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A rough guide to Indian roads.

January 23, 2010

After nearly two years of experience of living in India, I would risk a thesis, that cultural difference is nowhere as visible, as on its roads. Westerner who makes a foolish mistake of heading out on the road without proper preparation, would find himself in a “shock and awe” within a minute from starting his car (or any other vehicle for that matter).

As a quite experienced driver in India – both bike and car – I think I’m ready to share sort of a basic guide, a crash course… (believe me, every attempt to drive here inevitably begins or ends up with a crash) on driving in India.

But no worries, driving in India is actually way simpler than anywhere else in the world. Forget all the complicated rules and trust your intuition. Drive where the place is on the road, no matter which lane is it or even which direction. If you follow few basic rules mentioned below and move slow but consequently, so that others could adjust their behaviour to yours, you’re on the safe side. Remember – nothing is impossible!

Ladies and gentleman. Fasten your seatbelts if you have any!

PS. Following stunts had been performed by a crazy man. Don’t try it at home! Driving in Delhi is the deadliest in India!

1. Preparing a vehicle

Enter the vehicle, start the engine, check the horn* and dipper. If you have rear view mirrors – make sure they’re hidden, otherwise you will lose them soon. Now, you’re ready to go.

2. Signs and traffic lights:

green light = go

orange light = go

red light = you might consider stopping or slowing down, but not necessarily

Haven’t seen any other signs than speed limits, “bikes not allowed” and “rickshaws not allowed”. If you see any of them just ignore it.

c) Communicating with other drivers

Indicators – blinking (usually) orange lights on a vehicle, used together if you want to signal you are about to do something weird on the road (i.e. backing up on the highway or driving against the traffic)

Full headlight – always on. There is a competition called “I got stronger lights than you”.

“Dipping” – acts like a horn at night.

Horn – remember, “Horn OK Tata”. Sound of the horn is the national anthem of India. Indicates any action you want to take on road or even just your presence. In example:

You want to go straight – honk and go straight

You want to go right/left – honk twice and go right. You might consider sticking your arm out of window while turning to show you’re turning.

– you want to overtake – keep on honking till you’re done

– you’re happy – honk

– you’re sad – honk slowly

– you’re angry – honk furiously with no reason

– you’re Punjabi – honk the bhangra sounds

– you’re truck driver – honk BIG

– you have a scooty- get yourself a BIG horn and pretend you’re a truck, people will make space on road before they realize they’ve been punked

3) Priority on road:

first – the biggest (truck, bus, train) – WARNING: this rule can be observed also on a one way road. Trucks tend to go against the traffic for a shortcut. Don’t try to play James Dean with them!

second – the biggest horn (mimicry technique)

later – the fastest one to enter

very last – trespassers

* Once we were driving down the mountains, from app. 3000m altitude, in a rain, in the evening . Our cab wasn’t in perfect condition – lights were working like they wanted, our wipers weren’t working at all, breaks seemed to be a bit too soft, but our driver wasn’t discouraged until the horn went off. Then he has slown down, gripped the steering wheel tight and leaned towards the window… and stopped by the next mechanic to fix it.

** Observe number of scratches on the car. The more it has, the least you can trust the driver.

*** BONUS: How to deal with the police (WARNING: applies to firangis/goras ONLY) – since police guys, as most of the other people around, would be pretty curious(and maybe even astonished) about you driving a car/bike, you can use it as your asset. In example, imagine you wanted to take a shortcut and go against the traffic, since the nearest U-turn was two kilometers further down the road. And just after you started doing it, you noticed a police officer few meters ahead. Solution? Just approach him and ask for direction, tell him you’re from *** country, look lost and at the end, tell that you don’t understand his explanation and can ou just go ahead against the traffic. Believe me – he’ll let you go! Tested!

Please share with me if I missed anything important!

Few nice examples:

8 Comments leave one →
  1. jenny and dave permalink
    January 24, 2010 10:47 am

    Thanks for the guide. I still don’t think we’re brave enough to try, but you never know…

  2. Leia permalink
    January 29, 2010 9:37 pm

    I really feel like I should say something in my country’s defense but most of this is true. But I have to say, this holds true mostly for the smaller roads… least in Bangalore. The bigger ones (few as they are) still have some sense of road rules.
    But then when you can get your driver’s license without even going to the license office, let alone a test, what more can you expect?

  3. February 1, 2010 5:24 am

    let alone having one… it’s not necessary really, since everyone I know carries the copy only…

    anyways – Bangalore has a little more sense of traffic rules, maybe it’s because it has pavements? Delhi or Gurgaon are a total improvisation…

  4. February 28, 2010 5:21 pm

    Oh this made me laugh, so very true and your tips are great! I remember this well in India (and never dared to drive) in 10 months of living there. I took some photographs capturing the spirit of road traffic in India (you can take a look at my site if you like). Thanks for this and am enjoying reading your blog!

  5. August 2, 2010 12:19 pm

    I could visualize everything that you mentioned up there! M not a firangi (Kuire- Nepali) but I have had my share of encounters with traffic police of Delhi. You can drive without a license- for months and can go unnoticed by traffic police. Cool, perhaps, isn’t it considering the hassle that one has to go through to get one? It’s easier to learn driving, drive around Delhi efficiently than get a license without bribing touts at the transportation office. Well, not that you can drive w/o license always. Once I was caught ‘overstepping’ a red light- it was green, I promise at India Gate. The policeman asks for license which I didn’t have. He was stunned but I wasn’t. He asks for the RC card which I duly present to him. Then he starts doing the math. No license, overstepping a red light and a few other offences that I don’t remember. Rs. 2800, he told me.

    “Are bhaiya, how can you do that to me?” I protested. “That’s not fair.”

    “Ok, how much?” he asked.

    I thought for a few seconds. “Ok, Rs. 100,” I said.

    It’s his turn to be stunned. “No way,” he said. “Impossible.”

    It was my turn to calm him down. A few offer had to be made. Time was running out. It was 9 o’clock in the night.

    “Ok, take this,” I handed him over two crispy notes of Rs. 100.

    “No, no,” he said. “Ok.”
    “Ok,” I said.

    Everything was ok. When men are willing to solve problems they can stop a war, this was far too smaller a problem for us to be unsolved amicably, I thought.

  6. brakelog permalink
    November 26, 2010 7:30 pm

    yeah , all is right. Good review. But i guess you have missed to say that in 80% of the cars, people carry guns, many of them just home made , but effective.

    The road rage is the worst I have ever seen. Neighbors even kill each others for disputes of a parking space.

    The first time I got a gun pointing at me from the copilot of the car beside me, because I didn’t wait and allowed him to do his wrong U turn, I did the same. Got my gun, my baseball bat , a knife, an electric shock and an iron fist to keep it in my car just in case. I have used the electric shock twice.

    Is not easy being a white firangi in delhi


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