Indian Journey Part IX: Tempting Death

July 3, 2010 in India, Travel

I risked death several times during my stay in India.  And no, it’s not the spicy food.  It’s the crazy traffic that I mentioned in any earlier post.

Which auto rickshaw should I choose?

On our second day in Hyderabad, we decided to go grab a late night snack at the luxurious Marriott Hotel at around 10pm.  After finding out that a booked taxi would cost us 700 rupees to get there compared to a 50 rupee auto rickshaw ride, we opted for the latter in order to save a bit of cash.  After all, the Marriott was only 4km away.  How bad could it be?

Anyway, we got the hotel to arrange two autos for the four people (two in each) and they negotiated a 50 rupee fare for each one.  The ride there took about 15 minutes, but it was a heart-stopping ride as the auto zig-zagged through speeding traffic and we were jolted out of our seats every time the little three-wheeled vehicle hit a bump or pot hole (and there were plenty of them).  It was pretty scary, and we decided after arriving at the Marriott that 700 rupees on the way back would probably be worth it.

Riding inside an auto

However, when we were ready to leave, we asked the hotel reception, who said that it would cost us 1300 rupees to get a taxi back to the Taj Tristar (where we stayed).  1300 rupees!  We weighed that up against the cost of an auto ride and thought, what the heck, we’ll risk our lives again.

The hotel basically told us to go out of the gates and find our own autos, which we did, thinking that it wouldn’t be all that hard.  After all, my marrying mate had told us that the city of Hyderabad “comes alive” after 11pm each night.  I think he got “comes alive” and “drops dead” mixed up, because when we exited onto the street it was eerily quiet, not an auto to be seen anywhere.

We waited and walked around, and finally a lone auto headed our way.  Realising that this was our only chance to get back to the hotel, my colleague was happy to pay double (ie 100 rupees) for the ride.  The auto’s driver for some reason had a companion with him in the front seat, so the four of us all squeezed into the back seat.  We were basically sitting on each other’s laps.  I thought this was uncomfortable until I saw that it was nothing because locals often packed six or seven people into the same space!  Once we even saw 10 people on a single auto!

If we thought the ride to the Marriott was rough, the ride back was ten times worse.  For starters, the streets were almost completely empty, with only the occasional sedan driving in the opposite direction, usually coming right at us because this auto had no lights.  “Come alive” my arse.

The auto traversed various back alleys and rough roads, and we had absolutely no idea where it was going.  For all we knew they could have been driving us somewhere to rob us.  Did I mention that the driver didn’t exactly know where our hotel was?  We showed him the hotel’s business card, but he didn’t look confident at all (no head wobble).

At last we arrived at a giant intersection, and the driver turned around and asked, “Left or right?”  Taking a wild stab in the dark, we pointed left.  Fortunately, the 50% gamble paid off and it was the right direction.  Shortly after we could see the hotel.  Imagine if we got it wrong?!

Unbelievably, the day the wedding concluded, we went back to the Marriott for dinner.  I don’t know what went through our minds, but we ended up catching autos to and back, after vowing never to risk our lives in one of those things ever again!  I guess being cheapskates outweighed safety.

Let me go first

Indian Journey Part II: Culture Shock – Traffic

June 22, 2010 in India, Travel

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.

 
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