Driving Lesson 2 for Iran, Pakistan and India

David Hielkema

8 March 2017

Josephine and I were camping at a beautiful dam, where the crocodiles were chilling on the rocks in and the leopards were hiding in the shade on the hills around us. Flamingos were gathering in the water, some farmers were working at their land and some animal lovers came by to take photos of this spectacular wildlife. One of them was Dr. Dilip Arora.

Honking, all the time
Fascinated by our camp, he came over for a chat. More people came over during the last few days, and sometimes we got a bit tired of it. But it is understandable that people are curious, so we don’t blame them. Any way, Dr. Dilip was different in some ways. Very spontaneous, his English was good and he showed us amazing photos of the wildlife that he took, including leopards. We wanted to spot these wild animals ourselves as well, but we had no idea when and where. When we asked about the leopards, he immediately invited us to join him, that afternoon, to check it out. Happily we accepted the invitation. We were grateful for this opportunity and we were not going to let it slip!

I hear you thinking, what does this have to do with the honking? The leopards in this area live together with human beings, it is one of the few places in the world where leopards live outside of a national park (the area is classified as conservation area), but it did not mean that we could hear a lot of cars honking close to our camp. It was peaceful and actually one of the most beautiful places we have stayed so far. But, since this article is supposed to be a driving lesson, I’ll get to the honking soon.

In the evening we joined Dr. Dilip, his daughter, a friend of his and his son, on a small safari tour. We saw one leopard, while it was dark, but it was a pity we didn’t see the animals while it was still light. Despite this small disappointment it was really nice to be there and have this experience. Hungry from the hunt, they invited us to their place for dinner. And offcourse he offered us to camp there too, at his family’s property. We accepted this with a big smile.

We left the jungle and went to the village where they live. Here we had some amazing Indian thali, talked more about each others lives and had a nice evening with a bonfire while the whole family of Dr. Dilip was there. Brothers, wives, children, servants. It was truly a lot of fun. And many selfies were taken.

The next morning we got offered breakfast and were on our way to leave, but because an item of our tent was being fixed, it all took a bit longer. And then Dr. Dilip got an idea; he asked us if we wanted to go to his school, he is principal at a female high school (another beautiful story lies behind this), and that day, the police would come by to talk about road safety. He wondered whether we would maybe want to join for half an hour to talk about safe driving, since we came all the way from Europe by car and we know all about safety. Sure do!

We went to the school and joined the group of speakers. When it was finally our turn to talk, I still wasn’t sure what to say. Tell them not to drive while texting? Or about driving without a seatbelt? Meanwhile, when the police and other important people were talking, I heard cars and motors honking in the distance all the time. So when it was finally my turn, I stood up, looked at a few hundred young girls and I asked them to be quiet for a bit. Then I asked what they heard. No response. One of the teachers said ‘nothing’. I pointed out the honking. The girls had to laugh. Luckily I succeeded with my ‘joke’ and at the same time I could make a point. The honking in India, wow.

We didn’t have a big culture shock after arriving in India. For us, it was more of a gradual shift. In Iran they honk, in Pakistan they do and in India it is strange if people don’t honk while driving. It just goes on all the time! In the beginning I felt that the honking was someting personal, directed towards me. Like I did something wrong while we were driving. But time taught me to accept it, even ignore it, and just go along with it. Honking here isn’t personal.

Of course I didn’t tell the children all of this, I simply told them that it is different in our countries and for foreigners hard to understand and therefor sometimes a bit dangerous. But I didn’t want to patronize their ways. We did make them aware about a few other dangerous driving habits we have noticed on the Indian roads, like people folding in their side mirrors when driving or cars randomly stopping in the middle of the highway.

From camping to wild life spotting to giving presentations about ‘road safety’. How beautiful life can be!

Speed bumps. Or ‘speed reducers’ as they call them here. And the people making these things got a good sense of humour: every 5 metres they have a new speed bump. Especially in India there are just too many. Often we don’t see them, because there is no sign next to it and the speed reducers aren’t visible, so we drive way to fast while we bump on them. More than once we look angry at each other, athough we totally understand it is difficult.

We should be blessed in Western Europe the way it is arranged. I mean, it is not just Pakistan and India where there are so many speed bumps, I have seen them in South America and Africa as well. But why? Okay, “why”, to reduce speed, but can’t they figure a different way? Or at least put signs next to it? Or at least paint the speed bumps? You feel my frustration. Luckily we have big ass tyres and the frame is high from the ground.

Safety of our car
It is safe. We feel very safe. One example I always like to give.

In Pakistan, once we have parked our car somewhere, people will always come over to us for a chat. Or they just wave. It doesn’t really matter where. In a busy shopping street, at a car park or just in a street with houses, we are being noticed. And if there are people around, we are 100% sure the car is safe. Pakistani people who live or work close to where our car is parked, will go over to the Land Rover and check it out. It is not as extreme as it is in India, where they literally touch the car all the time if we are not around, but nor the Pakistani or Indian people will steal or damage our car. And if the same people see someone else even looking at our car with the wrong intentions, they will protect it with their own life.

Do I exaggerate? Maybe a bit, yeah, but at the same time: we are their visitors, it doesn’t happen every day foreigners arrive with their own car, and people are good and protective towards us. Stealing our car isn’t an option any way, they can’t drive it (partly because it is left-handed, partly because we always turn off the electricity) and partly because they can’t sell it. And nothing of real value lies in our car either, at least, they can’t see it. And if they would try any way, again, we feel that the people around the place where we parked our car, wouldn’t allow it.

Yeah, it is amazing how we are being accepted in Iran, Pakistan and India. At this moment, while publishing the story, while  we are in Sri Lanka and Dox in India, we have parked our car at a friend of Dr. Dilip Arora in Chennai. For free. And it is safe. We know that. And a healthy dose of common sense helps as well.

Off road driving
Many people have asked me and continue to ask me whether I am a mechanic. I am not. Little by little I have learnt more about cars this trip, I’m interested in it too, but when something is really wrong with the engine, I cannot fix it.

So when we were driving off road in the desert in Iran for a while, we were a bit scared that something might go wrong. I mean, we took some roads in the middle of nowhere, and didn’t expect people to come by any time soon. Walking to the next town wouldn’t be an option either, since it was too hot and too far away. One road we drove, took hours and hours. We camped in the desert. The next day the car started again without a problem. And the day after as well.

We saw some beautiful desert roads, drove through sand dunes, did mountain trips, drove off road to get good camping spots and Dox has been doing well all the time. We are happy. And if something goes wrong, I trust that we will meet people who will help us.

Small sidenote to not let you worry too much: The car gets checked by professionals regularly, I learn new stuff there all the time, and we also constantly hear from these professionals that the engine is in good shape. The spare parts for a Land Rover Defender you can get almost everywhere. If not, postal delivery is very fast too, these days. But let’s hope we don’t have to deal with that in the middle of nowhere in Kazachstan. 

Do you remember those good old days when the wife was sitting next to the husband, while he was driving, telling him where to go? A classic fight, because of course she did it wrong, again and again. And of course the husband was driving way too fast for the wife to actually see what road they were on. Big fights! And these fights continued a long time. Most children have seen their parents fight, and maybe you recognise it from your own relations. Or at least from a movie.

But these classic fights are mostly gone now. Thanks a lot, tom-tom! These days the husband and wife will both drive, that is of course another game changer, and we use our phones to navigate. They just tell us which left or right we have to take. Technology changes the way we drive.

Road signs are also international. In Iran they were written in Farsi and in English, in Pakistan they were written in Urdu and English and in India they are written in Hindi and English. Not that difficult at all…

By the way, if you do feel like taking a detour, then download MAPS.ME. Sometimes it doesn’t know the new road, so it brings you to crazy places where our car can’t even go too. If we don’t feel like taking a chance of getting lost, we use our 4G (doesn’t matter which country you are in, internet is always there) and go to Google Maps. We can even go around the traffic jams. But is a bit more boring. Sometimes.

What’s left for you to do? Just fix some visa and other papers, get in the car and drive your ass to Asia!