Friday, 29 February 2008

Transport in India

These comments on transport in India are based on my experiences in Rajasthan and may well bear no relationship to other parts of this sub-continent.

Trains. The very word brings to mind strange carriages, with barred windows, and people thick on the roof and hanging onto doors. We did no see anything like that. We did see trains with barred windows but no sign of people on the outside. These were "people" trains according to our Guide! They seemed to travel fast and we were led to believe that they were reliable. However - one couple decided that, rather than sit in the coach for a number of hours, they would take an express train from Agra to Delhi, with their luggage accompanying us. Seats were booked and off they went to the station about the same time as we left in the coach. They were taken by a representative of the Agents. A train came in with barred windows and looking much like one would have imagined. However, they were told it was not theirs. A little while later another identical train arrived. They were hurried to the end AC carriage and told to get in as this was were their seats were. It was packed to the gunnel's, including people on the upper level - the luggage rack in our speak but it was said to have air conditioning. Two sleeping Indians were evicted from their seats, but that did nothing to remove the feet hanging down in front from the rack above! Or the stink! As you will guess, they removed themselves from the train pdq! As a result they had to pay for a taxi to take them to Delhi which turned out to be a much better option. Goodness knows what the whole incident cost them. Their account of it was even funnier than my version, as you will no doubt guess.
We also saw a number of goods trains and tanker trains. These, like the people trains, were incredibly long and were doubtless a good means of transferring goods. There was no electricity in sight, so the diesel engines must have been adding to global warming.

Road Transport.

Buses. Here we really did see people hanging on to every available hand-hold as well as packed in tight, within. They are reasonably cheap and frequent, but I don't know how much they covered longer distances. We saw a lot of them on the main roads, without the hangers-on. Thi is not a good picture, unfortunately

Coaches. These are at least 20 years behind those in the West. They have cart springs and as they are narrow, there is not a lot of room. The luggage space above the seats is very limited and the seats themselves are rather narrow. This is our coach.

Cars. Car ownership has exploded in the last few years in the cities. Many of them are made by Tata, but there are a few American makes. The most common is the Indian version of the Morris Oxford. A great lack of pictures I am afraid - these are jeeps. Love the monkeys!

On the whole cars appear to be well cared for. The rule of the road is basically "do not keep to the rules". Left hand drive does apply but you overtake on either side, hooting like a maniac so's the guy driving knows you are there. On roundabouts, whoever gets there first goes, though I believe it is meant to be give way to the right, as here. The lorries are numerous and usually in your way, as are bullock and camel carts and cows, who wander down the middle of the road in their own good time. Pedestrians seem to be all over the place too. In other words, on no account drive yourself! They are building duel carriageways as main link roads but so far lane discipline is non existent. Oh yes - don't ever use your indicator!

Motor bikes are legion. Helmets are compulsory in some states but are only worn by some people.

Bicycles are even more legion.

Bullock carts and camel carts are the main form of transport of goods in the countryside but are to be found in towns and cities too, bringing in stuff from outside. On the whole, out in the country, they do keep to the left but are not so good in the towns. Often the camels and water buffalo are decorated with fascinating designs and colours. You see the occasional horse too and it will probably be covered in all sorts of decorative materials. Elephants are only used for ceremonies like weddings and for carrying the tourist up to the Meherangarh Fort above Jaipur.

Lorries and Tractors.

I have already mentioned lorries but there are a large number of tractors hauling stuff too. Both are likely to be very highly decorated and you often see stalls selling stuff to do it with. They take great pride in making them as beautiful as possible. Sometimes you wonder how they can see out of the windscreen and side windows! Unfortunately this is the best picture I can find - the tractor is hidden and neither are decorated I like the goats though!
Last but not least - auto and cycle rickshaws. Tuktuk is a name not used so much in India, though of course most tourists call them that. It ubiquitous and a very good way of getting around in the town. You agree a price before-hand and climb in. They are designed for 2 or 3 but we must have seen 6 or 7 at least crammed in on numerous occasions. The cycle rickshaw is not so common but there are plenty of them. Both sorts are driven/propelled by the poorest people, so using them is definitely a good thing to do and as they are cheap, a good tip should be payed too. There are also tongas drawn by scrawny and often lame horses. We had a ride in one. Two face forward and two back and the poor old horse is made to trot/canter, expecially as in our case where the group had several and the owners are very competetive!
This also applied to our ride in cycle rickshaws. G hated every minute of it as he hung on by his eyelashes! I was too busy trying to take pictures and keep my 'spare' hand inside and hang on all at the same time to be frightened.
The brown bit in this picture is the cycle rider, not a bit of a horse!


Elizabethd said...

Amazing photos Withy! You really feel, and smell, the atmosphere!

Cait O'Connor said...

Great photos, they really take us to the heart of India.

Frances said...

Hoping to see more photos tomorrow or soon thereafter!

Please also write about the sounds that you heard.

WesterWitch/Headmistress said...

Wow Withy - your photos do bring out some of the atmosphere and I can hear the noise and the heat and the dust and the confusion. Makes huge note - NEVER drive in India . . . Oh but the poor horses . . .I would find that distressing.