Cars, trucks, buses, public jeeps, auto-rickshaws, bicycle-rickshaws, bicycles, mopeds, cows, goats, dogs, cats, chickens and people are the various components of the chaotic streets in India. At first glance, it is pure mayhem. A little over two months ago, the experience of having a driver chauffeur us through the streets of downtown Agartala was frightening, exciting, and adrenaline-producing. Now that I have adjusted, this chaotic way of life seems absolutely normal to me. I am afraid that upon returning to America, I may lose my license on account of forgetting that Massachusetts actually has road rules.
The major difference between driving in India and in the U.S. is that everything is completely opposite. As in England, here, the driver sits on the right, while the passenger is seated on the left, and the car is navigated on the left-hand side of the road. When the four of us first landed in Kolkata, Manish was waiting for his car along with a taxi. Ellen, Ben, and Aja rode in the taxi while I rode in the passenger seat of Manish's car. As Manish was loading my luggage into his car, out of habit, I immediately opened the front right door, as any American passenger would have, and took a seat. Upon seeing the steering wheel directly in front of me and the pedals at my feet, I quickly shot around to the other side of the car. Manish thought this was quite funny. Awareness of the fact that a passenger is seated on the left was probably a piece of information that I should have researched before arriving in India, but my lack of knowledge definitely provided some humorous entertainment for a few minutes.
Other than the one rule of driving along the left-hand side of the road (which at times is ignored), the only other glimpse that I can provide into the experience of driving along Indian streets is that it is truly every man (or animal) for himself. The only way to get from one destination to the next in any vehicle is based on the effectiveness of one's horn. The concept of honking a vehicle's horn in India is very different than at home. In America, the horn is only honked if the driver has a feeling of pure anger and frustration for another nearby driver. In India, the horn is multifunctional and may mean, “I am turning left.”, “I am turning right”, “I am stopping.”, “I am reversing.”, “I am passing you”, “I am approaching a curve in the road.”, “I am crossing a bridge.”, “Open the gate.”, “Get out of my way, cow/goat/dog/cat/chicken/human being!”. If the horn on an Indian vehicle is broken, it would most likely be classified as useless in this country. The sound of honking vehicles is my alarm clock every morning and could very well be the most commonly heard noise in India.
Everything is still going very well for all of us in Agartala! We are extremely excited to depart for our first independent excursion and head to Darjeeling in three days. Since it is still in the 90's here everyday, it will be quite a shock to be thrown into 40 degree weather and be at an elevation that it just about two times the height of Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Although I would prefer 95 degrees over 40 degree weather, I am anxious to see more of India and look forward to our trip!