We discovered some rules of the road:
- He who is loudest wins.
Urban traffic in India is a miasma of vehicular and non-vehicular traffic, including such diverse things as cars, semis, motor-rickshaws (three-wheeled taxis), bicycle-rickshaws, motor scooters, elephants, goats, dogs, children, chickens, bearers, push-carts, camels, buses, etc. These things are all moving. If you want to pass anything, honk your horn. Everyone else will start honking too. If you don't have a horn, shout. He who is loudest gets the right-of-way. Everyone else moves over to the left (unless they are in a hurry; everyone in India is in a hurry). If the other vehicles and livestock don't yield to the loudest horn, that vehicle with the right-of-way enters the lane of oncoming traffic and passes those ahead. Especially on a busy street at rush hour. This especially fun when you are in a flimsy motor-rickshaw, with a semi bearing down on you.
- Don't hit the cows.
In addition to the moving traffic, you have a number of stationary targets, er, obstacles, including cows, beggars, street repair crews, double-parked cars and trucks and elephants. You are in the right as long as you don't hit the cows. The cows can be ANYWHERE in the street. Usually they sit on the median, but you can find them sitting in the middle of the road. All traffic flows around the cow. Other animals or people are not so lucky.
- All roads shall be repaired once every 20 years, whether they need it
The state of road surfaces in India is a miracle of hand labor. Everything is done by hand, including the removal of old asphalt (burn a fire on top of the road until it gets soft), laying the stone underlayment, mixing concrete (usually right on top of the street), and leveling the surface. The tools are shovels and picks and brooms. This insures that the maximum amount of work for the repair crews. This also insures the maximum amount of disruption of traffic, because the process of resurfacing a stretch of road will take a minimum of five years. When they are done resurfacing, the condition of the road is nearly identical to previous, meaning full of potholes, very uneven, etc. And since most vehicles lack any sort of suspension, a short ride around town is a bone-jarring, exhausting, white-knuckled adventure. The process of building a one mile stretch of new road takes about ten years.
OK, enough of the rules of the road. Now let me tell you a story about a trip from the Delhi airport to a house some unknown distance away.
We were on our way directly to a wedding and we were late (the plane was late getting in). We hired a taxi to take us there. We showed them (driver and buddy) the address and they said they knew where it was. The dispatcher said they knew where it was, and we pay them (always get prepaid taxis at the airport). We got into the taxi and left the airport.
Two minutes later, the driver turns on the radio full blast with the most screeching Indian pop music. The speakers were right behind our heads. When I say full blast, I mean that most ghetto blasters would melt. After five minutes of shouting over the music to get them to turn it off, where they claim not to understand what we are asking, they finally turned it off.
Remember, we are in a hurry. After driving all the way around the airport, we arrive at an airport gas station to fill up with petrol. We spend at least 10 minutes in the gas station. The driver tries to get me to pay for the gas, but I refuse. So, we all leave in a good mood. Fifteen minutes later, we are cruising down the road and the driver hits another car. We stop for another ten minutes, while the taxi driver and the other driver shout at each other in Hindi. Well, I think it was Hindi. They may have been shouting in two different languages for all I know. Then the police stop to see what is up. They flash a flashlight in on us to see if we're criminals or something. Then they join in the shouting match. In five more minutes, everybody is quite happy and we get back on the road.
After another half hour on the road, it appears the driver and his buddy are looking for where to go. They ask us again what city it is in. We tell them and they drive for another ten minutes. Then they want to know what street, and we drive for another ten minutes. Finally, they ask someone on the street where to go, and we drive for another ten minutes. Now we are close, so they ask another passerby. Four blocks away. We arrive in front of the house and get out.
The driver unloaded our bags from the trunk. THEN HE ASKED FOR A TIP!