Indian Journey Part II: Culture Shock – Traffic

June 22, 2010 in India, Travel by pacejmiller

The streets of Hyderabad (when quiet)

Before I arrived in Hyderabad, I had prepared myself for a bit of culture shock.  I’ve heard my fair share of horrors stories about India, primarily from my many Indian friends in Australia.  My favourite piece of advice relates to the toilets on public trains – it’s better to shit in your pants than use the toilets because at least the shit is your own!

Anyway, the first shock I got in India was the traffic.  I thought I had seen the worst traffic in the world in Taiwan, Greece and China.  But no.  Not even close.  India wins by a country mile.

I got my first taste of Indian traffic on our way to the hotel from Hyderabad Airport.  It was early in the morning when we arrived, so there wasn’t much traffic on the freeway.  Accordingly, our taxi driver (via the “Prepaid Taxi” stand where you pay a fixed price in advance at a booth and you get a designated driver.  There’s also the “Radio Taxi”, but I have no idea what that is.) decided to drive in the middle of two lanes all the way until he got into the city.  And that’s when things got really scary.

You have cars, buses, trucks, bicycles, tricycles, motorcycles, motor scooters and lots and lots of these automated rickshaws (‘tuk tuks’ or ‘autos’ as they are otherwise known), plus pedestrians, all trying to make their way across to their destination without much regard for road rules.  If you can go from A to B without getting hit (or worse, killed), then you go for it.  No one gives a stuff if they are running red lights and it’s common to see driving on the wrong side of the road against the flow of traffic.  It’s a system based on trust (ie the other person will eventually stop or swerve before they run into you) and extraordinary calculation skills (they miss each other not by feet, but by millimeters!).


Honking is an art in India.  It’s the preferred method of communication between all forms of traffic.  The horn can be used for anything, such as ‘please move’, ‘watch out’, ‘thank you’, ‘go faster’, ‘go slower’, ‘be careful’, and ‘get the f*&k out of the way!’.  Most trucks have ‘Please Horn’ or ‘Blow Horn’ painted on the back.

It’s amazing that we didn’t see an accident a minute (though we did see one in Delhi, when a motorbike clipped an auto and flipped – fortunately the riders were wearing helmets).  There were literally hundreds of close calls, but most managed to escape with light bumps and scratches.  Oh, and did I mention there were cows, buffalos and goats crossing the roads at random times too?  And this is only what I experienced in Hyderabad and Delhi – I hear Mumbai is worse.  You literally have to stretch your hands in front of you to make space and avoid being crushed.

The worst part about riding in an air conditioned car through the streets of India?  Incredible guilt.  Gut wrenching, heartbreaking guilt.  It’s burning hot, insanely hot in India (in Delhi it hit 46 degrees Celsius), and you’re sitting in a cool car while the people around you are dying from the heat, especially those crammed into public buses.  The most dreadful thing is when you stop a red light (very rare) and toothless men or women (usually with babies) and children knock on your window asking for money to feed themselves.  But we’ve been warned many times NEVER to wind down the window and give them money no matter how awful you feel inside, because there’s no telling what might happen next – either they grab you or worse, you end up being surrounded for hoards of people asking for more.

It’s incredibly sad, and makes you feel so lucky to be born in a country where there’s at least a sliver of hope for even the most disadvantaged in society.