India is a large country and although we visited cities in pretty close proximity, they were about 150-200 miles apart. With our Interstate highway system and posted speeds of 65, that would take 2 to 3, maybe 4 hours. Our experience in India was a bit different.
A new highway between Delhi and Agra took us about 4 hours. It was a new four-lane divided highway with tolls, and truck traffic was not allowed. There was very light traffic and yet the bus was restricted to drive about 40mph. There was a high concern about the tires overheating and bursting, and we stopped for a half hour to let them cool about halfway along the route. There were several toll plazas and a rest area located just beyond each. We enjoyed the use of some “clean toilets”, as Arvind assured us, and the snack bar offered some light food. Lisa and I bought some packaged ice cream. I was told my flavor was pistachio; it wasn’t.
That was the best road we traveled. The other main highways were also toll roads but had heavy traffic of all kinds going through the center of towns and sometimes the roadway was not paved. But they all were toll roads. It was not unusual for the bus driver to have to move along at 25mph to navigate not only the trucks and jeeps loaded with people hanging on, but also occasional hand pushed carts, a camel or an elephant. People seem to use the roadway as a walking path as well.
And cows. More about cows later.
Because of the British occupation of India, traffic moves on the left side of the roadway. I have driven in the United Kingdom, and it took a lot of constant concentration to stay to the left, especially in round-abouts and for turns. I have driven in many of the major cities in the United States. I remember my great satisfaction after driving in Manhattan at age 20 and being able to be as aggressive as required to maneuver. And yet, I would NEVER assume I could drive in India.
There seem to be few rules. There seem to be more cars spread across the roadway than the number of lanes. Red lights were ignored often by our driver; other times he stopped. Cars on the right often made left turns and similar cross movements occurred from the left side of the roadway. Yet, we saw few accidents. Arvend said automobile insurance is required and at the time of an accident there is a lot yelling and handwaving and then everyone goes their own way without any sharing of information. It sounded like the system operates as “no fault”.
Drivers’ licenses are purchased. There is some discussion now that driving tests will be given but no written test to prove knowledge of the rules of the road is part of the process. Cars are pretty expensive and gasoline runs about $1.50 a liter. Most people ride motorcycles and it was not unusual to see a family of 4 or even 5 on the back of a bike, the woman riding sideways because of her sari.
One rule that does seem to apply is the request for honking. Some car and truck bumpers even have the “Please Honk” or “Sound Horn” sign painted on the back of the vehicle. This system helps them know when someone is approaching to pass; the assumption is no one looks in the rear view mirror.
At the end of our tour we tipped Arvend, his assistant (who cleaned the bus at least three times each day, moved our baggage and made sure there was plenty of ice cold water for sale for us) and the driver. I gladly gave the driver his tip, telling him despite the traffic conditions, I never felt uncomfortable with the safety of his driving.