India Travel Advisory

Like last year, Autodesk is having its corporate travel agency book my travel to their Manufacturing Tech Day event to be held in Portland, Oregon at the end of this month. Today Autodesk Travel sent me a mile long India Travel Advisory from International SOS, an international healthcare, medical assistance and security services company. I guess I got the advisory because of my return flight back home to India. Here are parts of the advisory and my two cents. Or rather, two paise.

Advisory: “It is inadvisable to self-drive; driving conditions are chaotic, road quality poor, and the rate of accidents extremely high.”

I have always maintained that the Indian driver’s license should be made the international driver’s license. If you can drive in India, you can drive anywhere else in the world. However, I would add something else here for pedestrians. When crossing a road, don’t simply start walking off the sidewalk onto the pavement. Unlike in the US, in India vehicles don’t stop for pedestrians. The way it works here is pretty simple and straightforward. If a driver runs over a pedestrian on the pavement, its the pedestrian’s fault. If a driver runs over a pedestrian on the sidewalk, its the driver’s fault. Pedestrian crossings are not always where they ought to be. And there are very few of them to begin with. Basically you need to look right, then left, do your calculations and it they work out you run.

It is quite common to weave your way across a road with vehicles whizzing past in front and behind you. When crossing a road in India body language is key. Do not, I repeat, do not hesitate in the middle of the road. If you have done your calculations and have decided that you will be able to cross that particular lane of the road before the oncoming vehicle in that lane passes you, go ahead and do it confidently. The driver will observe your body language and act accordingly. If you take two steps forward, one back and then shake around unsure of what to do next, you might get run over. You will get a bunch of flowery words in the local language spat at you for sure.

Advisory: “Do not enter into public confrontation with locals; this is likely to draw a crowd that may become aggressive.”

Very true. I live in Goa, which is a major international tourist destination. I have see more than my fair share of tourists starting stupid arguments because things are not happening the way they do in their country. This is India, a third world country. It’s very different. The only place where tourists can throw a fit and get away with it is at a restaurant or a hotel. That’s because the people there are being paid to take crap from tourists. Try doing this anywhere else and you are asking for trouble.

Advisory: “In the event of being involved in a serious road traffic accident, it is possible that vehicle occupants may be attacked; this is particularly a risk in rural areas or where there is a small police presence”

In India, if a bus or a truck runs over a person or crashes into a vehicle causing death or serious injury, there is just one thing that the driver does – jumps out of his vehicle and runs for his life. It does not matter whether it was his fault or not. He does not wait for the police to arrive or call for an ambulance. He simply flees from the scene. Why? Because he will almost always get beaten up by the angry crowd that gathers.

In India there are only two kinds of people who gather around the scene of an accident: (1) sensible people who will do everything they possibly can to help the injured and get them to a hospital, and (1) senseless idiots who come looking for someone to vent their life’s frustrations on. Now depending on which part of India you are and whether you are in an urban or rural area, the mix of these people in the crowd may vary in your favor or otherwise. If you sense hostility I recommend that you fake an injury, or get a fellow traveler to fake one, and ask people to take you to a hospital. Just get the hell away from the scene of the accident.

I know it is the wrong thing to do. You should be trying to get help for the person you ran over or crashed into. Don’t worry. Someone will do that for you. It’s these dimwits that you need to get yourself and your family or fellow travelers away from first.

And by the way, thanks to the British, we drive on the left side of the road. To be safe, just don’t drive. Hire a cab. They are cheap and best of all, you won’t be the one who gets trashed.

Advisory: “Avoid street vendors and market food because the standard of hygiene may be low and food may not be fresh.”

That goes without saying. Another thing. Don’t walk into an Indian restaurant and say to the waiter, “Get me your specialty dish“. There is a high probability that he will get food that is has not been moving fast enough or stuff that is stale. And this is important. The words “hot” and “spicy” in India amount to “freaking hot” and “freaking spicy” by American or European standards. The food in city hotels that have foreign guests is “westernized” by toning it down to a great extent. The stuff you get in city restaurants is the true Indian food. If you want to try some real Indian spicy food and take off the inner lining of your stomach in the bargain, ask for a dish called “Chicken Kolhapuri”. Be sure that you have your travel insurance document handy. You are going to need it.