Herding Traffic With Sticks

25 Feb

Blow horn. And do they ever. Kolkata.

Apparently, you can herd cars like farm animals. That is, by hitting them with a stick.

Crossing the road in Varanasi.

I had to see this one in order to believe it. The traffic in our first two stops – Kolkata and Varanasi – has to be experienced. No attempt to describe the sheer chaos will in any way give you a snapshot of the reality. One of my traveling companions has already resorted to earplugs just in order to venture outside, and we’ve all decided to don a scarf over our faces if any sort of vehicle travel is involved.

Hold on tight! Auto-rickshaw, Varanasi.

Picture the midway at the state fair – vendors and children, meandering pedestrians in open-toed shoes, hawkers of every sort selling sandals and cigarettes and cut cantalopes, the bright multi-colored lights and shiny painted kiosks, blaring pop music, revving truck engines –



then add more vehicles than can possibly fit: mercedes cars, tour buses, local buses, military trucks, bicycles, mopeds, taxis, motorcycles, bicycle rickshaws, 3-wheeled auto-rickshaws, tractors, carts piled high with shoes and steel rebar and entire families balanced on the frame of a bicycle.

That’s Johnny Walker SHOES under the McAloo Tikka. Clearly. Varanasi.

And to this flow of color and movement, add livestock: donkeys, goats, herds of buffalo, dogs lounging listlessly in the dirt, chickens, tiny scraggly cats, monkeys hanging from above, and then clearly – a holy cow – parting the sea of traffic in any which direction it chooses, nibbling mounds of trash and discarded vegetable scraps off the side of the road.

Directly centered in this crowd is a meter-high turret holding a uniformed traffic officer – armed with a long, reed-like stick – slapping the flank of any type of transport that lingers in one place for more than a few seconds.


Colorful and chaotic, carnival-esque – and terrifying. I’m thinking of starting a non-profit with the goal of making helmets standard issue for anyone with the insurmountable desire to cross the street.

Cycle rickshaw. Kolkata.


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