Pedestrians have no special rights in India. Crossing the street is both a challenge and an adventure. For the first week of our tour, we needed Manu to help us cross any street. We felt like school children following our teacher as he guided us into the traffic. The only people I have seen slow down traffic are those with physical handicaps. One time we were aided by a man with one leg who fearlessly stepped into four lanes of speeding traffic so that we could cross. Of course, he was ready to sell us post cards when we reached the other side. It is no less difficult to cross through a traffic jam. You have to squeeze into the spaces between the cars, cows and rickshaws and move right along with them if you want to get anywhere, hoping your toes don’t get crushed.
Rickshaws, bicycles, buses, cars, vendors pushing cars and cows are among the many obstacles that await you as you take your first step onto the pavement. None of them will stop for you, or even slow down. The other day I had the need to cross a busy intersection by myself several times. It took about ten minutes the first time, but I was proud to have accomplished the feat on my own. By the third time, I really had the hang of it and felt like a professional street crosser.
The technique that all the locals use can be scary, but it works. You cannot try to cross the whole street at once because there is simply never a time when all six or eight lanes will be clear. It is important to cross in stages and stand strategically between lanes in order to avoid being it. When there is a free space, dash to the next lane. You can get distracted by the vehicles speeding your way while every single one is honking a horn or ringing a bell, but it is important to stay focused (and don’t forget to avoid the cow manure which is found everywhere). Sometimes you get lucky and can time it so that you can walk through two or three lanes without stopping, and sometimes you have to backtrack in order to save yourself. I felt very much like a character in one of those video games trying to cross a street.