Friday, January 13, 2012

Adam - Death Ride - part 1

Saying our good-byes to friends, family and loved ones, we get on our first of two flights, at 6pm. Our eyes are glowing as the excitement of our journey truly sets in.

It's actually happening.

We arrive at Bangalore Intl. At 1:00am, following our two (very uncomfortable) 9 hour flights, with a 2 hour layover in Paris. Unable to sleep on the planes, it's been almost 2 days now since we've slept.

The airport is very quiet and empty, only a few security guards and customs attendants are inside the building. After making our way past a very grumpy and unwelcoming customs clerk (it's 1am, he's probably very tired, we can forgive him) we grab our luggage and head outside.

Reaching the exterior we encounter a wall of taxi drivers, 3 men deep, lined up along a fence, calling out to us and holding up signs. After a few minutes of searching, we spot our names and make our way to our drivers car.

After introducing ourselves and attempting a brief conversation, we discover that our driver doesn't fully understand English. For the most part he answers questions with 1 word, otherwise remaining silent.

As we drive, through the darkness of night we are able to see silhouettes of palm trees and mountains in the distance. We drive along a nice stretch of well paved roads near the airport and take in some of the pleasant sights India has to offer. The calm, pleasant drive quickly transforms as we approach the highway.

Our driver increases speed and "merges" onto the highway, coming within inches of several vehicles. We bob and weave through traffic, the driver honking and flashing his high-beams as we pass car after car. There are lanes painted on the highway, but no one seems to care. I take a moment to look around and notice that we are moving faster than most others. The thought vanishes, replaced by shock, as our vehicle moves to within a foot of the vehicle in front of us. Honking and flashing his lights, our silent driver moves to pass the car just as the driver behind us moves to pass as well, for a moment we are between the two cars, inches away from both, traveling at about 130 km/h. As we overtake the first car, the second speeds past us, cutting infront at the very first moment it is able and racing away. It takes little time before we reach the next vehicle, a large truck, which we are temporarily unable to pass. We follow the truck, within a foot's distance until the opportunity to pass arises.

Aaron looks back and we exchange a brief, knowing glance. "These people are insane and we will die on this ride." - was the message communicated in our raised eyebrows and slight smiles. The ride continues as described, for the next thirty-or-so minutes, until we approach the exit into the city.

Getting off of the highway, we slow down to navigate the winding roads of Bangalore. For a brief moment, we're relieved. Street lamps and large glowing signs light up the city as we drive. The windows down, an array of scents pass through as we travel; incense, indian cuisine, garbage, exhaust fumes, the smell of burning... something. Looking closer we see sidewalks and curbs covered in garbage in all directions, as though the residents of the city emptied their waste bins onto the streets. For every nice-looking building we see, we pass 5 broken down ones. Massive piles of dirt and stones, bricks and rebar (spreading right out onto the roads) mark buildings under construction. Weaving around them, we pass by dozens of stray dogs digging through the trash, the odd one occasionally chases our car. Every other side street we look down hosts more scrap-shacks, out front of them small fires burn in the darkness. We pass by an inevitable sight, a stray dog dead on the streets (likely hit by some crazy driver), the first of several.

Below: Some examples of roadside garbage, these are both in Mysore, nothing compared to the streets of Bangalore. Imagine the dark side roads of downtown Toronto or New York at night, with twice as much garbage covering the sidewalks and curbs while stray dogs bark and chase your car... Not a happy place.

As dark thoughts fill our tired minds, I can't help but wonder if our driver is actually taking us to our destination. We'd heard of scam drivers, supposedly somewhat common here, who take you to the middle of nowhere and demand more money or just plain rob you and leave you behind. I had used google maps to see the route and get an estimate of our travel time, at no point did the route wind through the city as we had. The fear of being stranded and robbed on the streets of India enters my mind. Sizing up the driver I look about the car considering my options in a worst case scenario. I think back to when we had left the parking lot. The driver had asked for money to pay for parking, 60 rupees ($1.20), searching my wallet I told him my smallest bill was 500. Had he seen my money? Was my fear reality?

I look at Aaron, sitting in the passenger seat, calmly staring ahead. I know he's faking calm, as I am, and after a moment I decide to brush the bad thoughts away. We have no choice but to trust our silent driver. What are we going to do? Tell him to let us out in the slums of Bangalore, luggage and all?

We pass a mat of fur pressed into the road, likely very old remains of another stray dog, our moods had turned, happy thoughts nowhere to be found...
Finally, like a shining beacon of light in the darkness, we round a corner and a large sign reads Mysore, amongst other names, with an arrow pointing in it's direction. Our driver follows. Confidence growing, our frightening adventure continues.


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