Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Random Notes On the Road to Agra

The primary rule of the road is show no quarter; no quarter is asked, and none is given or expected. No mercy, no vacillation, no hesitation. Just do it! Go for it! New York’s finest cabbies might, just might, qualify.

The guide books say Agra is 200KM from Delhi, a 3 ½ hour ride. How can a 124 mile trip take 3 1/2 hours? It can’t. It was 5 ½ hours going and 5 returning.

200 miles on a four lane, more or less, road from Delhi to Agra. The “highway” is best described as the PCH without lanes, berms, shoulders, medians, sidewalks, rules, or police.

The surrounding communities and their detritus spill out onto, over, and into the road.

Vehicles mostly go the same direction, but not always. 45°, 90° and 180° approaches are normal.

If a vehicle breaks down, it is fixed in place on the road. No notices are given of highway construction or road work ahead until you see the actual workers scared for their lives. Their presence is warning enough.

Did I say “vehicles?” I misspoke.

Anything propelled by feet, hooves, or wheels, except for boats, trains and planes

The following are on the road:

Three wheeled motorized rickshaws
Farm Equipment
Construction equipment

But no joggers. It’s just too damn hot to jog!

The carts, oh the carts: horse carts, mule carts, oxen carts, bicycle carts, hand carts, pedal-carts, push carts, tractors towing carts, carts towing carts. The carts haul people, cargo, pipes (24’ long), poles, and farm produce. My favorite was a man in Agra towing a cart carrying away a dead cow.

The small motorcycles can hold up to six, children included. Helmets are highly optional.

Nothing matches the ubiquitous, utilitarian, and seemingly prolific, motorized rickshaws. They serve as taxes, buses, and lorries. They are the people movers of India (Disney take note). They seat up to 14 (uncomfortably), not including children, with additional external straps for hangers on. The only air conditioning is, of course, natural.

Cows are sacred to Hindus. Cows graze; cows graze on the side of the road, on the occasional median, and if left untethered, on the road. They also graze in the makeshift dumps on the side of the road and cool off in the ponds next to the dumps.

If driving exhausts you, just pull off (sorta) to a makeshift rest stop. Facilities are the bushes.

The horn, the horn is the most critical part of the vehicle – not the ignition, transmission, clutch, brakes, mirrors or steering wheel. The horn is the only warning given, but not out of a regard for others on the road, but only as a matter of self-preservation as you pass within a few millimeters of the others – all of whom are expected to defer to the honker. Turn signals are less common than in Boston.

Don’t stop for anyone or anything – treat men, women, and children equally as obstacles on the road to the Taj.

Never complain again about driving in New York, Boston, or Los Angeles.

But it works. I saw absolutely no accidents.

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