India Photo Themes Part I – Vehicles and Traffic

We are back from India and I’ve been busy processing around 5,000 images from the trip. Before we left, I did a bit of searching to try to get a feel for the visual themes that tie this huge, colorful country together and really didn’t find a lot written on the subject. Now that I’ve had a chance to review my images and tag them using Lightroom, I’ve come up with a set of themes that occurred to me as we traveled in the northern part of India. I’ll be creating a set of blog posts, each on an individual theme, in the hope that they may inspire other photographers to explore them when they travel to India.

Fire engine fighting traffic in Old Delhi

Fire engine fighting traffic in Old Delhi

The first theme hits you the minute you leave the airport – Indian traffic. As we traveled the country, we were astonished at the difference between Indian traffic and North American/European traffic. We joked that navigating Indian traffic would make an excellent video game (if anyone is interested in making one, I’d be willing to help). Drivers ignore red lights, lane markings, sidewalks and frequently drive on the wrong side of the road. Trucks, cars and motorbikes share the road with donkey carts, camel carts, auto-rickshaws, bicycles, domestic animals and an assortment of odd vehicles that can’t be adequately described in words.

Vehicles contend with stalls and carts on the streets of most towns

Vehicles contend with stalls and carts on the streets of most towns

One of the funniest scenes happens whenever a train arrives at a railway crossing. The crossing guard has to start lowering the gate 5 minutes before the train arrives because Indian motorists refuse to stop until the gate is fully blocking the roadway. The traffic starts to back up in the left lane, but bicycles, motorbikes and other small vehicles sneak up in the gaps between larger vehicles. Then, it occurs to someone that the right (oncoming) lane is empty and there’s a sudden rush to fill that lane as well. When the train has gone by, the gates lift and you have two full lanes of traffic on either side of the road in a mad game of chicken trying to beat the opposing side across the tracks and reclaim their rightful lane. There is much honking and cursing.

Traffic jostles for position while waiting for a train to come

Traffic jostles for position while waiting for a train to come

One of the things North American drivers rarely have to contend with is the presence of domestic animals on the road. Cows, oxen, pigs, sheep, goats and dogs all compete with vehicle traffic for space on the narrow streets and roads. Occasionally they wander down expressways as well. We witnessed several stand-offs between large vehicles and large animals. Usually, the animal wins.

A cow stares down a truck

A cow stares down a truck

There is a spectacular variety of vehicles on Indian roads. here are some examples of what we saw:

The bicycle rickshaw

The bicycle rickshaw

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The ubiquitous auto-rickshaw

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A scooter passes a wedding cart

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A tractor pulling a hay wagon on the side of an expressway

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Camel carts, a cow and a pig mixing in with traffic.

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People often preferred to ride on the roof of buses

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Trucks were lavishly decorated by their owners

Odd Rajasthani truck powered by a one cylinder engine

Odd Rajasthani truck powered by a one cylinder engine

 

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