India diary: vip cows and rickshaws

Getting around is extremely cheap here and there’s a range of vehicles at your disposal. We tend to walk to and from school each morning and evening but if we’re going to visit another team in the city or leaving our general area we’ll usually get an auto, taxi, rickshaw or metro. You’ll find autos in most Asian countries and they are basically a motorbike with a cab for the driver and 3 or 4 passengers. A rickshaw is the better-known bicycle equivalent.  A taxi is a taxi and the metro is the metro.

Taxis have the advantage of being safer but harder to order over Indian telephone and they’re more costly. Rickshaws are pretty uncomfortable on the rough roads but very cheap on the flip side. Autos are cheap too, very speedy and quite compact for dodging traffic, but beware that the drivers tend to have little English and they can be any combination of crazy, grumpy, aggressive or drunk. Personally I love autos.

We’re encouraged to use our heads when waving down autos. If you find that you’ve made a bad choice of driver, or that anything suspect is happening during your trip then the recommended course of action is shout, bang, shout, scream and bang until they stop and let you out. They say no-one wants to kidnap a crazy person.

Arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times. This needs to be stressed. If you have a fourth passenger then this tends to be more difficult because Autos weave in and out of the tightest spots so unless you feel like losing an arm to a passing lorry….

Beeping is the Indian version of indicators. If you’re on the road and you don’t hear constant horns and bells then you’ve probably been brought somewhere untrustworthy and it’s time to implement the old shout-bang-scream routine.

Cows feature here yet again. They will wander up and down the busiest roads with all traffic swerving to avoid.  Occasionally you’ll come across a decked-out cow with all the tassels and bells and whistles.  We can only presume these are higher in the cow hierarchy as they are given VIP treatment such as their own slow lane.  They’re like living traffic bollards.

When walking in the less developed regions the roads become less flat and more like our own country lanes back home except with more potholes, more dust and more sewage flowing from the roadside gullies. These gullies range in depth and width and are only sometimes covered so we’ve had a few close calls where someone was close to being knee-deep or even neck-deep in something unpleasant.

The metro is really a credit to Delhi. Entry through turnstiles and security frisking is the norm with ladies-only carriages and special seating for the wonderfully phrased ‘differently abled’. One particularly busy occasion meant that the male passengers (myself included) were forced to spill over into the last and ladies carriage. On hopped the metro police (a division of the Indian army no less) and they made quick work of kicking us over-spillers onto the platform. I was travelling with three of the girls on my team who were still comfortably seated in their lovely feminine carriage. The doors closed leaving me stranded at one of the hundreds of unknown metro stops. Only for one more opening of the doors and a quick sprint past about 5 or 6 packed carriages I would have found myself in an awkward and lonely situation.

It is possible to jump the barriers if you have forgotten your metro card but they do keep a good eye on things and we almost found out the hard way that it is easy to spot the fee-avoiders when they are the palest, tallest and most confused looking people in the crowd.

Taxis bring a bit of comfort and security if you have a late-night journey or a particularly long one. Be warned though that if you decide to leave the window open here to enjoy the breeze you’ll finish your journey with a face like that of a chimney sweep.

Crossing the road is another story altogether. The Indian people themselves seem very lax when it comes to this activity. It’s kind of like when Harry Potter goes through the wall at platform nine and three-quarters; you run at it and hope you aren’t involved in some sort of head-on collision.

General safety is pretty much abandoned here. Seatbelts are non-existent, the stubs of wing mirrors are the most you’ll see in that regard, and when it comes to passenger numbers the sky is the limits. Rooves, trailers, mudguards, handlebars; if it’s a nearly horizontal surface then you can fit one more. We’ve seen what looks like entire extended families travelling in one pick-up or motorcycle, and it looked like they’d each brought a friend too.

The views expressed in Dan's diaries are his own personal observations of life in India and not the views of the organisation he is working with or his partner school.