Notes from a Lay Bye: Road travel in India

The hardest of hard shoulders - the road between Rishikesh and Delhi

Yup – that’s how they spell it. “Lay Bye”.  Local interpretations of the Indian Highway Code are a source of much-needed mirth at moments of stress. When you’re on any one of the subcontinent’s zillion roads, this means pretty much all the time.

Unfortunately, my auto-rickshaw was careering too fast along the wrong side of the road for me to snap the “Elephants have Right of Way” sign on the bridge outside Rishikesh , and it wasn’t until I was almost upon it that I registered the utterly random single word THANKS (displayed in English and in Hindi) in eight-inch reflective lettering en route to Delhi International Airport. A prompt, perhaps, for passing travellers to meditate on the virtue of gratitude.

Indeed, Indian roads provide a unique opportunity for the most powerful meditations; the certainty of death and uncertainty of the time of death being the most obvious.  If you travel far enough – say a few hundred miles – you’re certain to see a fatality – either in medeas res or in the form of a cadaver abandoned by a roadside or maybe in the midst of fast-moving traffic, with trucks, cars, rickshaws, pedestrians and elephants hurtling and hrrrumphing past.  If there’s anything left of your heart after a few weeks of being driven around India, you can be sure to find it in your mouth. So, whenever possible, take the train.

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