the world, it can be safely assumed that it is standing in the middle of a road somewhere in India.
- Right of way goes to the biggest and the bravest.
That about sums up the official rules of the road in India. The rest is straight out of Mad Max or a demolition derby. The operation of the binary indicator has some advanced rules that you should acquaint yourself with.
- If you see a dog, honk.
- If you see a pedestrian, honk.
- If you come to an intersection, honk.
- If you pull into traffic, honk.
- If you overtake, honk.
- If you plan any directional changes, honk.
- If you see a truck that says “Sound Horn Please” on its tailgate (which means all trucks here), that is obviously an invitation to honk.
- Honk three times for the sheer pleasure of it!
I’m going to go get an official Indian driver’s license so I can also do this legally!
The driver of this truck is serious about road saftey!
A microcosm of the sorts of funny things that you see on the roads here.
…in downtown Bangalore. I think it defies description.
From the Bangalore edition of the Times of India:
The traffic police say road rage is the main cause of accidents in the 31-50 age group, making them more vulnerable. “Most accidents that occur among this group happen in a fit of rage. Road users get annoyed if others overtake them. In retaliation, they drive dangerously and violate traffic rules, resulting in accidents. Since they don’t have licences and are afraid of being caught by the police, they drive recklessly, killing or injuring themselves or other road users,’’ explained the police.
The Times of India likes to talk about road rage.
Let me put this into a bit of perspective. Westerners readily throw hissy fits at the slightest violations of customs. A couple of months ago, I witnessed a station wagon pull into the left lane to overtake another vehicle on a German autobahn. In doing so, he blocked the way of a Porsche with Swiss plates whose driver flew into a fit of rage because this plebeian Opel was blocking his god given right to drive 200km/h; ironically on a stretch of A5 with a 130km/h speed limit where everyone was already doing 150. He kept swerving to cut the Opel off and could have killed several people. He could have just slowed to 150kmph for a few seconds, allowed the Opel to complete the pass and move back into the middle lane and gone about his merry way. The Opel cost him just a few seconds of his travel time and anyway, it was a speed zone and he should not have been driving that fast. I was angry at myself that it took too long to grab my mobile and film the scene. I’m sure the Baden Wurttemberg Police would have happily relieved him of his driver’s license.
On the roads here, I have seen just about every sort of low speed insanity that I thought imaginable and a lot more. I’ve been passed by motorcycles that had barely enough space to fit be between each other in between us and the truck on the other side. I’ve seen goats being brought out into the road into rush hour traffic. I’ve seen intersections where the vehicles seem to be weaving among each other and going in every direction imaginable. I’ve seen vehicles cut each other off in a myriad of ways. I’ve seen rickshaws and motorcycles drive through the oncoming traffic to get an edge. The traffic here makes even Rome’s infamously chaotic traffic seem orderly in comparison.
I am constantly amazed at how relaxed Indian drivers are on the road and how unperturbed they are for blatant rules of the road violations to their detriment while they happily commit the same violations. What I never see is the road rage that the newspaper men allude to.
Oh and if you are Swiss, drive a Porsche and were on A5 between Karlsruhe and Heidelberg earlier this year: you are a complete asshat!
I saw a small newspaper article the other day. A Porsche dealer is going to be opened in Bangalore. I’ve been here all of three days, but I already know enough about this place to know this; no Porsche belongs anywhere near any roads in India. Four by fours take to the roads here like ducks to water. Porsches here are just a stupid idea!