Controlled Chaos: Getting around in India

When I first arrived to India, I had instant culture shock. My taxi ride from the airport to the city center was a curious experience especially since we would often drive into oncoming traffic on the highway towards New Delhi. Lanes were clearly painted but it seemed following the rules of the road was really more optional than anything given that 3 lanes would become six or seven. Throughout my stay in the city I observed all sorts of oddities on the road from packs of dogs that ruled the streets at night, to luxury cars sharing a lane with buffalo pulled carts; in India you get around using anything and everything.

One of the few positives of the British legacy in India was the infrastructural development in the forms of tens of thousands of kilometers of railroad tracks stretching from the tropical beaches and backwater canals of Kerala up through the wide-stretches of the Gangetic Plain and up through the seemingly impassable drops of the mountainous Punjab. Indian Railways is pretty notorious for being crowded and having trains arrive late, if you’re unlucky they might not arrive at all. During winter months, heavy morning fog leads to lots of delays, making traveling during this time a veritable nightmare. Often it can take several days to finally find a train that will take you where you need to go. Yet due to cars being very expensive for average Indians and the roads of the country sorely lacking, trains remain one of the most common ways to get around.

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The oldest terminal in India, Delhi Railway Station

Unlike the massive infrastructure developments of India and Japan that have in the past decades built an immense network of high-speed rails, India has lagged behind preferring to use these vestiges of imperial times. To be certain many of the trains are modern and can go upwards of 100 kilometers per hour yet on average trains go little more than 25 kph. In recent years India has begun to plan to partner with Japan and construct high-speed rails with the 2022 being the goal of finishing; it remains to be seen if this will actually occur. They’ll probably have to do something about really packed trains where people even get on the roof to ride; I don’t think that’d be very smart when it comes to going hundreds of kilometers per hour.

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Before the taxi driver decided to play chicken with oncoming traffic

Getting around cities can be a real adventure. Your best bet is to get a taxi, they are pricey compared to other transports but by and large pretty safe unless your taxi driver decides to go full speed into oncoming traffic when it’s so foggy that you can’t see. It is a nice adrenaline rush though, I guess. Another good way to get around is the very cheap tuk-tuk, though drivers don’t always know English so having knowledge of Hindi or someone that knows the language will help. Still the affordable price and open air nature of the tuk-tuk is a good way to see the city if you’re going shorter distances.

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In Jaipur I saw motorcycles, tuk-tuks, camels, elephants all on the road

The New Delhi Metro also serves as a relatively cheap way to go around but it is very crowded. Imagine going into a train closely packed with others to the point where you can’t move. To add to this further, imagine smelling other people, many of whom seem not to use deodorant. The good thing is women have their own train car guarded by police in order to combat the high-rate of sexual assault that occurs in crowded places. At the very least, the Delhi Metro is both clean and cheap which is more than can be said of other modes of transport.

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If you’re like and and prefer to save on money, there’s always the option to walk. I’ve walked a lot while traveling, often going upwards of 10 km because I don’t feel like getting on a crowded bus where people are literally clinging to the door and windows because it is so packed that no people can humanly fit anymore. It’s also good to not spend money on taxis that can get pricey if you travel longer distances; instead you can use that money on food and work up an appetite as you explore the city up-close, a win-win in my book.

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