Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Up, up over the mountain

India is a nation in everyday anarchy. Nowhere is this clearer than on the roads, which tout a Western ethos of striped lanes and medians—and then proceed to ignore both. Drivers squeeze their vehicles into the most improbable gaps. They don't use turn signals. They drive against the flow of traffic. Sitting in autorickshaws and taxis, I was surprised, though never terrified. The drivers swiveled and swerved with an experienced grace, ballerinas on three wheels. Yet when I got on my bus bound for McLeod Ganj, I discovered that there was a whole new level to the chaos of Indian roads.

The bus itself was an artifact, a relic of bygone mobility. Beneath me I heard the axle scrapping against the hull. When the driver pressed the brakes, there was a loud screech, then one second, two seconds, three seconds, four before the bus actually began to slow. Most the windows were jammed closed, and the various fans and AC units were broken. Forty sweltering bodies crammed into a tin can in the Indian heat.

As with most professions in India, bus drivers don't tackle their job alone. Three sat in the isolated booth at the front of the vehicle, though it was unclear whether or not they rotated duties. If they did, they approached the road with a common attitude. The goals was to get us there as quickly as possible, and they pushed their steel relic faster than anyone else on the road.
Most the other passengers where Western tourists, which thrilled me. After three days surrounded by Indians, it was a relief to be back amongst my element, talking with people I didn't suspect of scamming me. We shared stories of our stay in New Delhi, and I met a man from Texas who was studying dance in McLeod Ganj. He'd already been there for a month, and I made a note of befriending him so he could show me around.

Several of the other passengers were terrified of the ride up, especially as the well paved New Delhi roads degraded into potholes and finally gravel. Ascending the mountains to McLeod Ganj was particularly worrisome, given the bus's uncanny brake system and the steep ledges we skirted alongside. Still, the drivers handled themselves with typical Indian precision, and I found myself relaxing in the back of the bus. As I'd observed in my first day in this country, the drivers in India might seem chaotic, but they know what they're doing. Anarchy works when everyone agrees on how to ignore the rules.


  1. this is my new favorite website

  2. It's good to read up on your experiences, Timothy. I hope your adventures continue and you adapt rapidly and comfortably to your new home!