Driving Indian style

I really must get a copy of the Indian highway code. I'd love to see exactly what it says and see if it bears any resemblance to what happens on the open highway.

In India they nominally drive on the left. I say nominally because sometimes it's very difficult to say. Lane discipline is not big on the agenda. Given an open road – say three cars, eighteen bicycles, three rickshaws and a couple of cows the strategy seems to be position the wheels either side of the white line and floor it.

Overtaking or should I say undertaking – it's difficult to say, anyway, it's an exciting experience. It often involves an excursion onto the gravel at the roadside or a game of chicken with traffic coming in the opposite direction.

Travelling down the highway it is not uncommon to encounter something coming the other direction on your side of the road. There's a barrier in the middle of the road on major highways so you'd think it was obvious which side you should be on but there you go.

The contra flow traffic is usually an elderly man pushing a dilapidated wooden cart piled high with water melons or such like. Presumably he's been walking this route since it was a dirt track and he's not changing his habits even if they have laid this fancy tarmacadam stuff and the road is now filled with 10 ton trucks and coaches.

The most important thing in an Indian car is the horn. One coach we travelled in had been modified to include an extra loud horn with an equally impressive button to activate it. Mounted in the centre of the steering wheel was a large red button, something you'd expect the president of the USA to have to launch thermonuclear weapons – you know the sort of thing.

Our driver utilised both horns, seemingly in a random fashion to indicate various advanced manoeuvres I couldn't quite fathom.

In Delhi I saw what can only be described as the skeleton of a truck. Bereft of all beautification, stripped down to the bare essentials, an engine, chassis, steering wheel and drivers seat. Oh, and it hand a horn of course. Don't forget the horn there could be an accident.

We took an autorickshaw in Varanasi to the airport. It's about 17km, a fair distance for a clapped out two stroke three wheeler, but hey, when in Rome..

When we got in I noticed we had two drivers. You tend to notice this sort of thing in a vehicle where the driver is supposed to sit in the middle to enable him to steer and there in only one seat. "perhaps he's giving him a lift" I thought in a charitable sort of fashion. After a few km they did a quick change over. We didn't actually stop to do this, time is money in India.

The second driver was not very good. We ended up stuck in the middle of the road at a junction and there were numerous other incidents that led me to question his driving ability.

After a few more km and several more near misses the initial slightly more competent driver turned around and explained in his broken English what was going on. "this is my brother, I'm teaching him to drive" I see, that explains a few things.

Fortuitously before the overwhelming urge to wrestle the controls from his hands took over they did a hasty switch back and we were in safe hands again.

In India roundabouts seem to be for decoration only. Alternatively they can be used to set up a temporary tobacconists for example. The strategy when approaching a roundabout seems to be to take the shortest route to the exit you require. This, as can be imagined get complicated when other vehicles are present.

People also use the roads. In fact they seem to very much prefer them. Most pavements are empty apart from the groups of sleeping cows, dogs and other wildlife.

It's hard to imagine what the driving test – if there is one at all, I seriously have my doubts – in India is like. Perhaps they take everyone down to the fun fair for a couple of hours and stick them on the dodgems.

In fact that's exactly what it's like. Imagine a multicoloured selection of dilapidated vehicles charging around like dodgems at the fun fair, all miraculously missing each other – for the most part at least – throw in a random selection of farmyard animals and a few hundred people. Yes, that's what driving in India is like.

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