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Camels, tuk-tuks and elephants share the road to New Delhi
Driving millions crazy-- and vice versa
Lane Driving is Safe Driving
Driving in New Delhi is almost an oxymoron. A "short" drive must only describe distance, because traffic is more a swarm than it is actually driving.
Two aspects of New Delhi traffic struck me:
- Lanes truly are a suggestion that is more honored in the breach than the observance.
- The variety of traffic on any given road, highway or byway, is mindboggling.
Indeed, my mind was sufficiently boggled that when a man riding an elephant passed our bus (sorry, motor coach) on the road between Delhi and Agra, I gaped long enough to miss the shot.
Returning to my firs point though, I don’t recall snapping traffic shots in any other country. In New Delhi, it seemed as if I couldn’t help myself. Every time a donkey cart or tuk-tuk/rickshaw passed I felt compelled to shoot it.
From Delhi to Agra
The drive from New Delhi to Agra is 125-130 miles, so we got an early start. Fortunately. Traffic was stop-and-go, with much more stop than go. The main road is shared by oversized and overloaded truck, bicycles, rickshaws and mule-drawn wagons and pedicabs, buses and horses and cars and carts and camels and motorcycles and mopeds and, as I mentioned, the odd elephant.
They do not share nicely. As we drove along the left side of the road, traffic moved equally slowly in the opposite direction on our right. Those who found the delay intolerable sometimes chose the road not supposed to be taken and whipped past us against traffic on the shoulder of our lanes, so we sometimes had opposing traffic passing us on both sides.
And, naturally, as traffic slows, there is time to observe the slapdash markets on the side of the road, with the occasional snake charmer sitting cross-legged in front of his cobra in a basket, swaying to the motion of the flute.
On the road again. No still.
A one point, we were stalled in traffic for so long that a vendor boarded the coach and hawked jewelry in the aisle. Another time, a fellow passenger made the mistake of looking at a man holding a monkey above his head on a perch. The man also boarded the bus and insisted that the passenger pay him for having looked at his monkey. The passenger did not pay, but discomfort from the contretemps lasted atmosphere for some time.
Of course, bus drivers appear to be complicit in these events and undoubtedly share in the profits.
Not only might traffic, vehicular, quadrupedal or bipedal, be passing in any direction, by they all seem to operate according to the rules of the swimming pool drain school of driving, which dictates that when traffic stops, everyone rushes to fill any visible void. So a traffic light or cow wandering into the road (yes, I saw it happen and everyone waits while someone ties to gently encourage its bovine divinity to seek paradise elsewhere) means that every car, bicycle, moped, etc., tries to fill available space. It looks as if everything is being sucked into a vacuum.
And then when the obstruction is gone, it is like trying to unravel spaghetti.
Begging and hawking cheap wares is common here, and as bad as feel, especially with children who are doing the begging or hawking, it is simply not possible to give something to every indigent, and giving to one is like throwing fish food in a carp tank.
And pedestrians. The shoulders are filled with pedestrians who nonchalantly maneuver around the cars and motorcycles sharing their piece of the transportation pie.
But I digress.
The Taj Mahal--on roller skates
We stopped for something to eat, maybe 35-45 minutes and arrived in Agra a mere six hours after leaving the hotel. Because we had made a reservation for lunch, we felt obliged to eat before going to see the Taj Mahal, Although our guide enabled us to wade through the mob awaiting entry, we entered the ground about 45 minutes before sunset, so we had slightly more than that to navigate the hordes of tourists and shuffle in lockstep with the snaking chain gang of visitors eager to see the world’s most famous love-tombs of the 17th century.
Then we stated back, battling our way through the throngs of young boys selling Taj Mahal souvenirs and trinkets in a breathtaking display of tawdriness and youthful mercantilism—or child labor depending on how you choose to view it.
The return trip seemed to go much more smoothly and we were back at our hotel in New Delhi by 1:00 the next morning.
Home again, Home again...
As I marveled at the traffic that utterly disregarded lines in the road, I laughed out loud at a sign that advised: “Lane Driving is Safe Driving.” Amid their giant game of bumper cars, I don’t think that drivers saw it though.
Yet, for all that, I don’t recall seeing a single accident, either in downtown Delhi or on the 15-hour odyssey to spend 45 minutes at the Taj Mahal.