Does it matter that nothing quite works in India?

I have been in India a month so far and all ten hotels that I have stayed in now merit inclusion in my list of eleven worst hotels ever. Many are simply dirty. I don’t know if the dust clings to the humidity everywhere, or the cleaning methods are inadequate. All suffered from power cuts throughout the day. Air conditioning failed even more frequently. Most have very weak wi-fi even though they all promote the fact that they offer it free of charge. Some had grey bedsheets. One had peeling wallpaper. All had mould in the bathroom. Most had running water, sometimes a touch above tepid. One had a window that was too small for the frame. One had just one light fixture working out of five. I often commented on these issues, when asked by enthusiastic management, but nothing changed. So, should I expect this huge country to match my expectations, or should I accept their standards?

Many people offered me cautionary advice on the standard of driving here, or lack of a standard, prior to my arrival. However, after Turkey, then Iran, I found that things weren’t so bad after all. There is so much traffic everywhere that no-one can travel fast. At low speeds the traffic filters well with every road user. The horn is used to advise others of a turn, an undertake, a get out of my way message, an expression of annoyance, a my turn next message and doubtless many other things that I can’t figure out. Somehow, incredibly, the system of un-written rules, and ignored legislation, works well. To my surprise I am going to say it works really well. The bigger the vehicle, the more expensive the vehicle, the more ‘rights’ you have. Trucks and buses rule the highways, mini vans and 4 x 4s come next, rare imported cars follow, then Indian made cars, then my motorcycle, then Royal Enfield Bullets, then all other motorcycles, then tuk-tuks, then carts drawn by horse, ox, donkey or camel, then cyclists and pedestrians. Pedestrians walk in the street because the pavements are even worse, or non existent. But top of the tree by far are the cows. They are holy of course, and hitting one is completely out of the question. Unlike in Turkey my bike is given a higher status than other motorcycles. It takes other road users only a fraction of a second to spot my size and give me a little extra space. That embarrasses me most of the time, but I am very grateful for the allowance. Honestly, I feel quite safe with other users on the roads here. I am also quite comfortable with traffic coming down the street the wrong way towards me. It really all works well for them, even if they have made up many of the rules for themselves. The secret is to observe what they do, and follow. I would fail if I tried to impose my knowledge of international traffic laws on to them.

There is a caveat though : the roads are terrible. Missing tarmac and potholes the size of small craters have plagued me. Explaining why an adequately built toll road can have a 10 metre or 10 kilometre section of rough shingle but no tarmac has so far eluded me. The towns are the worst. They have little more than mud in them, and none of that is flat. Most of them had tarmac once, I have been told, but after digging up to install or maintain local services, there is no budget left for resurfacing. Probably no votes for the councillors and politicians either. Corruption stories fill the newspapers daily. In my mind peoples’ lives are blighted by the disgraceful roads in their towns, but I have gained the impression that they are largely ambivalent to it.

Mumbai’s roads were awful, and most cities I visited were just as bad. You might not be surprised to learn that Delhi roads are quite good - the politicians and civil servants live here.


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