There is No Such Thing as Too Much Cargo
With the 2019 Hippie Trail now complete Gergo reflects on the unique flow of Indian traffic and how riders learned to adapt their western thinking
When traveling in India, it soon becomes obvious: the Indian idea of how to use the roads, operate traffic, and transportation in general is fundamentally different than almost all other parts of the world. It is unique to say the least.
Just take a look at the speed: the traffic is slow. Really slow. Even on a freeway road layout with split lanes, toll gates, multiple lanes, and paved shoulders, vehicles travel at moderate speeds. 50-55 km/h is the usual, and if someone is in a hurry, maybe speeding at just 70 km/h. To rush doesn’t make any sense here, because they all share the same road. And when I say all, I really mean ALL: tuk-tuks, cows, mopeds (with the entire family and a friend or two sitting on them), cars, stray dogs, bicycles, tractors with trailers, and hand painted, overloaded trucks are all sharing the same space.
Using the inner or outer lane doesn’t determine the vehicles’ average speed. Neither does the direction of travel BTW. Why bother crossing the entire road, all six lanes just to get to the “right” side? My guess is, choosing a lane to drive on may be based on steadiness or more likely future turning plans. A dump truck driving steady in the inner lane will be pretty unlikely to leave it for the sake of faster drivers behind. If somebody wants to go faster, they will find their path anyways.
It is better to be prepared, eyes open, fully focused, and forget about daydreaming while in the saddle or behind the wheel. Watch what is happening in front of you (many vehicles simply don’t even have rear view mirrors), and keep listening to the honks. Yes, you heard me, all vehicles using their horn to tell the others: I am coming. Every single driver keeps a finger or a hand on their horn, and they use it. The most common hand painted requests on the back of the tuk-tuks, trucks and buses are: “Honk please!” or “Blow horn!” So they do. Cyclists may use their bells, or a bike horn with more or less success, or just shout out loud.
Than there is the “Goods carrier” written on the obviously oversized, overloaded dump trucks. But good to know it is carrying goods. Overloading is pretty common. The insanely tall, or ridiculously wide cargo, when the truck sometimes is not even visible underneath; that is all part of the Indian street scene. It is sugar-cane season. Let’s see who can pile more of it on a single truck!
The motorbikes here are used not only to take the rider and passenger from A to B, but also his entire family. They are also great to carry oversized items – you just need somebody behind to hold the cargo for you. It can be a 42″ flat panel TV, or a 3 m long roll of a carpet. No problem!
Riding a bike in India sometimes feels like a video game. You’re collecting points while trying not to confuse local drivers with your “western” behaviour. For them there is no such thing as a blind curve, or oncoming traffic that may affect their decision to start an overtaking maneuver. They will start it regardless. This is how it works: Do your half move, and we will all fit! This means every driver will make a slight turn on the wheel just before you would meet, but it is also expected on your side. If all happens in sync, traffic flows. Indians are great at it. For a foreigner it takes a little bit of practice to deal with, but daily riding here leads to mastery.
Luckily, after we leave the crowded big cities of the tour behind, our route mainly goes on smaller country roads where we are a little bit further away from the chaos and the honks, and we can instead simply listen to the birds singing along the way.
"Turn on, tune in, Drop out" It was 1967 - the Summer of Love - and Timothy Leary had this advice for his young followers at the Human Be-In taking...