Saturday, January 26, 2008

my first indian traffic jam

I'm in Munnar, a hill station high up in the mountains of Kerala. it is 60km to get from the bottom of the mountain to the actual town, if that gives you any idea of how many winding, single lane roads there are here. considering all the cars, buses, rickshaws and scooters in any indian city, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that we were caught in traffic for about an hour. the following seems to be the general idea:

* the initial traffic jam. most likely a huge tourist bus meeting another huge tourist bus, and neither can give way.
* the cars/rickshaws/buses start to pile up on either side
* since it's a single lane mountain road, there's nowhere to maneuver. so, people start parking their cars toward the side (turning the one lane road into about 4) and get out to enjoy the mountain air
* time to socialize. people are smiling, laughing, climbing on top of cars/buses to get a better view of what's going on. shanti shanti, indeed.
* out of nowhere, people appear to sell snacks
* those toward the back, like my car, are told to try to u-turn. easier said than done on a narrow mountain road clogged with cars. every able-bodied man between the ages of 15-60 tries to direct each car. however, we still hit the cliff divider, rocks, the occasional small child, etc.
* somehow, cars start moving. people keep all their limbs inside as each car/bus passes.

if I am ever frustrated by traffic on the NJ turnpike or the Eisenhower or the 405, I'll remember that it could be so, so much worse.

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