Found this article in "The Guardian" (UK) newspaper:
Delhi's traffic chaos has a character of its own'Lane driving' is seen as an odd foreign practice. The result is gridlock
Jason Burke The Guardian, Tuesday 11 October 2011
Continuing economic growth has led to even more vehicles on Delhi's already overcrowded roads. Photograph: © B Mathur/Reuters
The best time to drive in Delhi is at dawn or, even better, around 7am. By then the last of the trucks that cross the city during the night are halted at roadside restaurants with the drivers sipping scalding tea and eating fried parathas and eggs, and there is a short period before the traffic builds up.
Delhi's urban sprawl is now so extensive that entire satellite cities, where several million people live, have disappeared into the mass of the metropolis. Gurgaon, the new town to the south, is still separated by a thin belt of scrubby grassland, but Noida, the vast development to the east, is, to all intents and purposes, part of the city. If these satellites are included, the city's population probably touches 25 million. This is set to increase further as economic growth sucks in villagers from across the country.
Girdling the city's old core is a ring road – an unplanned set of linked chunks of carriageway widened over three decades. Over nearly two years, I have learned to respect, if not necessarily appreciate, its rhythms. Like the city itself, it changes character through the day and night.
At 7am, in the cooler, clearer morning, driving over the crumbling flyovers, there is relative calm. You can look in one direction and see the pristine marble-tiled dome of the tomb of the Muslim Mughal emperor Humayun. In the other, the modern forms of a Bahá'í temple marks the horizon. Kites and crows wheel overhead. Dogs forage in the rubbish at the roadside. A few auto-rickshaws putter straight down the centre of the three- or four-lane carriageway, not much faster than the bicycles ridden by the night-watchmen returning from their shift.
By 9am this (relatively) bucolic vision is long gone. In 2008, a government report announced that the ring road had reached capacity with 110,000 vehicles a day and predicted the total would reach 150,000 cars, trucks, buses and bikes by the end of the decade. In fact, continuing economic growth, the new middle class's demand for cars and the parlous, if improving, public transport system has meant even more vehicles than feared. Some estimates are as high as 200,000. As "lane driving" is seen as an odd, foreign practice, the result is gridlock.
This gridlock evolves, however. The buses are slightly less empty mid-morning, then refill with schoolchildren and students. The dreaded privately owned Blueline buses, badly maintained and driven as fast as possible to maximise profits, have gone. Those that have replaced them are marginally better, but still often flatten small cars and motorbikes. There is an opening around 2pm when the traffic eases, but by 5pm, the ring road is a strip of snarling, grinding vehicles. The buses, now with passengers packed against doors and windows, loom like ships full of refugees above a choppy sea of jerking cars. The air is black with fumes. The new cars – Audis, BMWs, huge imported SUVs – sit bumper to bumper. Labour is so cheap in India that a minor retired bureaucrat is likely to have a driver, even if the vehicle is a tiny, battered Suzuki. The really wealthy have a uniformed chauffeur.
Vestiges of another India occasionally surface. Over by the badly built, badly designed complex used as athletes' accommodation in last year's Commonwealth Games I saw a bullock cart negotiating traffic around one of the new metro stations. Yesterday there were two tractors hauling trailers full of fodder – for the elephants, which the authorities use for tree-pruning? For the zoo? — stuck at the busy crossroad, Ashram Chowk. On the central reservation, entire families sleep.
After rush hour, there is a lull. The day workers have gone home. The buses even have empty seats. There is a new peril however: the minivans used by call centres. They race to get their passengers to their offices as fast as possible, hurtling up inside lanes, jinking between slower vehicles like a footballer dribbling his way through a pack of defenders. Part of their haste is explained by the approaching deadline that heralds the next phase in the life of the road: the trucks.
At 10pm, the police allow the heavy goods vehicles that need to traverse Delhi into the city. With no proper bypass, a small army of honking, overloaded, low-geared, multicoloured road behemoths gathers during the afternoon on all approach roads. These now clank forward, filling two of three available lanes with an apparently inexhaustible convoy carrying construction materials, foodstuffs, manufactured goods, from Udaipur to Chandigarh, from Agra to Amritsar, from Bareilly to Jammu.
By 1am most of the trucks are through and the final phase begins. Road deaths in India reach 140,000 a year. This means that every two years, more people died in accidents in the country than were killed in total in the 2004 tsunami. Most fatal accidents in Delhi occur in the small hours, when fast cars driven by young, wealthy and often drunk men hurtle across the city. These regularly career out of control to hit families sleeping on the pavement, insomniacs, nightshift workers, even traffic policemen. Hit and runs are the rule, not the exception. Those with the means bribe their way out of trouble. The casualties or their families may get some compensation, if the culprit can be traced.
At 5am and 6am, in that small moment of calm, you can hear the horns of the trains leaving the main stations, hauling their packed carriages out into another India and another day.