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So you think your roads are bad? Well try India´s.
After a short trip to the land of maharajas, Goa, call-centre mania and a squillion look-alike Mohatma Gandhis, I am this week safely back in the UK, but still trembling.
Here´s why: more..
One day, fancying a journey to my cousin´s ´hill house´ near Dehradun, up in the Uttaranchal foothills of the Himalayas, we ventured forth in the family Tata for the 250-km drive from Delhi. Not along any old rural bi-way, mind you. No, the sign as we crawled out of the chaotic capital said this was a national highway.
The journey took seven hours. We were lucky. Other friends (in a Mercedes) took nine. But, more to the point, we all felt lucky to be alive. To drive any kind of distance in India - as readers of my books will know already – is more than just an adventure … it´s a life-threatening experience only slightly less frightening than bungee jumping without a rope. On this particular national highway there are two lanes, which means ( or so you would think) one for traffic going in each direction. But not a bit of it.
What actually happens is that at the merest lull in traffic on the opposite side, our lane´s fast-movers attempt their over-taking manouvers. Not one at a time, of course, but en masse – a hooting, jostling, angry armada of cars, taxis, trucks, you-name-it, all hammering up the outside, usually with a blind bend looming, and the first one who blinks is a chicken.
Then, naturally enough, as we all repair clucking back inside to get our breath, it´s the turn of the would-be suicide squad on the other side to have their revenge.
And all of this on a road which is pitted and pot-holed, cluttered with slow-moving rickshaws, stray cattle, assorted street vendors, and swarming with two-stroke, pop-pop people-carriers charging 10p a mile and taking most of an hour to do it. Now India, we are told, is an economic miracle about to happen. After China, apparently, it will be their turn next to cash in on the boom in low-cost trade with the West. But not on the Delhi-Dehradun highway it won´t. It took us longer to drive it than to fly back to London on a Jumbo. An ambitious infrastructure programme to improve all major road, rail and transport links has been announced by the government, I was assured. But when? And where´s the money going to come from? Only 1 in 10 people actually pay any tax in India, I was told by someone who knows about these things.
Until they work that one out, I think I shall give road travel a miss next time I´m in India. Or journey everywhere in a tank.
(c)Richard Meredith & MercuryBooks, 2006