Tag Archives: drivinginindia

High Beams

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.

The Three Hour Tour – Part II

The three hour tour began well enough. We managed to get to Hoskote in short order.

1 – Our first waypoint was to turn left at the first intersection in Hoskote; just before a large open field (or so says the photo in Google Earth). It was to happen shortly after arriving in Town. As we drove through town, we wondered “are we in Hoskote yet”. Yep, we drove right past our turnoff.

2 – About a kilometer past our proper turnoff, we found one that fit the bill. We were now driving parallel to where we wanted to be.

3 – We come to a fork in the road. Hmmm… I did not see this on Google Earth. Is this the right way? Then again, one side of the fork might not be a numbered road and would not show up on the road overlay. Let’s take the left fork to be on the safe side. (good call)

4 – 10 km down the road, our little alternate way merged with the road we had initially wanted. Unfortunately, this was 5 km past where we would have turned off of that road towards Devanhalli.

5 – As we came to a small village with a crossroads, we grew puzzled. There was no photo of such a thing on our route in Google earth. Up until now, we had been responsible for our own errors. How could we now go from lost to completely thinking you are in Indonesia when you are actually in the Caribbean lost? Yup! Ask a local for directions to Devanhalli! Turning left at that crossroads would have taken us straight to Devanhalli. Instead, he sent us straight.

6 – A half hour later, we come to a town. It vaguely looked like the small town we had been planning to turn left at (which was now 30 km behind us and 30km is a LONG way on Indian back roads). Siva stepped out of the car and asked directions. The directions even vaguely sounded correct. Turn left just up ahead. So we turned left onto national highway 207.

7 – We came to another fork in the road. Wait! Another fork? After some indecision and a quick “ask for directions”, we took the left fork. The right fork would have taken us straight to Chikballapur, near Skandagiri, ten miles away. Instead, we went back south, parallel to the way we just came up.

8 – We come to a T in the road. YAY! He must have joined with the highway that runs past the airport and Nandi Hills. So we turn right. Well…the good news is that we are now actually heading towards said highway.

9 – Another fork in the road. Wait? We must not have found the big highway. We were far north of Devanhalli and that was now utterly the wrong direction. We should have been asking for the way to Chikballapur. Being utterly clueless about that fact, we ask for the way to Devanhalli. Being clueless about the landscape of his home district, the man sends us up the right fork (to Chikballapur) instead of the left (to Devanhalli). Talk about serendipity. The key to getting on the right road in India is to not know where you need to be going.

10 – Yay! The big 4 lane! There us Nandi Hills in front of us! Nandi Durg is directly in front and the big one next to is is Skandagiri! We now have a mountain to use as a navigation reference! We turn north towards Chikballapur. The destination is in sight.

11 – In Chikballapur, we trun left onto NH 207. Remember NH207?

12 – We actually reach our desitnation. We managed to turn a 1 ½ hour drive into a 3 ¼ hour drive.

Welcome to daytrips in India!

The Three Hour Tour – Part I

Saturday, we set out from Bangalore to Skandagiri, one of the mountains in the same hill range as Nandi Durg; the place where we first encountered both temples and the toutish monkeys that frequent tourist traps. Skanadagiri, being near Nandi Durg is just past the new Airport. Our normal route out this way involves zigging far to the west, through north central Bangalore, before zagging back to the east and North. It also involves slogging though Bangalore’s infamous traffic.

I had long been eyeing an alternate route in Google Earth. The theory was simple. Drive up Whitefield road, continue past Sai Baba’s ashram, turn east onto Old Madras road, which true to its name runs towards Chennai (formerly Madras) and has been replaced as the main route to Chennai by a superhighway. We’d be on Old Madras road for only a few minutes before turning north at Hoskote and hooking back to the west to come out onto the main highway at Devanhalli, just north of the new airport. We’d bypass all the traffic and the distance looked to be about 25-30km.

But we had to prepare. I’d even made printouts of satellite photos of the critical junctures. Maps here are useless. They are invariably of low resolution and of only passing resemblance to how the road network might actually look. For that matter, nobody seems to use maps. Professional drivers usually don’t even know how to read maps. Our driver once confidently pointed at Rajasthan on a map of India and told us that this is where they go to the beach in Tamil Nadu. The usual alternative to maps is stopping to ask for directions. The problem with this approach is that nobody in India every admits to not knowing the way and they all seem to have the kind of directions sense that would send you off towards Rajasthan thinking that they were sending you to Cape Comorin. We’ve been sent on detours that take us to the other side of town by way of Sweden too many times in India to trust asking directions.

So we had the plan and we had the printouts. We were set.

Naturally, it went horribly awry.

Driver’s License

I have it now! I would have gotten it last week, but the craziness with the bombs delayed it. They could not make the cards yet, so for the next month, I have a driver’s license in letter form. It is very official looking of course, with lots of seals, stamps and signatures. This means that I’m actually allowed to partake in my Sunday driving excursions now.

Whoohoo!!

I now have valid driver’s licenses issued in three countries; USA, Germany and India. I find that kind of cool.

The RTO – Part II

(continued from part I)

After the mafia style meeting in the back seat of the inspector’s car, his assistant took me up to the see big man; the RTO. Again, we walked straight into his office. The RTO was a middle aged policeman with a receding hairline and a large bhindi. He started looking over my copies, cross checking them with the originals. Then I had my written test. The RTO officer pointed at the no passing sign that I had memorized two minutes before.

What’s this?

No Overtaking

What’s this (he pointed to a no parking sign)

No Parking

He seemed satisfied with my obviously vast knowledge of Indian road sign trivia. He was obviously omniscient as a few years ago it took the LandKreis (county) office a three hour exam before deciding I knew enough German road sign trivia.

So far, so good…

He may not have cared about whether or not I actually knew how to drive, but he had his own issues. Again we went through the license endorsement discussion as he examined both of my licenses. Then came the best part. I needed a letter from SAP Labs stating that I am employed by them. WTF? Since when does my employment status have anything to do with my ability to operate a motor vehicle? (Especially since the FRO office was obviously okay with my living in India) I pointed to my visa and explained that I had an X (dependent family member) visa. My affiliation was with SAP in Germany and it was my wife who was at SAP labs. No problem… I would need a photocopy of her contract, company ID card and a letter from her stating that I was her husband.

I do need to demonstrate that my wife is gainfully employed. I do not need to demonstrate that I actually know how to drive. That is something to keep in mind while on the road here.

Oh and since I’m a foreigner, instead of 3000 rupees, it will be 6000. What happened to 1200? I guess somewhere in that I’m paying (A) for being a foreigner, (B) for the obviously preferential treatment that I got and (C) because somebody is paying down a new mototcycle.

The RTO – Part I

I’ve been Sunday driving without a license for a few weeks now. I’ve decided to change my ways, come clean and not be a scofflaw anymore… in contrast to at least some Indian parliamentarians. So yesterday, I went over to a driving school off of Old Madras Road to see what the process for getting a license would be like. I took my passport, FRO permit and all of my passport photos because I was certain that any driving school would want to make sure I was a legal resident here and Indians seem to want copious numbers of “snaps” for everything.

My driver made a phone call to a friend of his who lived near the driving school and had contacts there. This would make things go smoother and knowing somebody that knows somebody that knows somebody’s cousin-uncle always does here. So Wrenzo’s friend, another SAP driver himself, took me upstairs to the lady who ran the driving school. They spoke a lot in Kannada, she looked over my passport, FRO docs and examined my driver’s licenses (American and German). Once she ascertained that I would not need driving lessons, she told me that it would cost 1200 rupees instead of 3000. I had expected problems there and I had not expected that half a million miles of driving experience would make a difference. I was pleasantly proved wrong. Oh and the driving inspector was on duty, so I can go over and take care of handling that “test” paperwork.

So we went over to where they were doing the tests. This was surreal in its own right. There was a hundred people milling about, along with several cars with driving school logos. It turned out that Wrenzo’s friend knew the inspector, as we walked straight through the crowd to the inspector, who stopped to look at my documents, told us exactly what we needed to get photocopied… oh and he would meet us over at the parking lot for the regional transport officer (RTO) in ten minutes.

It pays to know someone who knows someone it seems.

There were six shops ear the RTO office advertising Xerox – always color Xerox. Five naturally had broken machines and there was a crushing crowd at the sixth. We wanted to make three copies of everything as you never really know how many copies you’ll need. The power failed while making the third copy. I’m starting to accept power failures as an unremarkable part of life here; along with unruly traffic, cows in the street and tea that has the maximum possible concentration of sugar dissolved into it.

Then we met the inspector again. I sat in the back of his car as he filled out the portions of the application that the inspector should fill out. Then I filled out the parts that I was supposed to fill out. There was some consternation over my American (New Jersey) license as it does not explicitly say “auto” or “class B” anywhere on the back. It only says “Auto Driver’s License” on the front. Sorry guys, but the US is not party to the 1968 Vienna Road Rules Convention and the licenses there don’t have to follow that format. Eventually my German license satisfied them as it has a “class B” entry. The inspector then handed me a sheet with the Indian road signs (which are pretty much the same as the ones in Europe with a couple of differences; how no overtaking (passing) and one-way are designated) and said “study this”. I quickly memorized the two signs that were new to me.

I must say that sitting in the back of the inspector’s car doing this gave everything the feel of a mafia meeting and I expected suitcases of cash to start changing hands. It was kind of fun.

(to be continued in part II)

Serendipity

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;

  1. You must know how to operate a clutch and manual gearbox.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!