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!