Yeah, it’s true what they say: Rickshaw drivers are an insane and crazy people.

tuk tuk ride through Mumbai, first person viewReading others’ stories, you do have a vague sense that even the average ride across town is a harrowing experience. But it does nothing to truly prepare you for the experience. The first couple rides, I swore the end was near. The next few rides I had got over the shock and was just plain old scared for my life. The next few after that, I started thinking, hey this isn’t so bad, I’vve survived thus far, I’m sure nothing can go wrong. That’s when another tuk-tuk brushes up against the left side of the one I’m in and narrowly missed my sandaled foot. Truly, never a dull moment in a rickshaw.

Zipping across town in a rickshaw is pretty much like a real-life bumper car that does occasionally (very rarely really) go bump on the road. The pace of movement on the streets is pretty much like a video game. Seriously. There are obstacles everywhere, sudden congestion to plow through, long stretches where everyone guns their vehicles and redlines their engines, and constant near-misses with surrounding vehicles. However, to that end, the thing that stuck out to me more than anything else about tuk-tuk drivers, and people on the road in general, is just how precise they are with their machines while they drive.

I saw exactly two contacts in as many weeks in Mumbai, and I was on the road a lot. Given the number of vehicles on the road at any given time, and particularly during rush hour, and given the fact that lanes do not exist, stoplights are optional, and pedestrians are everywhere, it is a testament to the drivers themselves that they are as ‘safe’ as they are. It’s like there is an invisible force field around every vehicle that somehow inexplicably repels surrounding vehicles from actual contact, even if at the last moment with just centimeters to spare.

The force fields are bolstered, however, by a magical tool that is not only encouraged but relied upon for these seamless and mystical currents of traffic to continue flowing: the horn. Horns are not a way to express alarm, danger, or frustration. They are simply a way to say, “Hey bro, I’m over here next to you, or coming up on you from the left. Just thought you should know.” That’s it. And it’s more than just a little thing that some drivers do and others don’t. EVERY driver honks. Honking is such an important part of transportation mechanics that the backs of rickshaws, trucks, busses and other vehicles almost invariably have the following painted on their backsides: “HORN OK PLEASE!” Honking is a way of life when a motor vehicle is involved. If you don’t like horns, you won’t like the streets of India.

The following video might be a bit boring to watch, and like I said it just doesn’t do the real thing justice, but it does give something of an idea of an average commute of several kilometers across town, Andheri in this case. This driver was actually one of the most conservative that I drove with, not cutting people off or squeezing through spaces in traffic that at first glance are certainly impossible to get through.

See you on the streets dodging between the rickshaws,

Nathan