In fact there are two of them, emerging from a side road without stopping, pulling a cart laden with sugar canes like miniature lumber. They join the goats and dogs wandering in the verges, adding to the melee of cars, lorries, tractors, trailers, buses, wagons, bicycles, pedestrians, motorcycles, scooters, step-thru’s and the ubiquitous tuk-tuk 3 wheelers that must breed here, there are so many of them. All of these come from every direction as we navigate the Bangalore ring road on our way to Mysore, horns tooting and engines revving around us. It’s utterly bonkers to behold.
Our driver, Biju, seems completely unfazed by it all. Indeed, despite the utter confusion of the street scene and everyone’s determination to stake their claim to their piece of road, they all seem quite good-natured – or maybe totally resigned – to the situation. Unlike the UK where horns are mainly used as a sign of anger or annoyance, here it seems to mean ‘I’m warning you I’m here, please make space’. No-one takes offence.
That warning is very necessary as we all squeeze into every available space. Lane markings seem to be an advisory only, largely to be ignored, and even the direction of travel seems up for grabs. If you can’t get through this way just go the other way against the flow of traffic. When motorbikes decide to go the wrong way half up the verge it’s one thing, but when tractors and buses do the same it’s quite another. We have no idea whether this is supposed to be a two-way road, but we’re pretty sure it’s not.
At busy junctions it’s utter chaos. Vehicles of all types fly in all directions, the bikes thread through any gap they can find, and the people walk out into the middle of it all.
A tuk-tuk sheds it’s load in front of us and bags of something looking like garden waste bounce along the road, causing the traffic to part in waves around it. A scooter sails serenely past, driver choosing his course, gaily saronged wife looking laid back as she sits side saddle behind, and child squashed between the two of them, resplendent in his school uniform.
All of this sounds really scary, but actually we don’t feel rattled at all, just fascinated. It all happens at a fairly modest pace, and we are able to watch our journey unfold. It’s nothing like the taxi ride we took in Italy where we rarely dropped below 70, through toll booths and all, swerving violently across other traffic. Now that was scary.
Eventually we reach our hotel, the Radisson Blu in Mysore. It’s a well appointed place with an impressive lobby area, and the staff are anxious to please. We sit and enjoy excellent bowls of soup in the light and modern restaurant whilst we wait for our room to be ready, it’s still only 11.30 am.
When we are shown to our room we’re told we’ve been upgraded. It’s a lovely space with a view over the city, the Mysore Palace, and the road outside. And there, as we watch, is a cow wandering along the central grass strip between the two traffic lanes, helping itself to the choicest mouthfuls. The cow doesn’t notice the traffic, and the traffic pays no regard to the cow.
They are all as mad as each other. It’s going to be an interesting couple of weeks.