So I’ve arrived at Pune, after two planes, an overpriced taxi, a very crowded bus, a rickshaw, a leaking bus with Bollywood films being screened and finally two more rickshaws (with rickshaw drivers who tried to avoid using the meter). But it’s worth it. It is a beautiful lush city where I still don’t feel like I’ve seen the stress or sterile streets that one usually finds somewhere in a city. I will keep looking, but for now it just feels like Pune is one large town.
There are old buildings and tree lined streets. Sidewalks are filled with trees, vendors and people from all walks of life. The streets in general are full but they seem manageable. They certainly keep your senses on the move as most vehicles are open to the smell of food, animals and whatever else is meandering down the street in one form or another. You can also feel and hear sound everywhere. In a rickshaw you feel like you are encased in the sound and vibration of the engine as it feels like they are ricocheting of every flimsy surface (it’s not surprising to see roofs taped together) the rickshaw has to offer. But to your sides you won’t find any walls, only the motorbike rider who feels closer to you than a passenger would be to a driver in a car. You can see the movement of the road below you and the interesting landscapes of the road, with ponds forming with the monsoon rains.
The state of the roads in Pune is highly variable. While some roads are pothole laden and could be used as mountain bike course, other roads are very smooth and there are even some dedicated cycle lanes. Pedestrians are given a high gutter to separate them from any keen motor bikes that might want to escape the traffic for higher ground. But then sometimes there are no footpaths at all. Then there are intersections – those amazing places where traffic literally has to find it’s way to where it wants to go. Sometimes this doesn’t just involve the co-operation that I think is such a lovely part of the transport wherever it happens, it also involves strategy and a tactical discussion between drivers, riders, pedestrians and maybe a local guy who decides to come along and help the traffic clear through his neighbourhood. I was happy when I was riding my bicycle the other day and a guy on a motorbike commended me for stopping the traffic to let a car through, which was blocking up the whole intersection. It’s nice to know that there is encouragement for good behaviour on the roads (and good behaviour doesn’t just mean stopping at red lights).