India has a long and, arguably, well-deserved reputation for being home to some of the craziest and seemingly lawless traffic to be found anywhere in the world, and Sri Lanka isn’t far behind. From the sheer volume of vehicles and complete irreverence for traffic laws to animals on the road and potholes the size of a small car, it’s fair to say that driving in India or Sri Lanka has its fair share of challenges. But with great challenge comes great reward and, after almost two years of driving all manner of vehicles all over Asia, I couldn’t imagine going back to the busses. When visiting the Indian subcontinent, it’s easy to get swept away on the tide of organised tours or over-priced tourist buses which claim to whisk you from A to B with speed and comfort but rarely deliver.
Thankfully, the pioneers at TukTukRental.com have given us a whole new, three-wheeled way of exploring these mighty lands. “Drive my own TukTuk? That’s crazy!” I hear you say? Not in the slightest. Not only is it safe and incredibly practical, but it allows you to get off the beaten track and explore the country at ground level. It’s also bloody good fun. So, without further ado, here’s the Top 5 Rules for Driving in India & Sri Lanka from a hairy guy with too many kilograms kilometres under his belt…
1 – No Sudden Manoeuvres or Overreactions
This really is the mother of all mantras when it comes to driving on the subcontinent. It may seem like chaos, but it really is organised chaos. Don’t expect to understand it right away – it may take days or even weeks of practice rather than hours, but as long as you keep this golden rule in mind, you can’t go too far wrong! Swerving, turning sharply or standing on the brakes are all big no-nos on the roads over here, with the obvious exception of cases of impending doom. Some guy in a motorcycle has just pulled out in front of you from a small side road? Stay chill, gently slow down or move slightly aside and, if needed, give him a toot of your horn. Chances are, they’ve already seen you and will keep themselves out of harm’s way. Screeching to a halt or swerving frantically out of the road will generally not only be unnecessary, but downright dangerous to the traffic around you as this simply isn’t the ‘done’ thing. As a great person once said: Keep Calm and Carry On.
2 – Horn OK Please
This may be a mildly amusing bumper sticker in the west, but on the roads of Asia, the horn is a way of life. There’s no single meaning to a toot of the horn, but very rarely is it used in anger as, perhaps, it would be back home. The broadest translations of ‘toot toot’ would be along the lines of “Hey there!”, “Coming Through” or “Mind out, I’m over here”. Be sure to be vocal with your horns, particularly in heavy or chaotic traffic. The more people are aware of your presence, the safer you will be. It’s a two-way thing, too, so don’t be afraid to answer a passing ‘toot’ with your own, along with a friendly wave or smile!
3 – Size Matters
Sorry, lads, but on the roads of Asia, size really does matter. If you compared the paths or India to the food chain, at the top would be the busses, trucks and lorries – the lions, tigers and bears. Next, you’d have the cars and vans, followed by TukTuks, motorcycles and pedestrians. Needless to say, you and your three-wheeler are pretty near the bottom of the pecking order, so it’s important to drive accordingly. Big red bus hurtling towards you on the wrong side of the road? Best to simply slow down and pull out of the way, regardless of who’s in the wrong!
4 – It’s What’s Ahead That Counts
In the west, we’re generally taught to build up a 3D image of the traffic around us using our windows and mirrors. So much so, that we spend much of the time actually looking behind us when we drive. Well, sorry to disappoint you folks, but that’s a concept that won’t get you too far in Asia. What really counts, is what is going on directly in front of you. Sure, your mirrors – such as they may be – will come in handy and shouldn’t be ignored completely but focus your attention on the situation at hand. This may seem crazy, or even reckless, but so long as everyone is doing the same thing, it’s remarkably effective. Someone pulls out in front of you, and you have to move aside? That’s cool, the person behind has seen it and done their thing, just like you have.
5 – Keep a Sense of Humour
If you hadn’t gathered by now, driving in Asia is almost entirely down to finding and keeping the right mindset. Yes, it’s noisy. Yes, it’s hot. No, he shouldn’t have done that. But he did. Laugh, smile, wave and be on your way. If you can’t do that, it’s probably time to stop for a break or swap drivers. Getting annoyed, frustrated or agitated will generally reflect badly on your standard of driving. Those sudden manoeuvres begin to creep back in; overreactions become more likely, and things start to go wrong. Just as importantly, your epic road trip is meant to be fun! Take your time, stop often and remember – so long as everyone is safe and well, there’s nothing to worry about!
Sure, it’s easy for me to sit here and tell you how to drive in Asia through a computer screen. But the truth is, there’s no substitute for experience. The guys at TukTukRental.com will hook you up with an amazing driving instructor who will give you the skills you need to be safe on the road, but the rest is simply a case of getting out there and doing it. Safe travels and remember – Have FUN!