The drivers in Delhi must be some of the best in the world. Here in the UK all we have to do is to obey a few rules, and look around us to make sure everyone else is following the rules too, but in Delhi it is a whole different ball game…
Firstly, there is the sheer variety of traffic on the roads. Cars, taxis, brightly painted vans and trucks, with or without trailers. Cycle rickshaws and flimsy auto rickshaws, designed for two or three passengers but often carrying five or six men to work, with perhaps a few extra perched on the back. Cycles with multiple passengers carrying unwieldy bundles of goods. Improbably, women in colourful saris sitting side-saddle on the back of motorbikes as they roar along.
Cows are theoretically banned from the city centre, but we saw one pulling an old man in a cart near to New Delhi station. Outside of the city it is commonplace to see trains of oxen or tattooed camels pulling precariously loaded trailers. Occasionally the traffic is also joined by a long line of men marching with placards in support of one cause or another.
Then there are the roads themselves. Potholes and broken road surfaces present their own challenges, but the main problem is that the roads are simply not big enough for the amount of traffic. So the drivers have to invent their own rules. Four or five lanes of traffic in a two lane road, with vehicles weaving in and out, passing within millimetres of one another, horns honking incessantly. Pedestrians waiting to cross the road reach a critical mass, and then surge forward, forcing the traffic to give way to them.
However creative the driving, progress is often very slow, causing some drivers simply to cross over to the opposite carriageway and drive against the flow of traffic. The end result is like a giant dodgems session but, miraculously, without the bumps. In five days of watching the Delhi traffic I only observed one minor collision. It may seem chaotic, but the drivers are always alert and seem to be in possession of a split second sense of timing.
Pedestrians walk at their peril. It is hard enough to find uncluttered, unbroken pavement to walk along, but crossing the road is a real art form. The only way to do it is just to run, weaving around the traffic as if you were another vehicle. When we arrived I muttered that you would never get me in one of those auto rickshaws. It only took a couple of days to decide that it was better than walking!