Friday, November 21, 2008

crash course in indian driving

Jascha's bag finally arrived, and after two hours of bureaucracy he managed to retrieve it from the Air India baggage department. This put us a day behind schedule, so for our intro to touring in India we decided to combine our first two days of riding into one and go all the way from Kolkata to Patna, a distance of ~560 km. We would later come to regret this. We got out of the hotel by 7:30 and headed across town to national highway (NH) 2. It took us 2 hours to get to the outskirts of the sprawling city. This was our first encounter with Indian highways, which we have found can range from a four-lane paved divided highway to a rutted one lane dirt road. In cities and villages we have taken to following trucks and tour buses through the maze of streets, as highway signage is a rare commodity. We also learned that divided highway doesn't mean the traffic on each side moves in the same direction. Despite a plethora of places for u-turns drivers often commute in the wrong direction to save themselves the hassle of going 0.5 km out of the way.

We moved fairly quickly through the divided highway with the exception of the (frequently unsigned) road closures where the lanes abruptly end. The countryside was fairly uniform, with large expanses of grass or crops. Coal smokestacks fueling brick factories belched blackened clouds, adding to the dust and diesel fume-choked air. Giant trucks, tour buses, auto rickshaws, cars, SUVs, carts, bicycles, motorcycles, livestock and pedestrians all compete for lane space and riding here is like a massive game of chicken.

We reached the turn-off to Patna as the sun was setting. Unlike NH2, the road to Patna is a pothole-ridden undivided two-lane road, with major sections of hilly, twisty road. Although I had just gotten used to having trucks driving full speed in my lane on NH2, having this happen repeatedly at night on a narrow corner was another story. We passed village after dusty village and after 16 hours of riding (and 50 km short of our destination) just when we were ready to crash in some abandoned building by the side of the road we saw a hotel/motel sign. After washing off the road grime we fell asleep under the watchful eye of our room gecko.


David said...

Nice action shots! Glad to see you guys are doing well!

DCD said...

Geez, I'm worn out just reading about your adventures! Happy Thanksgiving to you two...amazing pics and stories...keep 'em coming!