10 surprising but true facts about cars and driving in India

IMG_5205The sound and smell of burnt rubber, after one hits the gas paddle of a 250-horsepower car can make some people’s hearts pump faster. Especially for those, the vigorous sound of a starting Ferrari can make heads turn around. And what about the modern design of exclusive sport cars? A lot of men are obsessed with these expensive ‘toys for boys’. A lot of men (and women) will carry a virtual must-buy bucket list, with a specific car on the top. Aside from a fascination for classic English limo’s (Bentley, Rolls Royce), I’m not into cars at all; a car means nothing to me! Yes, it does need to bring me from point A to B, safe, fast and some comfort during the trip.

Having spent almost 16 months in India now I have created a good view on ‘car life’ in this immense country. So, what are my observations? What have I learnt during my time in India so far? The answer: I’ve learnt a lot. To begin with: traffic is horrific in some areas of the city, especially during rush hours. It’s very crowded on some roads, with huge traffic jams as a result. The next topic is so frustrating that one could write a horrifying novel about this. The traffic behavior of the average Indian-driver is funny and heartless, and in some cases even gruesome. If one generalizes, which I am doing now, one could even say that drivers in India behave very fearlessly. They often drive through roads without looking for oncoming traffic, or bring other drivers on the road to dangerous situations by very foolish behavior. I’ve created the following list of surprising but true facts about cars and driving in India:

  • Most cars come in white color. People in my home country will laugh when you turn up driving a white car. In India, driving a white car is very functional. They assume it will keep the heat out.
  • People in India don’t pay a lot of attention to car-designs. For many people, buying a specific car is a rational decision. Their approach is to have as ‘much car’ as possible for their investment in a four-wheeler. The Tata Nano was not an European invention; it has been invented here and it’s far from being a sexy car. Dacia and Skoda, brands that are considered to be uncool in my home country, are very popular here.
  • Owning an imported car is very costly, so you’ll see a lot of Indian-made cars. One could not even find a western brand in the top 10 index of newly sold cars in India. Maruti, Mahindra, Hyundai, Tata and Toyota are amongst the most popular brands on the list.
  • The horn is the most important asset of the car it seems. A very good friend told me a funny story about a survey that had been conducted to research possible new features of a Mercedes. People were actually very happy with the German-made car. However, there was one thing: people wanted to have a better horn!
  • On every two-way road in India, one could find few ‘hidden’ middle lanes. A lot of cars use these middle lanes for overtaking slower cars very frequently, even while taking sharp corners.
  • One way streets are often two way streets in disguise. One would be penalized very heavily, for driving on the wrong side of the road in most countries outside of India. In India however, roads are often used very ‘efficiently’. I’ve seen a lot of cars on the wrong side of the road, even on highways!
  • If you own a car, you can get it cleaned for weekly for only 5000 INR a month. The pollution, the dusty roads and the dirt in India can have a terrible effect on your car. A lot of society’s offer a car cleaning service. A designated employee will clean your car for as little as 500 INR a month (7 euro).
  • Fancy cars are being driven by drivers, BMW’s and Mercedes’ by their owners. I don’t have any data on this, but I assume that a lot of exclusive cars are actually being driven by their owners, while the cars in the ‘middle segment’ are driven by drivers.
  • Alcohol control is carried out in a very special way: you need to blow into an officer’s ear. We went to a party with a couple of friends, when we were asked to stop on the way. The officer inspected the papers and driver’s license. He asked if he had been drinking prior to this ride. Subsequently, he asked the driver to prove that he had not been drinking by blowing into his ear. After reading this, you might think I’m joking, but I’m not: this really happened!
  • It will take you at least 2,5 hours to cover a 100 km-distance. Travelling by car is fun in India. The countryside is awesome, with picturesque villages and tropical sightings in a magical setting. However, it would always take you some time to reach your destination. The roads are not always in the best condition and trucks or farmers could slow the traffic.

I could easily continue with a lot more surprising facts and insights about driving in India. Driving here is an ‘interesting’ experience. However, some things are funny or even very dangerous. If you’re in India and you have the opportunity to travel by roads: have fun, it could a lot of fun! In the top 10 I forgot to mention the cows on the streets (almost everywhere in India), valet parking (which is big in India) and drivers are easy and very common with a car.

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