Thursday, July 8, 2010

Driving in India

It is best to visit India without fear. No. It is not possible to be here WITH fear. The functional anarchy that is Indian traffic can only be endured with the peace of the Buddha--which you learn to find very quickly. No need to go to an ashram. Just take a long, or even short, journey by car, preferably with a professional driver and you will find God instantly. Fortunately, I had already found God on the plane from Delhi to Bhopal. The monsoon is pushing huge thunderheads north and naturally, we flew THROUGH them, our big jet, shuddering and bucking the whole way.

That experience was mildly pleasurable, however, in comparison to the car journey from Bhopal to Pachmarhi. We drove through traffic of all shapes and sizes--species even--all of which regards lanes as mere suggestions, turn signals as useless curios and speed limits as laughable oddities of modern life.

Driving in India is a non-stop game of chicken--sometimes with chickens--in which the horn is the only--and constant--source of communication. Our driver had an auxiliary horn with a button on the dashboard--his finger always at the ready when overtaking another car, cow, ox cart, truck, jeep, tractor, human... At times, there are four lanes of traffic going on what would be a single lane anywhere else. It's best not to look.

We stopped for tea at truck stops several times, which our driver took by himself on the cots that fill the makeshift hut that houses a cold beverage cooler and a kitchen with a tandoori over and several kinds of subji (curry) for sale. We got out and stretched our legs. I got out and blew my nose. Again.

Our last stop was in the last big city before our village--Pepiriya (sp?). Deepak brought us two samosas from a street vendor. At this point, I was about to break all the rules about eating and drinking in India. Don't drink the water. Don't eat fresh fruits. Don't eat street food. Well, you only live once, and I did eat that yogurt. Deepak warned us that it was very spicy, but to be kind, we took it and tried it. Very spicy was an understatement. It was so hot the cayenne pepper colored it red. These things almost blew our heads off. Which, in my case was great. My sinuses cleared instantly. I was a new woman! A woman who suddently needed all the tissues for sale in all of central India, but a new woman nevertheless.

Eventually, we arrived, sweaty, cramped and tired at Pachmarhi, a beautiful hill station in the middle of Satpura National Park. India is as shocking and gorgeous as I remembered it. As hot and mysterious and colorful and generous as I knew it would be. Which is to say I am thrilled to be here, and looking to find India different--and better--this time.

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