MONKEY SEE, MONKEY EAT TOURISTBy Evan Redmon
PEOPLE FROM INDIA DO NOT SCARE EASILY.
In fact, after spending two weeks spent in various Indian hamlets of all sizes on a web developer mission and a see-it-to-believe-it wedding, it appears to me as if fear isn’t a concept in the subcontinent; certainly not on the roads, anyway.
The following experiment may provide clarity:
- Get in one of the countless three-wheeled taxis that densely pepper India’s roads.
- Ride it somewhere, doesn’t matter where. Just say “mall” or “theater” or “KFC” to the driver and away you go.
- Get out, wait one minute.
- Get in another taxi
- Repeat for 12 hours straight.
Write down the number of times the driver does one of the following things:
- Comes within three inches of hitting another vehicle, a person, a concrete median, or a cow near the airport
- Travels the wrong way on a one way street into oncoming traffic, on a busy street, on purpose
- Perpendicularly crosses a busy intersection that has no traffic lights or stop signs, while oncoming traffic (bereft of any deceleration) approaches your position from close range
I would quite seriously guess 522 as the number of near-death instances within the allotted 12-hour period. It would be fun to attempt, but the use of the term ‘near-death’ is only a mild exaggeration.
DRIVEN TO COLLISION
To put things in perspective: people in India like to annoy Cobras for fun.
So when you do see fear from a resident of India, and he tells you to do avoid something, do what he says.
“Sai, instead of taking a bus from Hyderabad to Visakhapatnam, why don’t I just rent a car?” I asked my soon-to-be-married friend, a month before our trip.
“Oohhhhh, you don’t want to drive in India. Even I don’t drive in India.”
He looked at me like I had to be joking. I felt he was exaggerating because he didn’t want to be held responsible if anything happened.
Truth is, he didn’t even come close to accurately describing the mayhem of Indian traffic, from an American perspective. He was just doing his best to keep his ignorant friend alive.
FROGGER: BASED ON A TRUE STORY
Sai did however fail to tell me how to cross the street in India, probably because it did not occur to him that I would ever even try. Pedestrians require their own brand of fear dismissal that in some ways exceeds drivers.
In India, you simply walk into the street while pretending not to look. When the traffic density slows to about 30 vehicles per 10 seconds, cross wherever you please at your normal pace. Do not run under any circumstances.
Coming to a complete stop in the middle of the street while casually glancing at oncoming traffic is perfectly acceptable. Do not stare directly at the oncoming traffic, however.
It’s best not to acknowledge that there even is traffic, but if you must, just be vaguely aware of it via peripheral vision. Do not exceed a 45 degree head angle. Act a little bored if you can. Ignore the shrieking horns that signal your potential death.
After about 50-60 street crossings in this manner I am proud to say that zero fear was shown by yours truly; I represented the United States well. We need not discuss the fear I felt.
Happy to report that I was hit only twice by vehicles; once in the back by a motorcycle, and once in the elbow by a Rickshaw. The driver inquired if I was in need of transport just as some piece of metal attached to motorized contraption clipped me. I politely declined his offer.
THIS WASN’T IN THE VISITOR’S GUIDE
A brief walk separates the gate to the Taj Mahal and the actual entrance to the grounds. This access road funnels tourists into a congested corridor where local opportunists play Trolling for Rupees.
Rickshaw drivers beckon loudly to hop in; aggressive hawkers skillfully frustrate westerners with cheap trinkets; camel rides appeal to picture junkies looking for cheap authenticity. The “please go away now” payments are a surprisingly high percentage of their daily take.
Somewhat thankfully, the taxi drivers at the Chandni Chowk Metro Station and the various street bazaars in the maze of Old Delhi had dulled my reactions to such techniques.
I had heard so much about the aggressive tactics at the Taj Mahal and was expecting an entirely new level of pressure. Instead, it felt like amateur hour. All too easy.
I didn’t anticipate the monkey!