I arrived in India a day and a half ago. I’d barely slept for the past 36 hours when I crawled off the plane in Hyderabad. Rajiv Gandhi International Airport is new and modern and I was through customs and immigration pretty quickly. Gopal was waiting right outside and we were quickly heading through Hyderabad to our apartment.
First impressions as we were driving was this is a very different sort of place from anywhere I’d been before. Everything just seemed rough and ready, unpolished, almost unfinished. It has the feel of small blink-and-you-miss-it towns I’d travelled through as a kid in New Zealand, but on an unimaginable scale. Still, traffic in the small hours is pretty light and there wasn’t too much to see. It wasn’t until the next day that I really got a taste of India.
At night, with few cars, the roads look pretty much like roads everywhere else. They have lane markers and cats-eyes and signs. But all those things are purely decorative. Indian roads don’t have rules like everywhere else I’ve been. There really aren’t any lanes. People just drive anywhere. The road is packed with cars, buses, auto rickshaws and lots and lots of two-wheelers. Everyone is constantly swerving and weaving in and out, sounding their horns frequently. Some intersections have lights and a traffic cop ensuring that people actually stop for the lights, but others are just a free for all. You basically just have to barge in and push your way through.
It looks like it requires balls of steel and yet, I see everyone driving like this. One man was wearing shorts, a t-shirt and sandals riding a scooter (no helmet). His wife in a sari was perched side-saddle behind him, carrying two bags full of shopping. And wedged between them was their son, who looked about 3 years old. It requires FAR more concentration and driving ability to drive like this than I could ever muster. I consider myself a good driver in NZ, but I would be totally unable to drive with the fearlessness and focus required to survive on these roads. And despite the apparent chaos, it seems to work. We got everywhere we needed to go, I never saw a single accident and I gather that the accidents that do happen are generally minor since the speeds are pretty low.
Tonight I’ll get a taste of long distance driving rather than city driving as we head west to Malvan.