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Death is Certain:
  notes from an Indian road trip

Hindustan Ambassador cars

We Three Kings: the Hindustan Ambassador, based upon Britain’s
Morris Oxford, is fondly known as the ‘king of the Indian road’.


Only Death is Certain

Paradoxically, although nearly everyone gets sick in Delhi (myself excluded – I got sick a week after I left) it’s easy to eat healthily. Fruit is fairly cheap, and at the juice bars on the Main Bazaar it’s possible to buy a glass of sugar cane juice for ten rupees – about thirteen pence, or any mixture of fresh mango, banana, strawberry, pineapple, coconut, pomegranate, guava, papaya etc. for just under twenty.

It’s now really hot – during our journey yesterday from Laxmanjhula to Delhi in a glossy white Ambassador taxi that took an unbelievable NINE hours (including a stop for puncture repair) to cover 250km, the temperature reached 105F/41C. The three bottles of water we’d stashed under the seat were hot by the end of the day – hot enough to bathe in but too hot to be refreshing. The only places to go in India to escape the heat are in the north, and Kashmir is, sadly, out of bounds.

However, one doesn’t have to go far to find danger – during our lengthy ride yesterday I witnessed two accidents; a motorbike crash from which the victim walked away, and a hit-and run, from which the victim didn’t.

As our Ambassador sped gently in the direction of Delhi from Rishikesh,  Hindu gods swaying from the rearview mirror, sun beating relentlessly down on us, I heard the screeching of brakes next to my window and saw, as though in slow-motion, a car roughly the size of a Mini-Metro hurtling along a few inches to the right of my door.  (In India, they overtake and drive on every side of the road.) The car braked far too late, and its passengers screamed as they collided with an old man, dressed in white kurta and pyjama trousers. He seemed to levitate from the road and slide up the bonnet of his own accord – a weird illusion produced by our relative speed and perspective. The windscreen shattered as he hit it, the momentum carrying him higher, over the roof and back of the still speeding car, until he came to rest on the busy road, rolling over and over a few times until he stopped still. We were all stunned, and tried to get our driver either to stop or to give chase to the other car. He refused to do both, explaining that locals would help the injured man, and that if the other car had stopped, its driver and passengers would certainly be lynched.

Interestingly, my horoscope for that day had promised me a “memorable journey, if travelling.” But that wasn’t quite what I’d had in mind.

*The title refers to the following meditation:  The Nine Point Meditation on Death (PDF).

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