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Impressions of Southern India (Day 2)

2009-06-09 , ,

I recently spent three weeks for work in Bangalore. I’m hopelessly Western and middle-class. I’ve excerpted from some of my emails…

20090518 (Day 2)
Let me describe what it’s like here. The first thing was the flight in, it was pouring rain. I’ve rarely seen such a downpour. The landscape is beautiful, flat plains slightly muddy and then these ragged groups of mountains jutting 4000 feet up. It’s just before the monsoon season and the outskirts are caramel-colored dirt interrupted by green pastures and crazy quilts of two- and three-story housing. The airport, for all the reputed expense, is new and efficient but unimpressive after seeing Dubai International. The rain and lightning, I’m told, is unusually severe for this time of year. The monsoon hit early on the coast.

The drive to the hotel in a little white cab the size of a Ford Fiesta was harrowing. Sunday evening is a slow time but there is a veritable riot on the roads. It took me ten minutes before I realized they drive English-style on the left side of the road. Little cars squirming and jockeying five abreast on a three lane road, scooters and small motorcycles- many with their lights off- juking in and out of traffic. Some carry two or three passengers, legs outriggering, or are laden with makeshift bundles. A few have loads that obscure the bike and rider. Women often ride side-saddle behind their men. City buses and tall narrow trucks pepper the traffic. Autorikshaws- three-wheel, two-stroke death traps from the look of them- sputter along, crowding other vehicles, apparently ignoring the traffic, pulling 180 degree turns, jerking to the side to pick up or discharge fares all the while doing a smokey double-duty to keep the mosquitoes down.

The rain puddled and vehicles of every description are stalled on both sides of the road, hoods up, men crowded into them or sometimes just abandoned with lights flashing while a few meters down the road the owner walks. Bicycles and pedestrians go every which way.

The thirty minute cab ride to and from the office is more crowded still and I found myself wincing and flinching at the near misses. One of my London colleagues, quipped that a British cabbie would last two minutes here. Another can barely look out the window. If you imagine the arrivals gate traffic at JFK sped up to 35 to 45 mph, laced with the motos from Naples, sprinkled with an antique bicycle race and the foot traffic from Times Square you’d have a pretty good idea what the confusion looks like minus the stray dogs, indolent cattle and the occasional goat.

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