We flew from Mumbai to Hyderabad the day before yesterday and then rode six hours by Land Rover into the country…far into the country. Not ‘far into the country’ like when I visited the DR Congo and we flew into the interior (there is a good highway system here; the ride itself was fairly direct) but far distant from much of what one would consider developed (e.g. if one wants some kind of western comprehension, we are about as far away from a Starbucks as we can get). That is, of course, not to say we are in the middle of nothingness; there are people all around (mostly agriculture and brick-making here).
The highway was four lane most of the way; or rather, perhaps ‘five lane’ is a more appropriate description. In addition to the travel and passing lane, there is a hazy area of centre lane that serves as a passing stretch depending on the size and speed of one’s vehicle. This goes for the freeway as well as the two lane stretches; we spent a good deal of time pummelling head-on into oncoming traffic to pass the continuous stream of ox carts, autorickshaws, mopeds, busses, and bicycles in the road and any combination of these broken down or stopped to rest in the lane. There were, of course, many people on foot and piles of gravel or produce impeding or otherwise re-directing the flow of traffic. Passing would be otherwise straightforward but the direction of traffic becomes ambiguous when a vehicle is also passing traffic in the oncoming lane (thus, there would be passing vehicles pulling into both lanes simultaneously and all four vehicles would then be driving into each other in both lanes—often this would occur in the undefined centre lane whilst vehicles in both lanes were passing the aforementioned slower vehicles. I am especially thankful we had a week of riding in Mumbai taxis; otherwise I don’t know how I would have faced such a ride with composure. I think, however, that we saw but one accident the whole way; there must be a wonderful hive mind at work that safely moves people and animals out of harm’s way.
We stopped along the way at a roadside eatery (again, it’s very difficult to describe for my Western friends what this is here; it was simply a concrete shed with an open face toward the road. The food was cooked over an open wood fire and brought to the table on metal plates). This was for our driver to have lunch (we had a bite at the airport). At some point whilst we were sitting at the table sipping our Cokes (which, of course, are ubiquitous no matter how far one is from anything), a jeep-load of soldiers pulled up. Man with machine gun came in and checked the place out and then a man who is probably military but is important enough that he need not wear a uniform came in to a little side room to meet with a couple men and eat. The man with the machine gun sat outside and eyed us cautiously (though I would imagine it was obvious to him that we were not a credible threat as our disguise was not especially appropriate for the setting).
This is the first place I’ve been where the roadkill are monkeys. We saw several troupes of them roadside; I saw one in particular making a gesture with an expression of, “what is all this conflagration on the highway!”
We arrived just after dark; as dusk falls, travel becomes even more stimulating; apparently, as long as one can see the road ahead, precious filament in the headlamps are conserved and they remain off. Of course, in a humid country at dusk, the means that one may not be able to see an oncoming vehicle in either the passing or (now especially) hazy centre area. So there was much flashing of headlights to send the message of “My oncoming brother vehicle, let us not collide and put an abrupt end to our perfectly good day of travel.”
So now we are in a quite peaceful rural setting for the next few days; it’s a pleasant contrast to hear night sounds and have fresh air after the closeness of Mumbai over the past week. I’m hoping I can slow down slightly and do a bit more of the work I’m planning to do on this trip; I feel a bit out of practice frankly and it’s taking some time to get up to speed (on top of all the normal adjustment it takes to enter a new country and culture).
The organisation we are visiting here is called the Bharti Integrated Rural Development Society