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Alappuzha

I went to the town centre in the afternoon only to find that most shops were shut. Living timelessly, I forgot today was Sunday and even Indians need to rest on one day of the week.

So just walking around, I was reminded of a few things.

There are many features of a hotel you could emphasise. For example, you see signs here saying a hotel has AC or non-AC. But the most common sign is veg or non-veg. So you might get a sign saying “Vegetarian Hotel”. I’m not sure whether they’re emphasising that this is a hotel that doesn’t serve meat (which might be important to some people ie having veg but also not having meat in the kitchen) or that this is a hotel that has a vegetarian restaurant or both! You do see signs for “veg and non-veg”. I’m not sure I’ve seen just a non-veg hotel, presumably because you wouldn’t want to exclude a big chunk of the population!

You see all forms of transport in India and generally public transport is very good.

Bicycles are commonplace but are increasingly being replaced by motorbikes. A fairly common sight is to see woman riding motorbikes, more so than the UK. You’ll also see whole families on motorbikes.

Coaches are plentiful (state and private) and often colourfully decorated. The Volvo coach is the most prestigious, giving you the smoothest ride. Transport companies advertise their coaches as (and people recommend taking) “Volvo coaches”. I don’t know if the coaches are actually made by Volvo or whether the phrase has come to mean a certain level of comfort in the same way that, in some countries, the word “Xerox” means photocopy or “Hoover” means vacuum clean or “Google” means search the internet.

In Kerala, because of the heat, public buses have no glass in their windows – natural air-conditioning 😄

And then there is my favourite: the auto-rickshaw. If you didn’t know that the three-wheeler had been invented in Japan 150 years ago, you’d think that the auto-rickshaw had evolved naturally, like some animal, and adapted over time for the Indian road. It seems to be the perfect product of a motorbike and car mating. With its tight turning circle, it can nip around small spaces with ease whilst larger vehicles are blocked. Theoretically carrying a maximum of four people, it’s often seen with many more!

When I landed in Mumbai several years ago, my brother-in-law picked me up at the airport to take me to Gujarat. He kept telling me during the journey how crazy the drivers were. It’s true that driving seems wild. However, I’m beginning to see some method in their madness.

The Bangalore family I met said that the driving laws – eg traffic lights and direction of flow around a roundabout – are optional! However, the official laws are replaced by conventions that have developed informally over time. Sometimes the police try to take control of traffic. The family said that when this happens, the traffic almost inevitably gets worse until the police quietly withdraw. I have noticed that despite the apparent chaos, traffic flows smoothly unless there really are too many vehicles for the road.

Even something like beeping, which is incessant, has a reason. Generally, the beep is to warn people that someone is coming through or anticipating another person/vehicle eg coming around a corner. The beep is used for pedestrians too. Many times today on my walk back to the hotel, people beeped behind me, especially if I was straying slightly towards traffic (remember there are few pavements here!).

The beep lets you do pretty much anything on the road and lets others know that you’re going to be doing something. Fortunately, most of the time, people know what that something is!

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