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Traffic in India – what to expect

When you arrive in India for the first time, you are in for a big culture shock depending on which part of the world you’re coming from as far as traffic in India is concerned. At its best, its chaotic, which is perhaps a light word to describe the traffic in India; the word better used would be “manic”. As soon as you step out of the airport, you’re going to feel extremely hot. Imagine this, you have something cooking in the oven and you want to check if it’s done or not so you open the door with your face close to the oven and then it hits you, the heat of course. This is exactly what it’s like walking out of the airport in India in the summer.

You then step in a prepaid taxi and travel towards the centre of the city. You can’t help noticing the huge number of cars, buses, auto-rickshaws, all cramped in one small lane and honking at each other. Sometimes even I have to wonder if it will ever improve. But to be honest, I have witnessed traffic going from bad to worse. Perhaps it’s the economic prosperity, perhaps it’s the price of cars falling, or perhaps it’s the lack of vision of the Indian transport ministry, or lack of pragmatism or simply red tape in dealing with traffic matters’, I don’t know but the traffic situation in most parts of the country is extremely bad. Indians have to endure such traffic twice a day, 5 times a week.

There are no traffic rules in India (…most of the time)

You’re bound to get some experience of India’s chaotic streets. You’ll notice that driving in India is not about following traffic rules; it’s about convenience and driving how you please. If you have a bigger vehicle, you have the right of way. You’ll find buses racing towards roundabouts not taking into considering what’s coming from the other exist; you won’t find trucks stopping at give ways, or pillion riders with helmets and no one uses indicators, there will be underage bike riders, whole families travel on two wheelers and so on. Everything seems to be a state of anarchy in eyes of a first time tourist to India. The fact is that there are no traffic rules in India.

Family on bikes

Family on bikes

Then there are the pigs chewing away at the garbage dump on the side of the road, dogs wandering around looking for food and then the cows and goats grazing as if they own the roads. If you’re in Jaipur, you’ll find wild monkeys as well. Nowhere in the world, will you find such madness except in India. Compared to western standards, traffic and road safety, road regulations or traffic rules or etiquettes in India are nothing more than a joke.

However, even though it’s chaotic and very extremely dangerous, the system somehow works. Things like road rage or drink drive do exist but it’s not as bad as some countries of the world such as New York City or Miami. However sad reality is that more people are killed in traffic accidents than in any other country.

Traffic in India

Don’t be surprised to see scenes like this.

What to expect and how to be careful on Indian roads:

When crossing the road; if you are in multiples then hold your hands and walk together slowly, looking on either way.

Zebra crossings do exist but it’s mostly for decorative purposes, most Indians don’t even know what it is. So be careful. In other words, don’t bother using it.

Watch out on roundabouts or give ways, rules are often flaunted and don’t expect anyone to stop and let you cross the road.

There are no such thing as road etiquettes, be prepared to be honked it.

Be prepared to sit in traffic for hours especially during rush hour.

Be prepared to face beggars and street vendors while waiting in traffic.

If you’re driving and you do see a cow, drive around it. If you accidently hit the cow then be prepared to be sent to prison (I think this is a myth). I haven’t seen anyone hit a cow before.

The top 2 worst traffic cities in India are New Delhi, none other than India’s capital and Mumbai, the financial capital of India. With a population of 14 million, seems as if every single seems to be out on the streets during rush hour in Delhi. The trouble with Mumbai commuters is that they think the car in front is run by their horn and not gasoline.

But be it cars, taxis, rickshaws, motorbikes, scooters, pedestrians, cows and goats, it’s all controlled chaos and everything does seem to work and there is really nothing to worry about. All you need to do is brave it and come back alive. Make sure you buy your travel insurance!

This video was recently taken by a friend of mine in Agra (city where the Taj Mahal is located). You can pretty much expect similar kind of traffic across India.

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34 Responses to “Traffic in India – what to expect”

  1. Ayush Jain says:

    Haha reality of Indian Transport system :P but i’ve noticed this is more in metropolitan cities like New Delhi and not here in cities of Punjab :D
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  2. Sapna says:

    HI Shalu jee,

    It is the fact that there are few traffic rules abiding citizens. Everyone seems to be in rush.

    Thanks to our municipal corporation that we are seeing animals like cows and dogs on road.

    You have rightly said that holding hands and then crossing road is the best option available.

    Your second picture really depicts the sorry state of transport of our nation and Let Govt of India sees that through your website.

    Thanks for this.

    Sapna
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  3. Glad you came up with this post Shalu!

    Don’t we all get caught in traffic sometime or the other, and keep waiting endlessly for it to clear up! The case is much worse of course in the metros as compared to some of the cities. However, some smaller and older cities have a worse scenario where traffic is concerned.

    I guess a lot depends on the administration and how they manage things. Nevertheless, I liked the tips you shared here, and like I keep telling my kid’s when they are moving around…a rule of thumb is – no matter what – if you are driving – YOU need to be careful. You really can’t blame another for their traffic sense won’t be similar to yours either ways – isn’t it?

    And not to mention the stray animals that we find in huge numbers in our country, which I hope could be taken care of foremost.

    Thanks for sharing this with us and reminding everyone too. :)
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    • Shalu Sharma says:

      Hi Harleena, the traffic in some places are getting bad to worse. Sometimes you find yourself sitting in traffic and consuming fumes if you happen to be in an auto-rickshaw. The administration is to blame. They have no idea what to do with it, they come up with rules but often are not implemented. Thank you for your comment.
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  4. While the sales of automobiles are touching the sky and the vehicle population is going beyond the reach, the Indian roads remain archaic in the absence of long range planning. Nice read. I share your concern.

  5. Jay says:

    Hi Shalu Ji,

    It’s always a pleasure to read your articles, they’re always full of information for the poor, unsuspecting tourists visiting our country.

    I can wholeheartedly vouch for this topic. Traveling on Indian roads is a nightmare. Period. I think it would be sensible and better for any tourists visiting India, to leave all forms of common sense and logic behind in their home country, as that won’t work here. Quite sad but it is true. Indian traffic defies all forms of explanation and theories.

    Actually, it would be wise if the tourists didn’t venture out on their own, for their own safety. They should go with a car and a guide.

    Another post full of knowledge. :)

    Regards

    Jay
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  6. Abhishek says:

    First time landed here and really liked your articles. Keep up the good work Shalu ji
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  7. Hi Shalu,

    I really enjoyed this post and wanted to apolozied for not coming here more ofen. I promise I will add your blog as those I visit regularly.

    Well, let me tell you, I will never drive in India :) I am not the kind of person who could drive in such chaos, because I’ll be way too scared.

    But, you know every time we see image of India, that’s what we see, busy streets with cars all over the place. I totally get the picture.

    Thanks for this interesting post.
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  8. Michael Belk says:

    Wow Shalu that was nerve wrecking to watch. Are there any traffic cops?

    I am not sure where everyone is going in such a hurry but they are trying to get there.

    I know the system has been in place for a long time, but wouldn’t some type of order be helpful?
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  9. selva says:

    Hi,
    This blog really interesting about how the road traffic in India ,this is might biggest worry in peak hours in roads in India ,In peak hours every vehicle users might look for alternate way to reach destinations.
    Thanking you

  10. Fazal Mayar says:

    thanks alot for this post mate. Yes imagine crodws in a place like Mumbai, it would feel stressful.
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  11. Shorya Bist says:

    Hi Shalu ji,

    Wow interesting topic but yet i hate this thing about India.I have lived many places in India But Specially in Mumbai it is like Hell of Cars rikshaws Buses People and streets & Roads are very narrow.I have very bad experiences here due to traffic.I hate to drive here But source here can be a two wheeler. In car you have to stand in line at every signals for several minutes.
    I was in delhi before but there the roads are very broad so travelling is litle better yes but old delhi is same as mumbai.

    I also do believe that traffic system is really very weak in India.

    Thank You
    Shorya Bist
    From Youthofest
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  12. Hello dear
    My first visit to this blog and glad to say that i ve found it very informative. Really thanks to you by sharing such a nice information.keep it going..
    Thank you
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  13. vipbags says:

    reality of Indian Transport system..and it is a sad reality for every Indians face everyday..and i have noticed that this is more in metro cities like banagalore delhi….etc. and i face this type of problem everyday sometime i am frusted..anyways thanx for sharing very nice post…

  14. John says:

    You website is well maintained and appearance is great. You are simply great guys and nice to see you online.

  15. Joy says:

    Phew! Thanks for the heads up. I love Indian movies and I want to see those sites someday. Just like the ICE from the movie “3 Idiots”. Thanks for giving me an idea what to expect. :)

  16. Joy says:

    Hilarious! It was a nice time reading your post. Though I am not really sure if I was aware about bad lip reading before. Thanks a lot! :)

  17. Stacey says:

    Pretty scary if you’d ask me, but I’m still giddy to visit India this Summer. The sights are very promising and the culture is definitely amazing.

  18. Kelly says:

    Thanks for letting us know about the traffic there in India. I guess traffic is a rampant problem everywhere but it would be nice if the government would do something about it.
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  19. Clara says:

    Thank you for the very informative post. I’m a traveler and my next destination is India. Your post gave me a lot of ideas on how careful I should be when I am finally on an Indian road.

  20. Jaspreet says:

    Amazing ! Incredible India !!!!!! But its the reallity of the Indians !! Thanks for this info !!!!!!

  21. Purnima from landlord software says:

    Truly interesting share Shalu .
    You have put forth the real picture on roads and its so much an integral part of our everyday life in India that I was smiling throughout the share. What to expect when on Indian roads was true to the core .

  22. Senthil says:

    most of the rules breakers are educated peoples…it’s very sad fact…

  23. Julidarma says:

    This conditions is also happen in any place in my country. I thinks this happen because the population in India that is large.
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  24. I just couldn’t believe the traffic and driving situation and conditions outside of Hyderabad even, it is a drivers nightmare and frankly I just can’t handle that kind of pressure. I would always taxi or pay for a driver myself.
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  25. For real? Then it is best to book everything with the right company if one is planning to go on a trip there.

  26. Damdama Lake says:

    Excellent Post!Thank you so much for sharing such valuable information.

  27. Seema says:

    Sister shalu I like always your articles very much some people are posting articles without knowing the basic step of communication and writing skills.
    You have the ability and know the way of how to convince your reader to read the whole article, very creative post, just keep it going.
    Thank you
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  28. Hitesh says:

    Dear Madam, Best Way to survive in Indian Traffic is to cool down, I am In the field of Road Safety, since 3 Decade. Daily Minimum Driving Approx. 50 Km/Day. We have to change our attitude, As we Say in Trg., High tech Car,Medium tech Rd. & Lower our mentality. It’s A Dangerous Mixture. Pedestrians are having right of way around the world, But In India, Not even known to Driver As well As Pedestrians, If Pedestrians comes in between, the driver shouts at them & Pedestrians also doesn’t know from where they use to cross the road.
    I use to tell Self Don’t get hurt & Don’t hurt some one.

    Rest in Next.
    Bye.

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