Today was a shopping day. I left Canada with a small list of things that I needed to purchase in India. The logistics of that I couldn’t have imagined. I realized quickly that back in Canada I really took for granted how easily it is to get around.
I slept in today, I accepted the fact that I am on vacation and I can get up any time I want. Every day I am awakened with car horns and women yelling at children and a dozen other noises that I am not even remotely used too. I got up shortly after 10:30 am and took my 30 second shower. At home, I would enjoy it for at least 5 minutes, it’s the way I prepare for my day. To say water is scarce in India again is an understatement. I also have decided to shower with my flip-flops on. As soon as the water begins to pour over my head I’m reaching for the shampoo and soap, almost instantaneously. Quickly I rinse and make sure all the soap is washed off and turn the water off. I wrap a towel around me and walk to the bedroom to dry off. When I’m dressed, I walk to the kitchen and see that my morning coffee is made and I enjoy the Indian version of caffeine. I laze around the rest of the morning and after lunch, a homemade meal called Paneer with rice and bread, Hema and I decide to go shopping. I have been travelling by car most of my visit but in Jaipur I experienced travelling by Auto for the first time. What is an Auto you ask?
Take a 3-wheel vehicle, remove the doors and put a bench behind the driver. The steering wheel is like a bicycle. It has one pedal for the brake, release your foot from the pedal and the vehicle begins to brake. Let’s not forget the button for a horn. The front windshield is curved and has a very small wiper. Under the driver’s seat is the motor. All you car lovers would laugh when you look at the mechanics of this thing. Lawnmowers in Canada are more powerful than the engine in an Auto. The Driver has to pull a string to start it. When the Auto is idle, it rattles as if it is on its last drop of fuel. The bench behind the driver has 4 to 6 inches of clearance for your legs. If you are 6 feet or taller, this will be the most torturous ride of your life, your chin will rest comfortably on your knees. The padding on the bench is ¼ inch thick and the bench is a perfect 90 degrees. It can only seat 2 people in the back comfortably, I do use that word loosely, but you will find most of the Auto’s on the road have at least 5 people in them not including the driver. Behind the bench, you will sometimes have space to put 2 small bags but here in India it will fit 2 full-grown adults. The way the Auto moves is with one single pedal, push down on it with your foot and it moves forward, release the pedal and it can also brake. This is very important. Things can change very quickly when you are travelling at 10 km/hr.
Hema and I walk to the main road and within seconds an Auto driver pulls over and asks where we are going. Hema explains we want to go to the commercial area in Hyderabad and the driver declines to take us. Another driver has been observing us and motions to Hema that he will take us. It’s that easy. We jump in to the Auto and we are off. When I was younger I thought about getting a convertible. Now that I have been on Indian roads, not so much. I will gladly have 2 or 4 doors, with a proper enclosure. Being in a car you also get to enjoy the air filter which blocks all and any foreign air particles that can invade your lungs. I learned today that an enclosed car is just not to keep you warm or cool, it’s to help you breathe.
We were in the Auto for less than 2 minutes and our lungs were invaded with every possible pollution that there is to mankind. It wouldn’t be so bad if we had kept moving.
Yup you guessed it.
There’s traffic in India. The great thing about Auto’s is that they can weave in and out of traffic almost seamlessly. You feel like you’re in a sadistic version of Frogger. You remember that game, right? It’s the one where you are the frog and you have to get past the traffic and then jump on logs to get to the other side. Now imagine the frog gets a ride in an Auto. You almost forget that less than 2 inches away, you have car and motorcycle tires just speeding past your feet.
I know what I will do, I will focus on the ride and watch the people pass by and see all the fruit markets and pedestrians. I am in India after all, let me soak in the culture.
Sorry, the Auto had to stop and fortunately for me it was right beside a bus right next to the exhaust pipe. I don’t think it past an emissions test. I’m no expert or a mechanic but the solid black smoke that spewed from the exhaust pipe didn’t look very environmental. The air around us quickly became unbreathable.
Oh, thank god, the Auto began to move again. The wind from the movement of the Auto blew away the carcinogens and we were on our way again. Then it hits you.
You are welcomed with the smells of India. Remember when I told you I never smelled anything when I first arrived. That’s because I was using a car. The aroma that now filled my nostrils was a mixture of cow dung, with human urine, rotting food, car combustion and road side waste. I was reminded of a time when I had ingested something when I was a child and my parents took me to the doctor and he gave me something to induce vomiting. This smell worked much better. After my stomach stopped yelling at me and I looked over at Hema who had this look on her face of,
“I will pay any number of rupees just so I will never smell this again”.
Oh great, not even Indian’s can stand the smell. What hope do I have?
The movement of traffic was sporadic to say the least. Sometimes there would be stretches where we only moved a couple of feet and then we were lucky enough to move over 20 feet in one consistent movement. For India that is called normal traffic flow. With this amount of traffic, we were constantly stopping to let motorcycles through and some people would walk in front of us to cross the road.
After it took us almost an hour to get to the shopping mall and approximately 30 minutes to shop, we were on our way back. Different Auto and this one actually looked as if it was well maintained. What I mean by that is, that the motor didn’t sputter as much and it wasn’t riddled with rust.
I was observing the side of the road with the shops and the people and feeling satisfied that I found what I wanted to buy when it happened.
I was launched from my seat and propelling forward towards the driver. I wasn’t looking ahead, I was looking over to my right where the side of the road and all the shops were. The Auto driver we had on the way home, drove with confidence. Traffic slowed somewhat and he weaved over to the right side of a car to get by. Just as our driver got to the driver’s side of the car, remember the driver sits on the right side of the car in India, not like us on the left, a group of women and children pop out from in front of the car.
We have lift off!!’
The driver slammed on the brakes. Please refer to my entry You Need 3 Good Things to Drive in India.
The top of my torso was over the small railing behind the driver separating us. My brain was sending me a message.
“Hi Ricardo, at the present rate of speed and the fact that you have no control of your body, your face will smash into the windshield in 5…4…3…2…”
Didn’t happen, my arm blocked my trajectory.
Ok so I’m ok, look over to Hema and she’s fine, just baffled at the sudden stop. Did we hit anyone? Oh my god the children!!
Nope, everyone escaped unscathed.
At the very last second one of the women jumped back, the other woman grabbed the children and our Auto stopped in between the group. Our driver though, he was pissed. In India, every life is precious. Everyone here cherishes each other. You see the smallest gestures of kindness everywhere. The driver wasn’t angry that the women were on the road. I looked into his eyes and saw anger that he almost had to live with the fact that he would have injured a woman or even worse a child. He didn’t say a word. His rage was spoken with a gaze that had no equal. I looked over at the women and children that were now on the side of the road and they were in disbelief. How did they survive the ordeal? Someone should have gotten injured. Luck. Pure and simple luck. The 3rd good thing you need.
You want to visit India?
Beware the Auto.