Some down time and driving tips


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November 9th 2015
Published: November 9th 2015
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What we did for 10 days
After our whistle stop tour of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, we were happy to spend some time eating home cooked food in Ahmedabad and then headed for some enforced relaxation in Goa.



Ahmedabad is an expanding city in the heart of the Northern state of Gujarat. We’ve been here before, seven years ago. It has a lot of residential building, road expansions and commercial growth. We were lucky enough to be there during the nine day dance festival of Navaratri (which literally translates to 9 nights in Sanskrit). Imagine thousands of people, all dressed in vibrant, beautiful colors, dancing along a similar theme and moving in unison around various concentric circles. Those are the ‘garba’ dances that take place during the nine nights. It was a pleasure to witness and although some of the moves are a bit difficult, we made sure to have a go.



After Ahmedabad, we flew to Goa to stay on the quieter Southern coast. We were completely cut off from any form of communication and without transport were localized to a few beach hut restaurants and some small general stores. It is very picturesque and we were happy to be able to spend some time in the ocean, while enjoying cold, cheap beer and to top up our tans. We also had a good 4 day bout of food poisoning which kept us apartment locked but we came out of there a little thiner and ready to get on the road again.



So not much to report as far as what we’ve been up to. We’re headed for another tour so our next blog will be a little more interesting, but I thought I’d take this opportunity to fill you in with my guide to driving in India.



I took the wheel for the first time in Ahmedabad, a city with some 3 million vehicles and a place where the growth of vehicles is twice that of the growth of the population as wealth increases. Before I start down the road of opining on how a billion people operate I figured it was worth throwing out a couple of caveats; firstly, the following is just my opinion based on what I’ve observed. I’m no expert and there’s no way a few weeks on the road qualifies me as such. I’m not stating what I feel to be right or wrong, simply what is different. Secondly, I really do enjoy driving here - it’s like someone gives out a license to drive in the wacky races with an ‘anything goes’ mentality, which is just my cup of tea. Yes, it can be mental, it can be frustrating, it requires constant concentration and it can all change in a heartbeat, but it does follow a system so can also be a ton of fun.



With that been said, here are some good rules and guidelines if you want to take the road in India.



Rule 1. Expect anybody to do anything at any time.

This has to be rule number 1. because, without preparing yourself for this, none of the other rules make any sense. There’s a big difference between the mentality of your average Indian driver to that of their counterpart in other countries. I’m used to having the mentality that you do what you do so not to impact the course or path of other vehicles, here you do whatever you want with the understanding that everyone else will change their course so not to cause damage
Thali done rightThali done rightThali done right

Lots of vegetarian food in Gujarat
to themselves. An example; If I’m entering a road in Atlanta, I judge the speed of the oncoming traffic and enter when other drivers won’t be impacted, or I enter the road and accelerate quickly enough so I don’t cause another driver to have to slow down by my presence. In India, you enter the road whenever you get to the road, other drivers will slow down or change lanes to allow for this. Because of this difference, you have to have a constant vigil of drivers approaching from cross streets, changing lanes, stopping or changing speeds as they need to, doing U-turns etc.





Rule 2. You won’t get anywhere expecting things to work ‘how they do back home’.

It is very easy to feel that your way of driving is better than it is in India, because at a casual glance it probably is. However, unless you can systematically teach an entire population to drive the way you’re used to, it probably makes more sense to change your driving style to fit into the system that everyone else on the road is employing. That way, you don’t spend time waiting for the next person to let you in, or to give you the right of way. It won’t happen.





Rule 3. Might is right, until it is very wrong.

If your vehicle is bigger than mine, I’m most likely to give you the right of way. For example, it doesn’t make sense for me to hold my ground if there’s a bus traveling at speed directly towards me down the wrong side of a dual carriage way. I may be in the right, but who cares when they’re picking my teeth out of the gutter. This rule holds true most of the time. Bus beats car, car beats motor cycle, motor cycle beats pedestrian - livestock however beats all of the above and basically does whatever it wants, wherever it wants. When this changes however is the moment there’s an accident, then the reverse suddenly comes into effect. The bigger the vehicle, the more fault lies with it. If my car hits your bike, I’m at fault. If my bike, rides into your stationary bus, you’re at fault my friend. This leads to some pretty interesting moments where bus and truck drivers, knowing they’ll get blamed for a crash in some remote location, simply abandon their vehicles and leg it away as fast as they can. If they don’t, they’ll incur the wrath of the locals.





Rule 4. GPS can save your bacon, but it can also fry and it eat it too (mmmmmm, bacon).

There’s something slightly odd having the familiar Google Maps lady know her way around a city in the middle of a new location. We relied on her knowledge heavily and it was a great safety net when you missed a turn or found yourself lost. She can, however, get you into a world of trouble. All roads look the same to her (it), so you may all of a sudden find yourself headed down a road that’s steadily getting narrower, and narrower until you’re in the middle of a village that no car should ever venture into. You’ll be squeezing through spots trying not to hit parked motorcycles or the cots that have people sleeping in directly outside their houses. This happened to us, and it was a huge relief that the population of the village took a bemused helpful attitude, rather than an aggressive ‘you’re an idiot’ attitude. At the point of realizing you can go no further, the worst feeling is thinking you’re going to have to reverse out of the narrow village you’ve just had trouble driving forward into. Or, that you’re going to have to perform a 52 point turn somewhere with an audience of hundreds. Luckily, a local elder found us a good place to turn and we were able to drive out relatively easily.





Rule 5. Swim with the fishes.

Turning right at a major junction (the equivalent of turning left in the States) can be one of the most frightening things you’ll do in India. It is easy for you to get apprehensive and to stop / start your way into trouble at major junctions. The way I got to grips with this is to behave as if you are part of a school of fish, and you’re about to cross the path of another school of fish. This happens in nature quite successfully (I’m assuming not many fish bonk their noses on other fish) so employing the same tactics works here too. You’re going to come into many ‘meet situations’ and all you have to do is work out if the person you’re meeting with is going to go behind you (preferable), in front of you (acceptable) or into you (best avoided). If you do this while constantly moving in the direction you want to go, everyone else does the same, and you end up with a wonderful weaving of humanity passing within inches of each other, at speed, in various directions. Easy!





Rule 6. Right of way.

In other countries, the right of way is burdened with various boring rules and regulations about where you are on the road, what type of road it is, what the road sign says etc. etc. In India we have eased this with one simple fact - if you’re ahead, you have right of way. If the nose of your car is in front of the nose of my car by one inch, you win and you can now enter my lane, stop, or do whatever you like and I will adjust my course accordingly (see rule 1.). This of course changes if I get my nose one inch in front of yours, then the power has changed immediately to give me right of way. This process means if you drive at speed (which I tend to do) you pretty much have the rule of the road to yourself.





Rule 7. A useful field of vision.

Defensive driving skills employed in other places require a good understanding of whats happening in a 360 degree area around your vehicle. Because of rules 1 & 6, this area of necessity is reduced dramatically to roughly 170 degrees in an arc in front of your eyes. Yes, you have to be on a constant vigil for anyone doing anything, but you only have to do it for what’s happening in front of you. Why bother with what’s behind? They’re having to adjust to me and are therefore irrelevant in my choice in course of action.





Finally, Rule 8. Get in touch with your Zen side.

In the book ‘The Gods Drink Whisky’, Stephen T Asma suggests that to drive from one side of Bangkok to the other without losing your cool / mind would mean that you’re not just Buddhist, but are probably the Buddha himself. The same can be applied to the whole country of India. There are many opportunities to provide a knowing glare, hand signal, harsh word as you question the rationale why something has just happened. Why did that person pull out there? Why did they choose the bend at the crest of a hill to start overtaking? Why are they transporting 5 mattresses on a moped? Why are they walking at a snail’s pace into a busy intersection? Why are they traveling down the wrong side of the road? It doesn’t get you anywhere closer to your destination however. The best thing to do is avoid the offending thing, and get on with your journey, because there is no doubt that in a few yards you will encounter another questionable action and it’s better for everyone’s blood pressure if you just get on with your day.



Happy driving all!



Rachel weighs in as a passenger: Pretend you are getting on the scariest rollercoaster you've ever ridden. Then realize that there is no safety bar. At that moment, decide to go with the flow and hope for the best.



We saw only one fender bender on our journeys, so something is working.

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17th June 2017

Nice and informative article.
Very nice and informative article about Ahmadabad. I have been their once. I like this city. I stayed at welcomheritage Mani mansion palace. I visited Sabarmati ashram their.

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