Driving in Delhi was summarized best by other expats who have lived here for a few years — “It’s like swimming in a school of fish.” Prior to hearing that explanation, I had only thought of it as chaos, but after thinking about it, the swimming in a school of fish is truly the best way to understand the order of driving here.
No one uses their rear view mirror. You just worry about what is ahead of you and if someone approaches you by the side, they usually honk their horn to let you know they are there. In fact, large trucks have painted on the back “HORN PLEASE” encouraging other drivers to honk if they are going to approach them on the side. Yes, horns have got to be one of the most commonly used pieces of equipment here in India.
There are lanes painted on the road, but they are obsolete. I have witnessed one direction of traffic decide that they were more important than the opposite traffic so they occupied 2 of the 3 lanes that belonged to that side of the road. So, yes, the best way to understand how it is all organized is the school of fish thought. Everyone is driving as tightly together as possible in search of their destination.
On the roads, one will find all different types of transportation.
- By foot — here the pedestrian does not seem to haves the right of way. One crosses the road at their own risk and best to do in a group of people. People are found walking by foot on all types of roads, even the main tollway that Tyler travels through each day to work.
- By bicycle — It is very common here to see a father riding a bicycle in the morning with one child holding onto him on the back of the seat, and a second child sitting on the handle bars all dressed in their school uniforms going to school. Deliveries are often done on bicycle. I have seen 8-10 mattresses stacked high on a wagon cart with a bicycle pulling it to make a delivery.
These carts can be pulled by hand or tied up to a bicycle to transport almost anything.
- By motorcycle — motorcycles are EVERYWHERE. Our driver has lost one sideview mirror in the past month to a motorcycle and probably been bumped several times as well. If there are a few inches of space between cars, motorcyclists will try to squeeze in ahead. They definitely get to their destinations fastest. It is extremely common to see a motorcycle with a husband, wife, and two children all riding on it. It is the law for the man to wear a helmet which you will see on every motorcycle but forget about the small head of a child — nothing protecting it. Women ride side saddle on the motorcycle and are often seen carrying a small baby in her arms.
- By rickshaw — there is a bicycle rickshaw and an auto rickshaw. Near small neighborhood markets, bicycle rickshaws are prevalent hoping to make some money taking someone home with their groceries. Tyler and Hailey rode one home from the market after walking to get some ice cream one afternoon. They said “it was wild!”. The auto rickshaws are seen everywhere. They are green and yellow and three-wheeled. We have seen these rickshaws stuffed full with about eight people riding in one.
- By taxi — there are auto taxis available and we have seen them most frequently around the embassies and there are always a few parked outside the American Club. The taxi drivers there have a few cots they lay on throughout the day in the shade of a tree as they wait for a patron. I understand that many of these do not have air conditioning so the open air rickshaws are sometimes preferred.
- Public transportation — there are buses and some underground subways and trains available. The city buses are usually “stuffed” full of people. So full that you wonder how they could breathe, especially with no air conditioning. I have no experience with the subways and trains yet, but I am sure they each have a story to be told.
- Automobile — for expats having a car and a driver is the number one mode of transportation. I have to say that moving to such a sprawling city like Delhi, having a driver is wonderful! It would take me all day to figure out where I was driving, but instead I just tell the driver and he drops me off — never having to worry about finding parking spot. The driver’s mobile number is the most frequently phone number, letting him know to pick you up, etc. When you walk out of school, there is a huge lineup of drivers waiting to pickup and let me say that it is hard to distinguish your car from all the rest. Cars are much smaller here and the small Toyota Innova van we are driving in right now is one of the largest cars on the road.
With the lack of organization on the roads, it is surprising that more accidents are not seen. But if you look at nearly every car, it is evident that each car has had its bumps and bruises. Let’s just say that NO ONE would worry about a door ding in their car here. That would not even be noticed among the other bumps and scratches on the vehicle. Fortunately, one is rarely driving fast enough to create too much damage if a fender bender occurs.
During the second week here, I witnessed the first bit of “road rage.” My driver was taking me home from dropping the children off at school. All traffic had come to a halt. About ten rows of cars ahead of us, two cars had bumped into each other and a man from each car was standing in the middle of the road having a full on fist fight. It was not until another man stepped out of is car and asked them if they could please move it to the side so that the traffic was able to move again. Our driver laughed as he saw my surprise over it. He acted like it was not a big deal at all.