India: Elephants Have the Right of Way

Frank Williams
by Frank Williams

Think your morning rush-hour commute sucks? Consider the New York Times' description of someone learning to drive in New Delhi:

Amid a cacophony of horns, a blood-red sport utility vehicle weaved between cars, passing Mr. Sharma within a razor's edge on the right. A school bus snuggled close up on his left. No one seemed to care about traffic lanes. Cars bounced in and out of crater-size potholes… Sharing the road with him were a bicyclist with three cooking-gas cylinders strapped to the back of his bike, a pushcart vendor plying guavas, a cycle rickshaw loaded with a photocopy machine (rickshaws often being the preferred mode of delivery for modern appliances)… At one point, a car careered down the wrong side of the road… At least this morning there was no elephant chewing bamboo in the fast lane, as there sometimes is.

As ultra-cheap vehicles allow more and more Indians– many of whom have never driven a car– to take to the road, traffic experts expect the situation to get much worse. And with a driving test that consists of turning on the ignition and driving in a wide circle, you gotta believe they're right.

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  • Stephan Wilkinson Stephan Wilkinson on Jan 11, 2008

    I did a thousand or so miles in India a couple of years ago for Conde Nast Traveler, in what was essentially a diesel Explorer. The traffic mix is incredible, and the elephants are only part of it. whether is a city street or what passes for a superhighway, there will be handcarts, bicycles with huge loads, elephants, cows, burros, three-wheeler scooter/rickshaws, tiny cars, bigger cars, substantial Tata trucks with towering loads, buses with people inside and out. What particularly amused me is that on the occasional "superhighways"--what in the U. S. would be considered a New Jersey four-lane in bad repair with a barrier down the middle--you often confront opposite-direction traffic on _your_ side of the four-lane. I never was able to figure out whether these were people who simply didn't understand the concept of a divided highway or were too lazy to cross all the way over and join the proper traffic flow because they were only going five or 10 miles. Driving in India is an experience that would humble the most experienced, aggressive, ten-tenths driver on this forum, believe me.

  • Sooku Sooku on Jan 22, 2008

    Bwahahahaha .. very funny .. "elephant suppository" ROFLMAO. How many roads were there in the US when Ford's Model T came out? This is India's Model T - a car for every Indian - and it will transform India. Your ignorant sneers notwithstanding. Secondly, Tata has the worldwide rights to compressed air engines and the compression can be done on-board from solar-powered charging stations. India is way more suited for solar energy than the US, Japan and Europe .. it's the latitude, stupid. Look for compressed-air Nanos to demolish Detroit in the next decade.

  • Bunkie Bunkie on Jan 22, 2008

    Can India build an entire road infrastructure as fast as Tata can churn out Nanos? That's the question. From what I saw, with much road work still utterly dependent on manual labor (filling dumptrucks with gravel by hand is just one example), that isn't likely to happen. Sure, India could throw lots of construction equipment at the problem, but then there's the little social problem of all those displaced manual laborers. Since India depends heavily on exports, it is particularly vulnerable to world-wide recessions such as the one that is now looming. I suspect that the easy growth period is now over. By the way, has anyone actually seen an air-powered car? The photoshop looks nice but then, so does that of the Tesla.

  • Sooku Sooku on Jan 23, 2008

    Bunkie ...if Tata was as nitpicky or pedantic as you, he wouldn't have made the Nano. If Columbus was like you, Dumbya would be President of nowhere.. and so on. I'm sure you've seen major roads and expressways designed and built by Indians. Unfortunately Westerners have trouble with the concept of a vector truth that's built into Hinduism ... that different types and layers of truth can exist simultaneously. This is why nobody minds the elephant, until you show up with your notion of "nothing but The Truth". To paraphrase, hand labor co-exists with modern construction machinery, and it will. Indians don't mind mixing it all up. Anyway, India CAN and India WILL expand its infrastructure, and transportation demand in towns and villages will force politicians to do so. Like the Ford Model T in the US, an Indian peoples' car will be the engine of large-scale industrial growth in rural India. The West hates the Nano because it's competition they can't match. Don't dress their fear up as fake concern about someone else's country. The more important question is, can Indian innovation save India? This is where I hope that solar and air power will thrive in India. I also hope that the Nano will first replace animals and scooters on nearly empty rural roads.