Monday, December 3, 2012

How to test your brakes

India is an amazing place full of wonderful people places sights and sounds. However one big thing seems to have dominated my thoughts. Traffic!

Heading down the new 3 lane toll road between Delhi and Agra is a breeze. Three lanes of smooth perfect bitumen with lane markings and everything. The road is deserted apart from occasional herd of goats led across by a young shepherd or a crowd of people crossing to go to the adjoining field or even the occasional truck chugging along at  their own merry pace at one with the world.

This is slightly different to the dual carriageway of the other day where a sleepy Tata truck driver nearly cleaned me up for good. I learned that an open road in India does not give you licence to drive as fast as you want. Just because three lanes are clear of all traffic doesn't guarantee safety. It is expected at all times for a truck to simply pull onto the road and head all the way across to the right hand lane to catch any speeding motorcycles. I don't think I've ever hit the brakes so hard at such high speed from 150 to 10 kph in about 50 metres. I'm sure the back wheel was off the ground. My arse was off the seat. I was glad I'd had been to the toilet not too long before or it could have been very messy.

With the fright, and enough adrenaline to invade a small country in my blood, I aimed to kill this careless retard but as I came around could see the truck driver was oblivious as to why this abusive nutter in a white helmet suddenly appeared in front of his cab.  I gave up as there was no point trying to convince this guy he was an idiot. Instead I realised I'm the idiot for expecting to drive normally in this place.

Since leaving Scotland some months ago I'd seen one small crash in Istanbul.
In India, (not to mention the piles of wrecks by the side of the road) in the space of one week I'd seen around 7 or 8 recent crashes, most of which spilled arguing drivers, passengers and their families onto the road causing even more traffic chaos.  I've also had around 4 near misses myself, mostly from oncoming traffic wanting to push me of the road.

An oncoming truck brushed the side of my panniers. I've had to stop dead in front of a huge bus, swerve around suicidal pedestrians whilst avoiding the potholes and other oncoming traffic to stay alive. In the dark it becomes a whole new challenge. Like a mad video game of avoiding potholes, cows and other obstacles whilst  trying to see where the road actually is. With no markings, cats eyes or signs.

You realise that the high speed trucks coming towards you really are on your side of the road. No bonus points are given for avoiding the strange religious stationary figure of a man who simply stands in the middle of the road awaiting death. No extra time for getting away from the drunk truck behind you. None of that. Simply surviving the road is enough to win the game.

I haven't mentioned the horns yet. Beep beep bloody beep. They beep horns to say they're passing, the beep to say they can't get passed, they beep to say they have just passed, they beep for no reason. Horns beeping behind me to tell me to get out of the way, even when its obvious I cant go anywhere. Beep beep bloody beep! Yes this happens in many countries, but not to the extent here. One guy to my side was beeping in a traffic jam. Through his open window I asked him what this achieves, (well it was more like "whats the fuckin point you idiot") he glanced at me, looked back to the traffic in front and held the horn button again!

Then there's the volume of traffic. When you get to a town, here's the rule - fill that space! If there's a gap, fill it. Even if its on the wrong side of the road, fill that space. As an example, I was at a rail crossing and on opposite sides of the closed gates, both opposing teams of trucks, cars, bikes, scooters, rickshaws and tuk tuks took over the whole width of the road. Like a rugby scrum ready for the off, when the gates opened, the opposing teams went at each other not realising the fact that if they'd kept to one side, they'd had all passed through easily. This was chaos and no one noticed apart from me.

Not that its always unpleasant of course, driving here can be fun but I think I'll be relieved to live long enough to see Nepal.

Enough of the rant for now.

So....ahem ... back to the trip...

I've had some great fun in Delhi with freinds and now I'm heading to Agra, one of India's most beautiful places. Not the town, its a dump. I mean the Taj Mahal. Absolutely amazing! Now I understand why people rave about this place. Despite the thousands of overweight middle aged camera clicking tourists, this really is a nice place to be. The beauty of the building and grounds, the magnificence of the construction and the wonderful atmosphere make this a must see. I join the queues of tourists and fit right in.

After Agra I head for Nepal and my last stop in this part of the world. The road will take me to Lucknow then up to the border where I cross near Butwal.

I might have mentioned before that border crossings can be exciting. There's a mix of trepidation, anxiety and enthusiasm. With the endless time wasting bureaucratic paperwork stamping procedures, anticipation of a new country to see, curiosity about the people and the culture. I often wonder, will the countryside suddenly change, will the people change?

Welcome Tonepal

In Europe, with no lines drawn, or checkpoints, crossing borders is barely noticeable.  At this border however, things do change quite rapidly. The people don't look Indian, most have Mongolian features, the countryside doesn't change too much but one thing is obvious to me. I seem to have gone deaf. No horns, beep, beep bloody beep! Apart from me, the traffic is much more sedate, calm almost by comparison.

Over the border I approach a roundabout and with my new found Indian driving skills, take the short cut across to the right hand side ignoring oncoming traffic, going around the wrong way. This may sound insane but I've often found this to be the safest way. If you try to go around the roundabout in the normal fashion, you're more likely to be run over from either side as you enter or try to leave. Cutting right across to the wrong side means all traffic is in front of you to veer around and you can clearly see the dangers. Honest! I've used this right hand turn method many times. If I was in Australia, the police helicopters and TV stations would be chasing me down the road. In Nepal, the constable at the roundabout can only complain by blowing his whistle in my mirrors. I might have to rethink this manoeuvre here!

I'm a bit sad to leave India as I've seen some beautiful sights, met some wonderful and kind people and generally had a great time.  Despite my concerns about receiving a TATA tattoo on my forehead, it really is somewhere we should all go at least once in our lifetimes. No doubt I'll be back, . I'll need to practice my new found driving skills.

Next: My Worst Nightmare comes true!

Some other images of India

Road to Manali

Tea Stop

Road to Kashmir


This little girl likes to pose for the camera




End of a good day

Typical response to a strange bike
Typical rail crossing in Utter Pradesh

Marriage Indian style
Luxury hotel in Delhi

1 comment:

  1. Maybe I won't complain as much about the traffic idiots around home here. I'll just think about India! I'm certainly glad you passed on getting that tattoo!