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:: Friday, March 21, 2003 ::

Around a month back, I went on a driving trip to the hilly regions of far southern states. I started writing a trip report on the journey a few days back. It so turned out that I ended up writing a lot about recollections of road rage. Here is that portion of the report.


Roads and driving in TamilNadu:

A full big chapter is worth writing about the roads of TamilNadu and traveling in the state in general.

.....having chosen to go via Ooty in TamilNadu, we started around 8 in the morning. The drive till the Kerala border was smooth and the road was good. As soon as we crossed the border into TamilNadu we were stopped at a checkpost. While we assumed that it is just a forest checkpost or something of that kind we get to see all around south India, it turned out it was a tollbooth. And when we asked what is the toll for, we were told that it is for using the road. But on our journey forth, we realized that the road was practically non-existent. Probably the roads were last repaired decades ago. It was impossible to travel anywhere beyond 15 to 20kms per hour. I don't remember seeing roads so horrible anywhere else. At least elsewhere, I am sure a government's conscience would hurt for charging a steep Rs.20 toll for such awful roads. The patches on the road are not just pot-holes, they are better described as crevasses or abysses. The road slowed down our speed to extremely low levels and threw away our plans out of gear. Later on in the journey, we figured out that it is a practice of TamilNadu government to put toll stations whereever possible and extort money from tourists. Come to think of it, in the 50km stretch from Palani to Kodaikanal, we were stopped three times and had to pay Rs. 50 in all, simply to pass through. It is understood if they had built excellent roads and in turn, expect people to pay for them. But for the condition of the roads where they collect toll, it is probably more reasonable for the state government to pay the travelers for servicing the shocks of the vehicle for the damages it may have to take. At one point while we were traveling near Salem, there was a series of road-humps on the highway which made us slow down. At that point 2 people from a nearby shelter ran to us and demanded to pay toll of Rs.15 and handed over the receipt to us. As usual, when we asked why, we were told it is for crossing the bridge. But there was no bridge around(!) and on pressing again, they showed a small bridge at a distance and that was it! Besides all this, every now and then, or almost at every town, you will see police checkposts! These check posts will have no cops or anyone monitoring the traffic or travelers, but will have some permanently installed barricades left to rust by themselves. All that seems to be achieved by these barricades is to reduce the road to a single lane and irritate an already annoyed traveler.

Even besides the toll, traveling in the state is definitely no pleasing experience. While roads are in a really sorry state in the hilly regions and would be probably demanding even on a Toyota LandCruiser, the planes do have some excellent roads. You would be surprised at how good are some of the state highways. But the road sense is so awful that you can hardly drive fast even on the best roads. There is little respect for the rules. Biggest problem that you face is small vehicles traveling in the wrong side of the road that force you to break down from speeds of 80kph to under 20kph. Often, while stopping, transport vehicles(like buses) take up the entire left lane instead of using the shoulder and have little care for other travelers. Even bullock carts carelessly take up the entire left lane, many times leaving little option for you but to follow them! Sometimes you wish you would be more happier driving those carts than a car. Another problem is that you often get stuck with the road passing in the middle of the towns. While it is normally tolerable, the unusual frequency with which you encounter these towns does not make things any easy.

Honking is one of the banes of the road. While in rest of the country(or at least where I live), honking is just an accepted phenomenon, here it is mandatory. You will never get your share of the road unless you keep honking. And honking does not mean a gentle request to make way, but you have to keep incessantly pressing the button until the other person can no longer tolerate and let go. Normally as a practice, I rarely honk unless there is absolute necessity. But after learning my lessons in tough way, I learned to drive with one thumb always ready to honk. Surprisingly, you can distinctly notice that as you approach nearer to Karnataka border, you will no longer need to do this and driving will be once again normal, and like a breeze. If you ever plan to drive into this part of the world, my first suggestion is to get the shrillest and loudest possible horns installed in the vehicle, so that you can safely make it back home.

It appears that most people in the state are also English challenged. Very often you don't get to see road-signs in English and you will be left to experiment when the road takes diversions. People are friendly and help you when asked, but not always can you find someone who can understand what you are speaking. But unusually, while most of the directions and other road-signs written in Tamil, you frequently encounter a signboard written in English that reads - 'long live diving classical Tamizh'. While I have absolutely no idea what it means, I was amused by it the first time when I saw that. What surprised me is why something that probably has to do with Tamil is written in English, while important road-signs and directions were written in Tamil! While we were left clueless what it means, as we started encountering the board very often, it soon became like a joke for us(Look there you see it again! Long live...).

In essence, one has to be careful while planning a drive thru the state. It is best to do enough homework to get maps and be clear about the routes so you don't have to keep wondering where to go each time the road forks out. Also assume lot of buffer time as you may not be able to travel at a planned speed most of the times. With that, if you have unlimited patience, you should be able to enjoy the trip without much problems...

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