Road safety is a huge concern for travelers and locals in India.
In 2017, almost 150,000 people lost their lives on India's roads. The maintenance of roads, low standard of safety for vehicles on the roads, and ignorance towards road rules make driving here a challenge.
So, is it safe for travelers to hire a car and drive around India? Or are you better off using the public transport system?
Irresponsible driving habits, insufficient highway infrastructure development, and other hazards make traveling on India's roads a nerve wrecking (and potentially life threatening) experience.
Cows are holy in India, in fact, a whopping 30% of the world's cattle live here.
You will see cows casually ambling along main roads, sometimes blocking traffic, and all you can do is wait for them to meander out of the way. Or if you're traveling at high speeds (you or your driver, not the cow), swerve to avoid them.
Your first encounter with a typical Indian highway will no doubt feature a traffic mix of lumbering trucks, speeding maniacs, blithely wandering cows and unpredictable pedestrians – all weaving across a narrow, potholed strip of tarmac.
Most road signs are not very reliable in the country, and in most cases will give drivers very confusing or inaccurate information.
Travelers should be cautious when visiting villages and rural areas in the night. Bandits occasionally abduct and rob tourists, as they assume tourists possess large amounts of cash and items for them to re-sell. So try to safely check into your accommodation before it gets dark.
Even on India's buses you can run into problems. Think twice about taking night buses in rural areas, as bandits have been reported stopping night buses with fake checkpoints to rob everyone inside.
Problems on India's roads are bad, but there are a few mundane issues you will face onboard one of their buses.
Get yourself a window seat for access to fresh air, but be prepared for a face full of exhaust fumes as you stick your head out the window. If you see camels beside the road, beware of their spit – which you may catch from the window seat.
If you have an aisle seat on the bus, you'll have more leg room, but be prepared to have your toes stepped on and various objects shoved in your face whenever passengers load or unload.
Beware of items stowed above your head in the compartment – inevitably they will end up on your lap when the bus hits one of many potholes in the roads.
Traditions are different in India. The driver is fully within his rights to stop the bus every half hour so he can play a card game by the side of the road while you (and all the passengers) wait patiently on the bus.
With a population of over one billion, get used to being pushed and shoved when attempting to queue or board public transport in India. You'll soon learn to hold your ground.
While travelling on public transport, do not accept any food or drink from any fellow passengers – even if they are very friendly or polite. There have been instances where the food and drink has been spiked.
Of course this is all assuming you have a ticket. Buying tickets for public transport is an epic experience, so be prepared.
While getting about India is not easy, it's also one of the best ways to see the countryside while experiencing all the tastes and smells of this amazing country.
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