I found the Indian traffic that I was expecting…it required getting out of the cities and off the large divided highways. (No need to read any further, Mom)
In the cities, traffic is crazy and chaotic, but it’s so slow that it isn’t really scary. Minor collisions aren’t uncommon, but the consequences aren’t too serious, as can be seen here…
Someone behind me must’ve had an inferior brake system on his vehicle…shocking, I know! Luckily it was really slow, and the only damage was to the bulb that lights my license plate.
On the big divided highways, lanes have a little more meaning that in the cities, but not much. It still is essentially a free for all, but there’s usually quite a bit of room. And you typically won’t see traffic going the wrong direction, although, sometimes you do cross paths with those rouge vehicles that are somehow going the wrong way down a divided highway.
But get yourself on to any other roads, and that’s where things start to get interesting…
Vehicles passing when they shouldn’t be and have no room to spare, animals everywhere, vehicles weaving across lanes for absolutely no reason, slow moving scooters/rickshaws/old vehicles, slower moving tractors and carts being pulled by camels, and pedestrians. I learned quickly that most oncoming traffic expects the single headlight of a motorcycle to be moving very slowly, so they’re willing to overtake in my lane, expecting to have a lot more time than they actually do. It’s also not rare to see people overtaking through hills or curves. Entering a blind section of road while in my own lane, I take extra care to cover the front and rear brake, and get my left index finger and thumb ready to flash the blinkers and honk the horn.
The adjustment that I’ve found most important to adapt to Indian traffic is the idea of your lane…In the US, whether you’re driving a semi or a motorcycle, you basically feel entitled to your entire lane and can wander around in it as you wish. In India, your lane is the width of your vehicle, plus about 6 inches on either side. Sure it’s different, but in some ways it kind of makes sense…if you can move to one side of a lane and allow vehicles to pass using portions of two lanes, then why not do it? However, this gets to be a bit much when someone decides for you that the shoulder is also acceptable to use. A couple times, I had two oncoming semis, one overtaking the other and in my lane, leaving me with the choice of running off the road onto the dirt shoulder or going for the head on collision.
And this whole situation gets worse when the sun starts to go down. Trucks decide to finally turn on their headlights about an hour later than they probably should. Luckily, some considerate drivers at least have reflective tape on the front of their trucks, so my own headlights make them a bit (a very little bit) more visible. But the most startling has to be the extremely slow tractors and carts that have no taillights…you don’t even have to be going very fast to run up on them really quickly.
Rules for riding at night in India…A-Don’t do it, B-If it’s required, go slow and be ready to brake hard.
As expected, riding here is a lot more mentally exhausting that most places. Losing focus or looking away for just a second isn’t something you can to do.
In between getting accustomed to the traffic, I spent a couple days in Vadodara. A friend there, Ketan, showed me around the city for a day. The sightseeing highlight surely was Laxmi Vilas Palace. It was built in 1890 by the Maharaja of Baroda, and supposedly was the largest private dwelling at that time.
In the afternoon, he brought me to the Atladra Swaminarayan Temple, where I received a blessing for the rest of my travels from one of the Swamis.
The flower garland he gave me found a home on the motorcycle…