e on the Bangalore-Mysore freeway was about 5 years ago, when we were here on a vacation from Calif. Then, it was like a village road, filled with pot holes and very narrow. Coming from the US, it was really sad to notice the absolute contrast. But now, you have these beautiful 4 lane freeways that can easily compete with the freeways in the west for quality. See pic below.
The engineering is very good. The roads are banked well. Banking was never done on the Indian freeways before. You had to navigate the ups and downs, and the turns and curves with the clutch and brake. Now, you can simply step on the gas, much like on any freeway in the US. You can touch 120-140 kph! The pic to the left shows the banking pretty well. This pic and all the following pics were taken on the way to Chennai.
The roads also have boards with National Highway number, the different places that the roads lead to and the respective distances in the typical green board, just like in the west. Also notice the shoulders for pulling over. Amazing, isn’t it?
And like a typical Indian road, some stretches also have trees lining the roads, making it scenic and enjoyable.
Unfortunately, it is not all good. You still face some typical Indian problems while on the freeway. The road sense is fairly lacking amongst the users, making it very difficult at times to predict what you will meet with on the road. You actually have people driving in the opposite direction on a divided freeway!!! Since the freeway is divided, they just assume that they can use the side of the road that most satisfies their individual needs. So, as you drive on these beautiful roads, you can very well expect a vehicle to come right at you!!! It could be a huge truck too! Unbelievable! You just have to make way and “adjust”. Once, we saw a tractor guy actually arguing with the police who was reprimanding him for being on the wrong side of the road. The tractor guy just didn’t get it that he was wrong! Sigh!
You have all kinds of vehicles using the freeway. Everything from a cycle, auto rickshaw, tractor, to the cars, buses, trucks etc. Since the moving speed of every vehicle is different, you can’t really cruise at your own speed. You will always have to be watchful, and not miss a cyclist by accident. Scary, eh!
And when the freeway cuts through a town, like in the olden days, the freeway magically transforms into the main downtown street of that town/village! This considerably lessens your speed, and you have to navigate through cows, pedestrians, bus-stops, vendors, etc! The pic below kind of typifies the scenario.
This is mostly never the case in the US. The freeways pretty much stay out of towns and even if they do cut the towns, the town traffic can get in and out of the freeways only using ramps/exits. I say ‘mostly’ cause in old cities, the freeway still transforms into the main street of the town/city. For example, the 101 in San Francisco.
The Indian freeway is still just a road for the pedestrian to cross/jay walk. Pedestrians magically appear almost anywhere. And when the road is wide, and the sun is bright, and you are speeding at 100 kph, you can only imagine the difficulty in even noticing the jay walker. And at times, the freeway actually has a zebra crossing! What the !! Do the road designers except the speeding motorist to suddenly come to an absolute halt at a zebra crossing? Cause there are no signals at such crossings!!! Notice the zebra crossing and the pedestrians below. Notice also the lack of signals.
The shoulders typically are also spots for a variety of activities. and these activities can actually spill onto the freeway!!! The first pic below shows some political activity happening right next to the freeway. Look at the number of people standing along. The second pic shows a typical shop set up under the trees. People pull up and shop right there on the shoulder/freeway.
Having listed the +es and -es, I still have to say that the roads are a 1000 times better than they ever were. And with Sri. Vajpayee’s Golden Quadrilateral, the largest express highway project in India, coming to completion, we can actually travel around India on road!
Image source: National Highway Authority of India (NHAI)
I still fondly remember all our innumerous road trips in the US. We always preferred the roads, mostly cause it was so easy! And not to mention, very pretty! Some of California’s and Oregon’s freeways along the Pacific coastline are also some of the most scenic. To think that we can do similar road trips here covering most of India is exciting, to say the least. And with India’s varied culture and landscape, it will be an absolute pleasure to go on a Golden Quadrilateral road trip.