Thursday, June 9, 2011

Driving in Sri Lanka- by a Dutchman

Driving in Sri Lanka

For the benefit of every Tom, Dick and Harry visiting Sri Lanka  and daring
to drive on SL roads, I am offering a few hints for survival. They are
applicable to every place in SL except in the North , where life outside a
vehicle is only marginally safer..

Sri Lankan road rules broadly operate within the domain of karma where you
do your best, and leave the results to your insurance company.

The hints are as follows: Do we drive on the left or right of the road? The
answer is 'both'. Basically you start on the left of the road, unless it is
occupied. In that case, go to the right, unless that is also occupied. Then
proceed by occupying the next available gap, as in chess. Simply trust your
instincts, ascertain the direction, and proceed. Adherence to road rules
leads to much misery and occasional fatality. Most drivers don't drive,
but just aim their vehicles in the generally intended direction.  Don't you
get discouraged or underestimate yourself except for a belief in
reincarnation, the other drivers are not in any better position.

Don't stop at pedestrian crossings just because some fool wants to cross the
road. You may do so only if you enjoy being bumped in the back. Pedestrians
have been strictly instructed to cross only when traffic is moving slowly or
has come to a dead stop because some minister is in town. Still some idiot
may try to wade across, but then, let us not talk ill of the dead.

Blowing your horn is not a sign of protest as in some countries. We horn to
express joy, resentment, frustration, romance and bare lust (two brisk
blasts), or just mobilize a dozing cow in the middle of the bazaar. Keep
informative books in the glove compartment. You may read them during traffic
jams, while awaiting the chief minister's motorcade, or waiting for
the rainwater to recede when over ground traffic meets underground drainage.

Occasionally you might see what looks like a UFO with blinking coloured
lights and weird sounds emanating from within. This is an illuminated bus,
full of happy pilgrims singing bhajans. These pilgrims go at breakneck
speed, seeking contact with the  Almighty, often meeting with success.

Auto Rickshaw (Baby Taxi / Tuck-tuck): The result of a collision between a
rickshaw and an automobile. This three-wheeled vehicle works on an
external combustion engine that runs on a mixture of kerosene oil
and creosote. This triangular vehicle carries iron rods, gas cylinders or
passengers three times its weight and dimension, at an unspecified fare.
After careful geometric calculations, children are folded and packed into
these auto rickshaws until some children in the periphery are not in contact
with the vehicle at all. Then their school bags are pushed into
the microscopic gaps all round so those minor collisions with other vehicles
on the road cause no permanent damage. Of course, the peripheral children
are charged half the fare and also learn  Newton 's laws of motion enroute
to school. Auto-rickshaw drivers follow the road rules depicted in the film
Ben Hur, and are licensed to irritate.

Mopeds: The moped looks like an oil tin on wheels and makes noise like an
electric shaver. It runs 30 miles on a teaspoon of petrol and travels at
break-bottom speed. As the sides of the road are too rough for a ride, the
moped drivers tend to drive in the middle of the road; they would rather
drive under heavier  vehicles instead of around them and are often 'mopped'
off the tarmac.

Leaning Tower of Passes : Most bus passengers are given free passes and
during rush hours, there is absolute mayhem. There are passengers hanging
off other passengers, who in turn hang off the railings and the overloaded
bus leans dangerously, defying laws of gravity but obeying laws of surface
tension. As drivers get paid for overload (so many Rupees per kg of
passenger), no questions are ever asked. Steer clear of these buses by a
width of three passengers.

One-way Street: These boards are put up by traffic people to add jest in
their otherwise drab lives.. Don't stick to the literal meaning and proceed
in one direction. In metaphysical terms, it means that you cannot proceed in
two directions at once. So drive as you like, in reverse throughout, if you
are the fussy type.

Lest I sound hypercritical, I must add a positive point also. Rash and fast
driving in residential areas has been prevented by providing a 'speed
breaker'; two for each house. This mound, incidentally, covers the water and
drainage pipes for that  residence and is left untarred for easy
identification by the corporation authorities, should they want to recover
the pipe for year-end accounting.

Night driving on Sri Lankan roads can be an exhilarating experience for
those with the mental make up of Genghis Khan. In a way, it is like playing
Russian roulette, because you do not know who amongst the drivers is loaded.
What looks like premature dawn on the horizon turns out to be a truck
attempting a speed record. On encountering it, just pull partly into the
field adjoining the road until the phenomenon passes.

Our roads do not have shoulders, but occasional boulders. Do not blink your
lights expecting reciprocation. The only dim thing in the truck is the
driver, and with the peg of illicit arrack (alcohol) he has had at the last
stop, his total cerebral functions add up to little more than a naught.
Truck drivers are the James Bonds of Sri Lanka , and are licensed to kill.

Often you may encounter a single powerful beam of light about six feet above
the ground. This is not a super motorbike, but a truck approaching you With
a single light on, usually the left one. It could be the right one, but
never get too close to investigate. You may prove your point posthumously.
Of course, all this occurs  at night, on the trunk roads. During the
daytime, trucks are more visible, except that the drivers will never show
any Signal. (And you must watch for the absent signals; they are the greater

Only, you will often observe that the cleaner who sits next to the driver,
will project his hand and wave hysterically. This is definitely not to be
construed as a signal for a left turn. The waving is just an statement of
physical relief on a hot day.

If, after all this, you still want to drive in Sri Lanka , have your lessons
between 8 pm and 11 am-when the police have gone home and – The citizen is
Then free to enjoy the 'FREEDOM OF SPEED' enshrined in the constitution.

1 comment:

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