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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