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Better late than never . . .


Let the long days of driving begin

Distracted as I was, it took me awhile to realize that the lumps along the sides of the road were people under blankets. Although there were cobbled-together shelters of varying degrees of solidity put up in any available lot, a lot of people either didn't have any sort of roof to sleep under, or had decided to sleep outside to catch what breeze there was. And what breeze there was, was most likely generated by the traffic zipping by only feet away from where they slept.

We were basically only in Delhi long enough to sleep and eat breakfast before heading back to the airport to fly to Bhubaneswar. As evidenced the night before, even a trip the airport is an experience in Delhi. After a few minutes of weaving sharply in and out of an even thicker mass of buses, cars, motorcycles, bicycles, and auto-rickshaws than had occupied the road the previous night, our driver opened his door while the van was coasting to a stop at a traffic light, leaned out, looked upward, and apparently satisfied that the luggage stowed in the roof rack was not in imminent danger of relocating itself to the road behind us, flipped on the radio. The sharp sounds of Indian pop provided the soundtrack for our further adventures through the streets of Delhi as our driver demonstrated his adherence to road rules #2 and #3 time and again.

Lifting off from Delhi, I couldn't see much of the city, which had as much to do with haze as with my being seated directly over the wing. As we ascended, I could see the brown line that separated the muck hanging over the city from clearer skies. We were told that pollution in Delhi has improved since the buses and auto-rickshaws have been required to run on natural gas. I'd hate to see what it had been like before. But I was glad even for my limited view as we descended toward Bhubaneswar and the clouds slid away to reveal broad, flat expanses of rich green rice paddy, broken up occasionally by clumps of deeper green trees, small hills, and wide silt-brown rivers.

We had a lovely welcome at the airport. The staff from the Orissa state office had a banner made for the occasion, and the head of the office and another staff person were waiting beside it with small bouquets of tuberoses, roses, and fern, which were only the first of many bouquets we were to receive throughout the course of the trip. Being greeted with flowers is lovely way to start a visit. Then we piled into yet another vehicle for another drive - this time, a couple of hours along rural roads on our way to Puri, which you probably can find on a standard map of India, if you care to look - it's toward the northern end of the east coast.

An enterprising video game designer could have a minor hit with a video game based on the job of a driver in India. You could pick one of a variety of vehicles to pilot through a reflex-testing obstacle course, driving at the maximum speed possible over rough roads, while avoiding collisions with other vehicles, bicycles, cows, goats, dogs, chickens, pedestrians, and people sitting on the road. Plus, you have to avoid pitching into holes that have been chopped into the road for uncertain purposes. Pick a passenger vehicle to take on the additional challenge of doing all this with enough skill not to give your passengers whiplash or heart failure. And do it all while driving down the middle of the road while playing chicken with all oncoming traffic.

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