Thread: Driving the plains of India

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
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    Default Driving the plains of India

    Driving India – 22/28 April 2017 – West Bengal, India

    We are on the road again – finally! Our 4Runner was delivered to our hotel on Friday evening. I repeatedly asked if I could pick it up but was told, “No, you can’t enter the port and we will deliver it to your hotel”. The driver wasn’t use to our vehicle or thinking of its height when he rammed a highway cross bar. Our storage box suffered the collision and I’ve been told I can get someone to hammer it our for $1.50 to $3.00. My plan is get the box hammered out, buy a chain to wrap around and over the box and a pad lock and it will be good as new (when traveling India one must stay optimistic.)





    (As badly damaged as the box was, in Kalimpong I stopped at a motorcyle repair shop and asked them to fix the box. The young owner of the shop removed the box and handed it down to me. One of his guys beat on the box with a board, hammer, chisel, etc for an hour. What I couldn’t believe was the interior locking device in the box still works – no chain and pad lock. Cost was $3.33.)

    We left the hotel about 8:30 Saturday morning. The 4Runner’s gas tank had about 20 miles of gas. Using our GPS’s the night before I located a gas station within about a five-minute drive of the hotel. As I approached the intersection where I was to make a right turn towards the gas station I see a police barricade and policewomen – no right turns. By the time we found a gas station on our side of the divided roadway we were down to about 10 miles of gas – let’s recap: first time I have driven in India, 14 million people live in Kolkatta, India is right hand drive and the 4Runner is left hand drive, and although I have driven in 14 countries before India none of these others countries are in the same ballpark of driving insanity and I almost run out of gas. It only gets better – really it does get better no matter what I write and you read and then imagine.




    A great majority of village, town and city streets are narrow two lanes with no parking space. I mean no parking for unloading a truck, taxi, tut tut, motorcycle or bicycle or human powered cart, or anything else. So you ask, “Where do they park”? They park wherever it suits them and not the other 1.4 billion people in India!

    I need to stop for a few lines to describe what you will encounter on the streets and toll roads. Streets are narrow roads with one lane of traffic in each direction but about half the time there is only room enough for the traffic to move in a single direction.

    Toll roads are two lanes in both directions with 55-gallon cans and rolling fences in the middle of the road. The purpose of these obstacles is to slow you down and zigzagging through these mazes will slow you down. The toll roads include a medium where a variety of animals will be grazing; people will be sitting, standing or stepping onto the toll road; grain being dried on blue tarps; and more. For every type of vehicle going in the correct direction you will also encounter a similar (but fewer in number) vehicle coming at you. Thank god for the toll ways because about 40% of the time you can do about 35 to 40 mph. Heck, on our third day of driving I did 50 mph for several minutes – the toll roads are a god sent. Unfortunately for every kilometer of toll road there are three or more kilometers of two lane roads.

    Sorry for going off on a tangent. Nancy kept track for about an hour and a half what we encountered on a stretch of India road. The list:

    Buses
    Trucks with fringes and bells hanging off the bottom. Typically aqua with lots of chrome.
    Cars – much smaller than the 4Runner except for those very much smaller
    Motorcycles zigzagging thru the traffic, meaning they might come up behind you on either side or head on
    Tut tuts
    Hand drawn Rickshaws
    Bicycle rickshaws
    Motorcycles with women on back in sari riding side saddle
    Clown cars & trucks with people inside, on roof, hanging off both sides and back
    Motorcycle with wheeled platform on back carrying anything you can think of and a few you won’t – for example: 4 cows laying down
    Bicycles
    Tractors with trailers hauling manure, huge bales of jute, bricks, rock and sand
    Hand pulled wagons with stacks of 25 foot bamboo poles and of course no warming flag on the load
    People walking
    Dogs
    Cows
    Water buffalo
    Goats
    Chickens
    Pig
    School children in uniforms walking and on bicycles
    Pillow trucks piled high with bags or other cargo covered with tarp – only saw one on its side and am guessing the load shifted on a curve
    Women carrying loads of sticks
    Men carrying large loads on heads
    Tank trucks
    Vehicles of all types coming toward you on your side of the divided highway
    Goats inside taxis – saw twice but only one goat per taxi
    Ambulances
    Ox carts
    Tut tuts with big speakers blaring
    Women with parasols and babies
    Bicycle with canisters straddling the rear wheel
    SUV carrying person and large bag on hood of the SUV
    Vehicles stopped in road for loading/unloading
    Trucks broken down but they do put branches and leaves on front and rear bumpers as a warning they are not moving
    Bicycles with rider selling ice cream from rear attached cart
    White SUVs are always scary -- taxi drivers
    Loud Indian music from 4 loud speakers with sari girls jumping and dancing around it

    There are only a couple of rules of the road in India. After a few minutes of driving most become very obvious. Of course there is, “The only rule is there are no rules”. This is self-explanatory even if you are an American driver.

    Another rule: “Big wins”. A chicken loses to a human who loses to a motorcycle who loses to a car, who loses to a truck, and finally everyone loses to a bus because in order to qualify as a bus driver you must provide medical documentation that you are psychopathic.

    Another rule: “Never back-up and if at all possible go forward far enough to stop traffic in both directions”. This is a rule that all taxi drivers no matter the vehicle they drive must never break or they are kicked out of the brotherhood of taxi drivers.

    And finally an observation: everyone in India is a traffic cop and helps to keep traffic moving. As I approach a break in the traffic where I have maybe six inches on each side of the 4Runner, the opposing taxi driver will look out his side window and wave me on – he doesn’t know I am an American driver and six inches is a ridiculous small space to squeeze my 4Runner through but I do. Pedestrians will step into the middle of stalled traffic in both directions and wave me forward a foot, another car over six inches, a truck forward six feet through the created gap and do it all again until traffic is moving back at its normal 10 mph in at least one direction.

    As long as I am thinking about it, another observation. At the intersections – and it is amazing how few intersections are in towns and villages – there is almost always one to three traffic cops. Not only do these gals and guys keep traffic moving but also they provide lost Americans with directions. Nancy or I have rolled down our window, stuck our head out, and said, “Darjeeling” and the traffic cop points us in the correct direction and will stop traffic for us if we need to turn or whatever.

    OK, I had been driving for almost four days and my confidence was high. Then in a matter of five hours the confidence was gone and I was thinking of abandoning the 4Runner and flying home. This five hours of living hell began innocently enough by beginning the two and a half hour drive into the Himalayan Mountains to Darjeeling. In a matter of minutes the 4Runner was up – up as in the mountain road is straight up – no 6% incline here. Then the road gets narrow – maybe one and half lanes wide. Then the curves – don’t even begin to look for a straight away, guessing the longest straight away is maybe 25 yards – become hairpin turns. These hairpin curves get so tight you have to back up once in the middle of the turn just to complete the turn. Then it gets bad!

    You survive one or two large villages but you are now in Darjeeling. No tut tut or bicycles but how about train tracks in the middle of the road or eight to ten feet from a store front. And yes, this crazy American finally finds a place to pull off to the side of the road and five minutes late the steam engine toy train passes behind the rear bumper with at least a foot and half of space to spare!

    The photograph below was taken from the Toy Train two days later when we rode the train. No tricks with the camera. This is how close the cars and the Toy Train were to each other. At times I could reach out the window and touch a car on one side of the train car and then move to the other side of the car and reach out the window and grab a package of potato chips or someone’s drying laundry.





    In a matter of an hour I scrape the front left fender by cutting it too close to a concrete post and an hour later put my right front fender on top of a small truck’s rear fender. No real damage on the kiss of fenders and neither the truck driver or I stopped to access possible damage – we both kept driving. No harm, no foul.




    We finally found a place to stay in Darjeeling. When we got to the room I sat down in a chair and just babble for an hour. Where was my liter bottle of Wild Turkey when I needed it?

    Three days after Darjeeling and I just think of those five hours of hell as a bad dream. Maybe because on a portion of today’s drive I overheated the brakes and thought we were in serious trouble. The brakes were used for almost an hour without my foot ever touching the accelerator. This was the steepest downhill grade I have ever driven and I didn’t think it was ever going to end. But after 30 minutes sitting on the side of the road and then moving out in Low 1 gear it was another normal drive with us only getting lost two times before arriving at our final destination.

    Photo taken while Nancy and I took a half hour walk into Kalimpong from our room at The Orchid Retreat – an amazing place to stay and highly recommend.





    We passed through Kalimpong on the way to Neora Valley Jungle Lodge about 5 miles or 30 to 40 minutes from Lava, India. This wasn’t the worse part of the road.


    I think it is time I discuss noise. It is a law that all vehicles are to “blow horn” when passing or going into a blind curve. Since any driver is passing a person, or bicycle or motorcycle or car, or truck – but never a bus unless you have a death wish – every few minutes this makes for a lot of horn blowing by every driver.

    Add the constant of one or more horns to the sound of poorly maintained engines and rattling loose metal plus all the others noises that make up India and it is amazing more Indians are not deaf.

    In spite of all of the above Nancy and I both agree no one seems to get upset. Traffic may not flow as smoothly and definitely doesn’t go as fast as in the U.S. but it does flow in an almost waltz like rhythm. As I wrote about driving through Central America – I have just become one with the road.
    LateTom

    2014 Toyota 4Runner 4-Wheel Drive outfitted by Exploration Outfitters ExplorationOutfitters.com
    Skid Plates, BFG99728 - 285/70/17 K02 All Terrain Tires, OME Rear Heavy Load 3" Springs & Shocks, OME Medium Duty Front, FRO Roof Rack w/Camp Table, ARB 4401A-2500 Awing, UWS Foot Locker, Gobi Ladder, Viair Portable Air Compressor, ARB 50 QT Refrig on TemboTusk Slide w/Cutting Board, (2) Odyssey 34R-PC1500T Batteries w/IBS Dual Battery Mgmt, & Dynamat Sound Deading Material Floor & Roof

  2. #2
    Pepto or Imodium AD will be useless. If you dont have any Flagyl with you, I recommend sourcing one from the next pharmacy ASAP. You will thank me later.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
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    Never leave home without Imodium and Cipro. And when we traveled India ten years ago our travel nurse recommended another drug (and I don't have the name in front of me) because most antibiotics no longer work in India -- note this was ten years ago! To date, knock on wood, no need for any stomach medicine in India or Nepal. However, I needed help in Indonesia, we both needed help after a bad fish dinner in Cambodia and Nancy needed help after a bad meal in Tokyo. We have been on the road for 12.5 months and each of us has had to use medicine twice.
    LateTom

    2014 Toyota 4Runner 4-Wheel Drive outfitted by Exploration Outfitters ExplorationOutfitters.com
    Skid Plates, BFG99728 - 285/70/17 K02 All Terrain Tires, OME Rear Heavy Load 3" Springs & Shocks, OME Medium Duty Front, FRO Roof Rack w/Camp Table, ARB 4401A-2500 Awing, UWS Foot Locker, Gobi Ladder, Viair Portable Air Compressor, ARB 50 QT Refrig on TemboTusk Slide w/Cutting Board, (2) Odyssey 34R-PC1500T Batteries w/IBS Dual Battery Mgmt, & Dynamat Sound Deading Material Floor & Roof

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Location
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    Newspaper -- Indian

    "Road accidents claim 17 lives each hour in 2016." "17 lives in 55 accidents per hour" "34.8% of deaths are two wheelers or 150,000 deaths"

    "Road defects killed 5,720 last year" per the Annual Road Accident Report "approximately 9/day due to speed breakers (bumps)" "approximately 6/day due to potholes"

    Indian roads may not qualify as 4 wheel drive roads in the U.S. but you need to be careful and buy the best shocks your money will purchase.
    LateTom

    2014 Toyota 4Runner 4-Wheel Drive outfitted by Exploration Outfitters ExplorationOutfitters.com
    Skid Plates, BFG99728 - 285/70/17 K02 All Terrain Tires, OME Rear Heavy Load 3" Springs & Shocks, OME Medium Duty Front, FRO Roof Rack w/Camp Table, ARB 4401A-2500 Awing, UWS Foot Locker, Gobi Ladder, Viair Portable Air Compressor, ARB 50 QT Refrig on TemboTusk Slide w/Cutting Board, (2) Odyssey 34R-PC1500T Batteries w/IBS Dual Battery Mgmt, & Dynamat Sound Deading Material Floor & Roof

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Apr 2017
    Location
    Gold Country California
    Posts
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    Ah India!! The intrepid and crazy land of my youth! Your pictures aren't showing up, sadly.
    ՈOV Serenity - 2nd gen Dodge 2500 SLT LD, 5.2l gasser, stock with Wildcat AT2 245/75/16.

    'Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.' - Leonardo Da Vinci
    ՈO - Ոnorthodox Overland

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Location
    Apex NC
    Posts
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    india is wonderful..
    my advice after going there for 12 years (5x year for work and pleasure)
    Pharmacies - stock just about everything or the equivalent, no prescription needed just ask for what you want (at the larger ones you will have better chances for it being in stock)
    Cipro 500mg, use for below the lungs (full 5-7 day dose)
    Zitromax 500 (7 day dose) - lungs and above

    start with imodium then move to Metronidazole (Flagyl) if it persists for more the 3 days - keep hydrated regardless. add in Zitromax if needed (broad spectrum).

    Only take them if truly needed .. not only does the it build up in your body but makes the bad stuff more resistant as well

    I loved street food and basically the longest lines were the best.
    Don't drive at night if possible - lorries with no headlights are common going the wrong way.. i'm sure you know that now.
    enjoy i've met some of the best people ever there

    if you get a chance, Hyderabad and Goa are great take time to explore. kerela is really special too - enjoy a boat hotel
    95' D90
    Insanity
    07' LR3 SE
    12' RR

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Apr 2011
    Location
    India
    Posts
    19
    Please accept our apologies for the bad experience you had during your driving time in India. Yes, driving in India is a nightmare specially for somebody coming from the US where people are more disciplined and obey rules rigorously. Most of the people in India believe in destiny, so they believe if they have to die no rules are going to save them hence the chaos on the roads. Looking forward for some more updates and some pictures would be better.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Location
    Marshall, TX
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    amity_shimla, No need for apologies! Neither of us would trade our five months in India for anywhere else -- India is great. We have made two trips to India: 10 years ago for two months using travel companies for the most part and five months this year using Lonely Planet, Expedia, Hotels, and other websites. We were determined to be crazy by the Americans we met and the Indians who couldn't believe anyone would drive their country including themselves. Again, India was great!
    LateTom

    2014 Toyota 4Runner 4-Wheel Drive outfitted by Exploration Outfitters ExplorationOutfitters.com
    Skid Plates, BFG99728 - 285/70/17 K02 All Terrain Tires, OME Rear Heavy Load 3" Springs & Shocks, OME Medium Duty Front, FRO Roof Rack w/Camp Table, ARB 4401A-2500 Awing, UWS Foot Locker, Gobi Ladder, Viair Portable Air Compressor, ARB 50 QT Refrig on TemboTusk Slide w/Cutting Board, (2) Odyssey 34R-PC1500T Batteries w/IBS Dual Battery Mgmt, & Dynamat Sound Deading Material Floor & Roof

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