Delhi. Picture: Alamy. For The Independent
"Not too fast. Mind the cows," says the instructor, trying to remain calm. "Yes, there are lots of cows in India."
We edge around the half-dozen hump-backed creatures merrily eating the contents of an overflowing rubbish skip. The wheels rattle, the car shakes. We pass a handful of shop-fronts, stray dogs and children before turning into what seems like an impossibly narrow back street. Surely we're not going to drive down there? "It's very narrow, very slowly," the instructor says unnecessarily. "Now go straight."
In India, driving is not for the faint-hearted. The roads are crowded and cluttered and filled with a rare energy. There is noise and dust and heat and honking and pushing. Barely anyone obeys either the traffic rules or else the most basic rules of common sense as they jostle for position. Sometimes it feels like Rollerball, the futuristic, full-contact "sport" that gave its name to the 1975 movie starring James Caan. Frankly, it is terrifying.
Yet it is only going to get worse. In economically buoyant India, a newly prosperous middle-class is taking to the roads like never before. Last year alone India's car fleet increased by at least a million as this new consumer class ditched its motorbikes and bicycles and opted to get behind the wheel of a car.(...)
If India is an awful place for driving, Delhi must surely be among the worst of the worst. The bursting capital of 16 million people has around 5.3 million vehicles. Every day another 600 legally registered vehicles join the throng, plus an untold number of illegal additions. During the evening rush, driving just a few miles can take several hours.
It is dangerous too. Rohit Baluja, president of India's Institute of Road Traffic Education, says each year there are at least 2,000 road traffic deaths in the city. Nationally, with 100,000 fatalities and one million injuries, he believes India has a worse record than any other country. "Such a position is worrisome and much needs to be done to reduce these figures," he says.
And yet at times there are few alternatives to a car. While Delhi's new metro system is efficient and clean, its geographic reach is still limited. And the city's bus services – the usual means of transport for the masses – are hugely inadequate and frequently deadly. There are often no pavements, even though millions of people still walk or cycle. Taxis often have no air-conditioning – a brain-searing setback when the summer mercury soars to 46C – and riding in a rickshaw feels like playing Russian roulette with five bullets in the chamber.
REFERENCE:Road hell: mind the cows! The Independent, January 15th 2008