Hot Wheels: The Magic School Bus

Since our learning expedition touched down in Chennai a couple of weeks ago, our primary source of transportation had been the minibus. It isn’t your average minibus. It is a rather spacious 23 seater. The minibus has a milky white paint job and even comes with beige curtains to shield its passengers from the blistering Indian sun. It has both a driver and his sidekick. This sidekick is responsible for opening/closing the door, dealing with security guards at our destinations, and making sure that all passengers are comfortable (this can also include distributing bottled water).

We relied extensively on the minibus to get us from point A to point B in Chennai, Agra, and Delhi and rarely made use of taxis, public buses, or rickshaws. Not only was it a comfortable and reliable form of transportation, but we were also able to take in some of the unique sights and sounds of India. Fortunately, we had Prasad and Mahesh (I-India educational trip organizers) in addition to Professor Sundaram to answer any questions that might have arisen as we peeked out the window.

Sights: As we ventured from one point to another, we endured large amounts of traffic on the road. Motorcycles with an entire family on it, large crowded buses, and midsize cars were all vying for a place on the narrow road. It would not be unusual for some 2-3 cars and multiple motorcycles to share a two lane road. Every now and then, you would also see a large cow roaming the side of the road or even simply ‘chilling’ in the divider between opposing sides of traffic. You would then pause and ask yourself, “How on Earth did these cows not get hit by any moving vehicle?” We quickly learned that cows are sacred in India and have a special role in the Hindu mythologies. Consequently, no one would dare kill a cow even if accidental. Could this be where the expression “holy cow” comes from?

Sounds: There was one pervasive sound that was continuously heard on the roads: the honking! And when I mean continuous, I really do mean non-stop. It seemed as though drivers would literally drive with one hand on the car horn. Given how densely populated the roads were and the amount of congestion, I guess it is only natural that you would continuously honk. Moreover, it was not unusual for many of us to go back to the hotel and continue to hear the honking!

Hot Wheels, our primary form of transportation

Hot Wheels, our primary form of transportation

The comfortable interior of our minibus

The comfortable interior of our minibus

A little traffic never really hurt anyone

A little traffic never really hurt anyone

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Categories: Chennai, Delhi, Impressions of India | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Hot Wheels: The Magic School Bus

  1. anantsundaram

    Heh heh, as our local guide, Prasad wryly noted, you need three things to drive safely on an Indian road: good horns, good brakes, and good luck!

    He might have added a fourth: the (holy) cow as speed-breaker!

  2. philipdykim

    It’s interesting that you mentioned the frequency of honking that occurs on public roads. The honking is so frequent that it almost blends in with the ambient noise and you just get used to it. It seems that a major difference in the usage of car horn between America and India is that drivers in India use it as a precautionary measure to alert other drivers of their whereabouts on the road due to heavy congestion. I’ve seen car horns being used as a reactive instrument more often in America and Canada. It was also interesting to see that the honking in New Delhi was minimal on the well-paved roads compared to what we’ve experienced in Chennai. Despite the amount of congestion on the roads and a seemingly chaotic traffic system at times, we did not see an accident during our entire trip (well at least I didn’t). It seems that Prasad’s advice on possessing three things held true when driving in India – good breaks, good horns, and good luck.

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