8) Double Takes
I figured this deserved a section unto its own. Perhaps for those who have been to India this won’t be so shocking, but those who haven’t it’s a bit jarring to see cows and oxen in the road. Everywhere. And by everywhere I mean countryside, roadside, tuk-tuk-side. Our first drive from the airport to the hostel: bulls lying in our way. Traffic jam ahead on a two-lane highway through rural lands: oxen crossing. Walking up and down the urban markets: cows whipping their wispy tails. And even better, they’re wildly scrawny. Maybe I’m used to hunky American cows (and people) but one can see the entire skeletal structure of Indian cattle.
The corollary of these cows, is cow dung. Equally, predictably, everywhere. As in: the sidewalks, the streets, the drainage ditches, the grass, the everywhere. I managed to avoid it entirely until my final day in Goa, when splush went my foot into glop. It’s just part of the stewing Indian air, and gives it that distinct feel.
But no, transportation isn’t solely powered by our bovine friends, as camels would like to have a say in the matter. On more than a few occasions, camels were towing people or goods through the streets, though I basically only saw this in the half-desert-y places I went in Rajasthan.
That’s not to say all transportation is animal-based. That would be entirely unfair, as there is a whole slew of electric tuk-tuks and normal tuk-tuks, taxis and cars, vans and buses, motorbikes and vespas. They bombard you with horns. They bull rush the intersections, seemingly laughing at the rules of the road. There are rules (supposedly) but as many an Indian told me: “Indians don’t follow rules.”
I’m assuming one of those rules is that buses stop at bus stops, because I often witnessed a bus slowly drive by, doors open (or off) as people would grip a handle and swing themselves on as the driver sped away, always keeping the bus in gear. It’s dangerous out there on the Indian roads.
I was told there are three things you need in India to drive. A good horn, good brakes, and good luck. Fortunately, we had all three. (Either that or just two and we never used the brakes.) Without these, I don’t know how we’d have survived. In fact, often trucks had “horn please” painted on them, indicating you should honk at them in case they don’t see you. Once, on a two lane highway, I saw – no exaggeration – a car passing a car passing a motorcycle with oncoming traffic not 50 yards away, going probably 40mph or faster.
Problems run deep in Indian transportation. Another issue I directly encountered was the Bombay taxi system from the airport. Bear in mind this is one of the largest cities in the world, and as an international flight touched down in the early evening and approached the taxi counter, there was not a single cab waiting. It went like this. Line up (which actually was orderly). Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait…. And after an hour if you were only fifth in line, you get to the front to see what the wait was for. The dispatcher then gets your address, which isn’t always so clear in India, calls a taxi/van/something with at least a few wheels and seats, and then you wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait for him/her/most definitely a him to come. Then you wait for 90 minutes as the cab gets you from the distant airport through city center via back streets and poorly arranged highways to your destination. It was ineptitude to a shocking degree that the taxi system in the nation’s largest city was conducted like this.
In fact, even when we were in city center and had hired a car, it wasn’t even on time. It’s said hiring a car in New Delhi is the best way to see everything quick, as the public transportation isn’t 100% reliable. However, neither are car engines apparently, as our car’s broke down twice. We waited for over an hour in primetime tourist hours as they tried to push-start the car. Eventually we had to choose between a car that couldn’t turn off (so then they pressured you to always hurry) but had AC, or pick the car with no AC but had a reliable ignition. Tough choices in the sweltering heat.
And apparently broken down cars are a big thing (and signage is not) because I soon found out why there were car tires hanging from ropes tied to trees everywhere in the city. They signal (apparently) an auto mechanic. To save money on signs, they use old tires. And because the cars are always breaking down, apparently they have a lot of old parts.
The last three here aren’t transportation based, so I decided not to link them together as were the previous ones, but would each get a neatly packaged paragraph.
One: a crazy guy being beaten with a stick in Goa. We were driving through a tiny town in the small state, and arrived at what appeared like the center, with shops lining each side of the narrow street and people out everywhere. Then suddenly appeared a traffic jam and people screaming. Enter stage right: a crazy man, black unkempt hair, dirty skin and ragged clothes, holding a meter long stick, the circumference of a dime. Screaming, “Police! Police! *something completely indiscernible!!* Police!” Then he starts rattling the stick on the hoods of cars. Enter stage left: apparently a shop owner, well dressed, composed, with a larger wooden object, considerably weightier than the aforementioned stick. “Police! Police!” the crazy man yells. “Whack, thwack, crack!” says the wooden club to the man’s left shin as he curls into a defensive posture. Abruptly the road opens up and traffics zips through. Curtain closes.
Two: outdoor urinals. At the end of our street, which is only the width of two peoples’ wingspans with overhangs sealing in the stench, sat two urinals. Each was half a yard wide and about as tall as I can reach with my hand. Completely made of concrete, they simply had a little overhang at the bottom on which you stood. (You shouldn’t ever stand there.) You then pee, very much exposed to the world, on the back of the urinal as the pee sticks to the concrete and some of which may flow underneath the overhang and hopefully inches below your feet. It absolutely reeks of urine anywhere within a 15-20 yard radius and is exactly what you think of ancient Rome. It shows just what basic infrastructure like plumbing can do for a place. In virtually city center, there’s a public urinal, widely used, that wouldn’t be okay at a Dave Matthew’s concert, never mind in a central place in one of the world’s largest cities.
Three: the water in Bombay is jet black. It’s vile. When I first saw it, I figured it must be the silt, and sure there probably is some. But the disgusting amount of trash and animals (namely ravens) rendered this it 99.9% opaque. (Side note: why are there ravens everywhere in India? We thought the raven was the national bird, til I looked it up to find out it was indeed the peacock. Fun fact.) Bombay’s truly unique mosque, the one out on the Arabian Sea, connected to the mainland by a small concrete bridge is a gorgeous structure, surrounded by heavily polluted, pitch black “water.” (I think it’s a crime to call that stuff actual water.)
In truth, any place has things that’ll make you “double take.” These were just a few that I took note of. It might speak as much to India as it does to me that these are what I highlighted.
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