My First Solo Ride in Madurai was Almost My Last!

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I Arrived in Madurai, but My Bag Didn’t

My first solo trip in Madurai was almost my last. For reasons still unknown to me, my backpack did not arrive in India at the same time I did. My group had a very nice man named Gandhi helping them, and he took me to a store so I could get a few things until I could be reunited with my lost luggage. On the morning we were scheduled to leave Madurai for Kuthur, the airline called and told me I could come and pick up my bag. I negotiated a price with the nearest auto-rickshaw driver and we were off.

Think Driving in New Jersey is Bad? Try India!

The ride to the airport was quite nice.It was a warm morning and there was relatively little traffic (if you have ever been on the road in India you will know what a joke this is). Traffic in India is crazy. They drive on the left- at least they are supposed to drive on the left- but that doesn’t stop people from making their own rules. Cars, trucks, busses, bicycles, motorcycles, auto-rickshaws, and pedestrians all jostle for position, and they are not above using either side of the road to get where they are going. The most important rule of the road is the honk. A vehicle approaching another vehicle from behind honks its horn to alert the other driver (kind of like mountain biking). Multiply this by ten thousand and you’ll get the idea what it sounds like driving in India.

Anatomy of an Auto Rickshaw

An auto-rickshaw is a three wheeled motorcycle type affair with open sides, so as you are going down the road there are vehicles constantly whizzing next to you, around you, at you, and if you are faint of heart, you shouldn’t look out the windshield, either. I absolutely love these thrill rides, and I know that if given the chance, I would rock driving in India; I drive like that all the time, anyway.

“We’re off to the airport! …I hope.”

But, as I was saying, the trip to the airport was pleasant and largely uneventful. The trip back to the hotel, however, was another story. I should say, at this point, that the streets in and around Madurai all look the same to the uninitiated, so I had to have a certain amount of faith that the driver understood where I wanted to go, and that he was actually taking me there. On the way out, the crowded city slowly gave way to less congested roads, and I had no doubt that we were headed to the airport.

A Mid-Trip Tea Break

Once we hit the city on the return trip, I had no idea where I was. I didn’t recognize anything; but that doesn’t mean anything. I do know that when the driver pulled over and parked, we were not in front of our hotel. I was about to say something when my driver turned around and, with the help of a hand gesture asked me if I wanted tea. I hadn’t planned on stopping for tea, but it was beautiful day, I was enjoying myself, so I told him, “Yes, tea would be lovely.” When our impromptu pit-stop was over, my driver started the rickshaw, and, like he did when we first started out, began methodically tapping the decals of Krishna and  Ganesh that adorned his windshield; I assume It was to assure their blessings for a safe trip. I think I owe my life to Krisna and Ganesh, or at the very least, the quick reflexes of my driver.

We Almost Cause Someone’s Death! (And Someone Almost Causes Ours!)

Within a few minutes after starting off again, a motorcycle shot from somewhere in my blind spot diagonally in front of our rickshaw. My driver never slowed, the cyclist never looked at us, and I still don’t know how we didn’t hit him. I was still wondering how we managed not to cream that guy when the driver, approaching a blind intersection, slammed on the brakes sending me out of my seat. A fully loaded bus flew past us in a cloud of dust. If my driver hadn’t hit the brakes when he did we would have been broad-sided, and I would have been a memory (the driver, too). There was no way he could have known that bus was coming; I had nearly the same vantage point as he did. My heart was definitely racing. The driver glanced at me in his rear-view mirror but said nothing. Thank you Krishna, Ganesh, driver, whomever, take your pick!

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Posted on: December 27, 2010 | Categories: How People Travel, India



  • Terry Manglass says:

    Wow! That sounded like a scary trip. It was a great read though. I’m glad you finally were reunited with your bag. Have fun but also have a safe trip. (how was the tea?) .

  • Jeremy says:

    I have driven and been driven in countries with insane driving patterns all over the world, including Nigeria, Thailand and China, but I have never seen anything that even approaches how insane the system (or lack thereof) of Indian driving is. I always bring work / a book with me if I have a driver there because it takes forever to get anywhere and I would rather not see what is going on around me.

  • Anji says:

    This rikshaw drivers just zoom through the bumpy streets in India! I eventually let them do whatever they wanted, as long as I reached safely to my destination!

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