Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Delhi traffic

In one of my past posts I happen to say that the traffic in Delhi is the worst that I ever experienced. However, since then I kept on thinking what was making Delhi traffic worst than the traffic in Rome, Izmir, Bogotá, Accra, Lagos, Marrakech - or any other city where I drove...

Not the fact that vehicles do not respect the right of way (common feature in all these cities). Not the fact that cars, trucks, mopeds, and handcarts (and bikes, and dogs, and pedestrians) recklessly zigzag like restive horses (as above). Not the fact that it’s not infrequent to (almost) clash with other cars (or buses, or trucks) coming in the opposite direction in your same lane. Not the cows (and the camels, and the elephants) that roam in the roads (idem, idem, idem...)

For weeks I looked for an example that could show why Delhi traffic is different. And I finally found it.

Sewa Nagar, level crossing. Cars, trucks, mopeds, and handcarts chaotically line up on the left lane (here in India you drive on the left) while waiting the train to pass. The same happens on the other side of the level crossing. Minutes go by.

And then, suddenly, cars, trucks, mopeds, and handcarts from the rear of the queue start overtaking the line of cars in front of them and mass on the level crossing on the right lane. The same happens on the other side of the level crossing. In just a few minutes, on both sides of the level crossing, a hoard of honking cars, trucks, mopeds, and handcarts entirely occupy every squared centimeter of the road, from left to right, and for hundreds of meters behind.

Finally the train passes. The level crossing opens. And…


But don't worry too much. It is proved that any human system, in the absence of rules, automatically creates a subset of (tacitly shared) norms, habits, conventions to self-regulate. So, be reassured: that mess eventually got solved, and people in the end got where they had to go. That's India.

But to draw a lesson - The secret to drive (and survive) in Delhi traffic is to understand that set of tacit norms, habits, and conventions. In short, the secret to survive in Delhi traffic is to start thinking like an Indian… And it is with this attitude that every morning I approach my scooter. And consider every ride a learning experience. If the way people drive reflects their most profound nature, every ride on my scooter offers me an opportunity to get more and more into the soul of this country…


  1. this is hilarious - I can totally see it.

    Meanwhile, if you think Delhi is bad, visit Bangalore. There the road planners in their wisdom have demarcated most of the city as one ways....this is a nightmare to someone who does not know the city well and of course does not guarantee that you will not find oncoming traffic within the one way!

  2. Ho smesso di pensare agli Indiani come a un popolo pieno di spiritualità quando ho avuto a che fare con il loro modo di guidare...
    O forse è solo un altro modo per raggiungere il vuoto mentale e cosmico... non si può pensare troppo quando sei in mezzo al traffico di Delhi...
    Comunque, per evitare che l'inquinamento indiano penentri un po' troppo nei tuoi polmoni insieme alla tua learning experience quotidiana, vedrò di procurarti qualche mascherina antipolvere...

  3. altroche' mascherina anti-polvere: qui mi serve una mascherina anti-radiazioni nucleari!