Calling Traffic in Pune is a Misnomer

Pune Traffic

Pune Traffic

It should be called Horror-affic.  Or maybe something a bit less cheesy than that, but you get the drift.  I’ve driven in New York City, Washington DC, and Los Angeles.  I’ve driven on old country roads that don’t even have a name let alone asphalt (Bob’s Road – watch Twister…you’ll get it).  But riding in Pune Traffic (you’ll notice I did NOT say driving) made me understand just how good we got it!

I was recently reading a blog on Gorigirl.com about driving etiquette in other countries.  The blog, entitled Confluence on the Roads: Thoughts about American, Indian, and German Traffic brought back memories (very fond ones) of my own visit to India.  I thought it would be fun to share these experiences.  Enjoy!

I remember my first trip to India.  I flew into to Mumbai and had a connecting flight to Pune, so was never “fortunate” enough to view the traffic there.

Pune airport was small and a relatively “small town country” kind of airport, being that it was (and still is in some respects) a military airport on the outskirts of Pune.  So, needless to say, leaving the airport the traffic was no more than what I experienced back home and (after 32 hours of travel) I fell asleep and stayed that way until I got to my hotel.

Two nights later, my perceptions of Indian Traffic changed while on my way in to my first night at work in the heart of Pune.  That first night is a lesson in horror that I shall never forget.  Riding around in the back of a taxi or rickshaw for a few days gives you a whole new aspect on life and how much you like living it.

I’m fairly certain my driver (poor Raju) barely missed hitting nine cows of varying sizes and colors, six dogs, two rickshaws and one bicyclist.  We did NOT miss hitting three motorcyclists because it had rained that night, they (the bikers) lost control, skidded into each other while coming up to an intersection, rammed each other, fell down into each other and then my driver slid into them.  Or at least I thought he had.  I started yelling “Raju Raju!!!  Did we hit them?  Are they ok?”  It was only then that I learned he never even so much as tapped them, and after watching the look on my face when I watched them pop back up like little wet and dreary daisy’s did Raju fully understand the complexities of the girl he was to shuttle around for the next three weeks.

Needless to say, he laughed his ass off.  After that, I’m fairly certain Raju took it as his personal mission to get me as used to traffic in India as he possibly could.  I learned that there is no such thing as riding between the lanes there.  There is no such thing as traffic lights or stopping for pedestrian crossing (ask somebody about pedestrian crosswalks in India and watch them look at you like your nuts).  I learned that you must HUSTLE if you’re walking and want to cross to the other side of the road (see no cross walks comment above).  I learned the pedestrian does NOT have the right of way.  I learned that honking your horn is NORMAL and not a sign of impending road rage.  I learned there is no such thing as parking in India because you’ll be lucky to find a space.  There is waiting or piling (we call it double parking).  I learned that Raju likes to weave in and out of lanes, one handed, at top speed and giggle at me sitting in the back covering my eyes going “OH!  OH MAN!”  I sure do miss that guy.  J

Another thing I learned in India about driving…you gotta do it on the wrong side of the road.  Ok ok ok, so I already knew that interesting little tid bit, however, it’s one thing to remember it if your being a back seat driver.  It’s another thing to try and remember it if your silly enough to get one of your friends to let you test drive his brand new, manual geared, driver’s side on the right side Tata Indica Vista.  I was literally obsessed with the idea.  I wondered if my fine tuned manual driving skills would apply to shifting with my left hand instead of my right.  I wanted to know.  NO, I HAD to know.  So I talked my friend into letting me behind the wheel.

Tata Indica Vista

Tata Indica Vista

In my defense, I did a great job getting that car started and backed out of it’s parking space.  I even did great with the shifting of the gears.  I never stalled the car out.  Yep, I didn’t stall that little car out once, the whole time I was driving on the wrong side of the road.  Which would be the right side of the road if we were say….in America.  But being in India, I was, quite literally driving on the wrong side.  The RIGHT hand side.  Down the road I went, with my friends yelling and running behind the car, waving their arms wildly.  I did have the window down but my friend had left his stereo on and I didn’t want to distract myself too much by turning down the sound, so I couldn’t hear them yelling “WRONG SIDE!  Get to the LEFT!”  I thought they were in rapture over my perfecto driving skills and celebrating in the streets.  Ok ok ok, so I didn’t exactly think that, I just thought they were being weirdo boys freaking out over a girl driving their car.  I finally figured it out when I saw a few motorcycles heading my way…head on.  My first thought was “Those fools are driving on the wrong side of the road.”  My second thought was “OH CRAPOLA!”

Then I got over and stopped the bright and shiny little Tata Vista and my friends came wheezing up to the car, holding their sides, laughing like loons and asking me if my days of being the India version of Danica Patrick were over.

Another thing I learned in India…which I knew but had forgotten in my little driving “experiment”.  They measure distance and speed in KILOMETERS not miles.  So while I thought I was doing a nice sedate 55 miles an hour (which here in America is pretty darn slow) in India 55 KILOMETERS is pretty darn FAST.

Now, whether or not I could possibly do it in regular traffic, is another story.  See, I drove that Tata at 3 am in the morning, on the outskirts of Pune on a road leading into technology complex that only employees used.  So I guess you could say my one driving experience in India didn’t really count as far as the whole “Road Warrior Driver” was concerned.

I’m looking forward to someday moving to Pune, purchasing my very own Tata Vista,  learning how to drive on the “right” side of the road, the nuances of honking for every single action I take and then turning right around to drive back home and get my bike ’cause there just ain’t no parking for something so big as the Vista on the streets of Pune!

PS:  I find it hilarious that I am already calling the Vista ‘big’ being that I currently drive a 2003 Dodge Durango.  LOL

Something kind of like this…

Big Car vs Little Car

Big Car vs Little Car

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4 thoughts on “Calling Traffic in Pune is a Misnomer

  1. Aditya doesn’t let his mom see the speedometer when we’re traveling with them in the US. Since the roads are so much smoother than the ones in India, she doesn’t know that we’re going way faster than she’d be comfortable with.

    • Oh man…your comment made me laugh out loud!

      I remember the first time I was driving anywhere with Bear in the car…I had a car load of guys going to an amusement park and he was in the middle rear seat (I have a Durango with the third row option) and I remember “feeling” him lean forward and heard him say…”OH MAN!!! 70 MPH??????” He sounded so terrified that I laughed maniacally and stepped it up to 75. About a month later, I got a speeding ticket for going 72 in 65 and he hasn’t let me live it down since. Bleck. hehehehehe

      • 72 in 65? Was it the end of the month? That’s nearly as outrageous as the highways out here that are marked at 55 when they’re good enough to be going 70 safely.

      • Exactly…not the end of the month but on the 5 freeway…and in Santa Ana at that. They’ve stepped up their patrol in that area due to the Orange Crush…and I wasn’t paying attention. An article had been in either the LA Times or the Orange Country Register about how they were going to start cracking down on anything over 70. 😦

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