Honk OK Please!

3 Feb

One huge aspect of Indian life that will always amaze me is the driving and traffic. I was exhausted by the time each car ride was over because my adrenaline levels spiked so many times during a trip, no matter the duration. And I was only ever a passenger. That the drivers there can navigate the insane roads and traffic so casually and calmly is way beyond comprehension to me.

Except for the line demarcating the split between opposing traffic, there are no obvious lane markings on the roads. Cars, busses, auto-rickshaws, cycle-rickshaws, scooters, motorcycles, trucks and criss-crossing pedestrians are all moving as fast as they can, filling every available space to advance in this chaos. Where in North America a honking horn usually means Move/Go/Eff You/Learn How to Drive You Stupid Asshole, here it’s simply to proclaim “I’m here” behind or beside you. I suspect this is the reason why most trucks on the road there have “Honk Ok Please!” written on their backs. There seems to be a mutual respect among all those sharing these roads. Signals are rarely used, but a simple bleep of the horn somehow indicates an understood intention, whether you are driving alongside another vehicle in a space meant for one, or if you want to overtake. Despite the aggressive driving, there doesn’t seem to be any road rage. It’s a common respect and courtesy that exists between all those on the road. You nudge out of the way for anyone who wants to overtake you, and the tiny gaps that you want to occupy should be taken if it’s available and open. Drivers just aim their vehicles in the direction that they want to travel and just go. Blind spots are never checked. And while turn lanes exist, I was convinced that these too were just for show. It’s common for anyone to make a turn at the last possible moment from the lane in which they’re currently situated, cutting across all lanes of traffic with no negative consequence.

One common sight that never failed to astonish me is the number of people or the configurations of people you see on motorbikes, which have a huge advantage here on the streets here because they’re able to squeeze in and out of the tightest spaces and still advance quickly and unscathed. You often see families of four piled onto these motor bikes. And one night in New Delhi, we were driving back through rush hour traffic, which could only really be described as frenzied gridlock. We saw a motorbike with a female passenger sitting side-saddle and talking on her cell phone. She held onto nothing else but her phone.

Crossing the street as a pedestrian is like a game of Frogger. Slightly death-defying, completely thrilling. As swiftly as possible, you take a few steps forward behind a vehicle that has just passed, quick enough so that you don’t become road-kill for the next approaching vehicle. I quickly learned that the best and quickest way to cross a street was to find some locals who were also crossing, and use them as a shield and a guide at the same time, mirroring their steps so that I could safely navigate across the street too. Walk when they walk, and stop when they stop.

This is the congested main artery of the famous Chandni Chowk market in Delhi.


Everyone's gotta get somewhere, and here, there are really no road rules.

Their answer to the mini van. This one still had some empty seats.

Driving at night wasn't any less harrowing. Look—that's me snapping the picture in the mirror!

Jockeying for position, every last gap on the street is filled by every kind of vehicle.


5 Responses to “Honk OK Please!”

  1. Steph S C-O February 4, 2011 at 9:16 am #

    Wow!!! That’s crazy! They do that honking thing in the Philippines too. And I also learned that when they flash their headlights it doesn’t mean “go-ahead”. It means “watch out I’m not stopping”.

  2. Maureen February 5, 2011 at 2:31 pm #

    riding a motorbike with a family of 4 on it??!! now that’s talent! wow, their road etiquette is the same as in the Philippines. i swear they are better drivers because they know how to weave in and out of traffic by following no rules!

  3. Elisse February 6, 2011 at 11:50 pm #

    Good observations about traffic in India. Like Steph and Maur, your thoughts are similar to what I’ve experienced being back in the Motherland. And mad passenger-riding skills to the girl on the cell phone!


  1. Tales of a Road Runner | Wake Up and Smell the Coffee - March 6, 2011

    […] Honk OK Please! (stingaling.wordpress.com) […]

  2. Dressing the Part « A Simple Kind of Life - March 26, 2011

    […] long and busy day of settling into our accommodations, meeting family over lunch, and experiencing Indian traffic during the day for the first terrifying time of my life. By the time we got to the market, we had […]

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