Crazy commuters, terrifying traffic, drivers with a death wish – I’ve seen them in Cairo, Cape Town, Dubai and Doha. But Delhi’s traffic trumps them all.
I ask each taxi or tuk tuk driver what they think of Delhi: “Too much traffic,” they say. About half the population of Canada is crammed into Delhi – 16 million souls moving about the sprawling city – 22 million if you include the surrounding cities that make up the greater Delhi area.
Cars, trucks, tuk tuks, motorcycles, scooters, scooters carrying up to four passengers – five or six if it’s a family with small kids – rickshaws, bicycles, bicycles carring cargo of all manner – produce, furniture, twelve feet of pipe, it all gets transported on the streets of Delhi. Add pedestrians dashing across the road, cows, dogs, camels and donkeys, stir in a few texts or phone calls, and you have a recipe for road disaster.
But it all seems to work – in a controlled chaos sort of way. Six lanes of traffic trying to fit into four – it’s like a game of traffic Tetris. No, a car won’t fit in there, but a tuk tuk will, or two motor bikes. Although I never witnessed an accident, every vehicle is scraped, scratched, dinged or dented. It is inevitable. What would cause road rage in North America is dealt with a puzzled look of betrayal or a long honk of the horn. The horn is an extension of the driver in India. It’s a constant cacophony with brief moments of what seems symphonic harmony, but only a brief moment before returning to an unbearable din.
Then there are the intersections. Being stationary in Delhi means being approached. Street sellers push a bizarre assortment of wares. Those long rainbow colored dusters are popular, as are orange blankets, pens, peanuts, steering wheel covers, cell phone charging cords, roses and bubble makers.
Beggars are everywhere and intersections are no exception. Some simply ask for money, putting their fingers to their mouths asking for a few rupees to buy food. I’ve been presented with a hospital medical bill asking for assistance in payment. Or a mother playing the drums and her two children performing, one about five, with a painted moustache doing somersaults between the cars, the other slightly older, swinging a hoola hoop. It all becomes a bit much and heartbreaking.
When man and motor unite in one of the world’s busiest cities it is a spectacle and an exercise in patience, endurance and a lot of skill. Witnessing this puts Western traffic into perspective. It will be a relief to retreat to rural India in a few days.
Travel has a way of stretching the mind. The stretch comes not from travel’s immediate rewards, the inevitable myriad new sights, smells and sounds, but with experiencing firsthand how others do differently what we believed to be the right and only way. – Ralph Crawshaw