How To Drive In India (And Not Die)

India‘s vast geography is a canvas for adventure, but such a big country invariably poses transportation difficulties. The solution to long distance travel in India has generally fallen under the purview of the country’s iconic railway network. In spite of delays and crowds, the train is the best way to see India.

Some might notice India’s ever-expanding road network and be tempted to hop behind the wheel. They might have visions of the open road, quaint towns and beautiful countryside, a trip unconstrained by bus or train schedules – a Kerouac experience for the yogic set.

I had similar thoughts before I entered India last year after driving there via Europe and the Middle East. I had seen the video of crazy Indian intersection below, and I naively assumed that type of scene would be rare. Then I spent two months driving from Amritsar to Kolkata covering almost 2,000 miles on back roads, high roads, trunk roads, city roads, mountain roads and paths that should be ashamed to call themselves roads. About 5% of the driving was sublime. The remainder was a grueling mental and physical test – less Kerouac, more “Mad Max.” I loved a lot of things about India, but driving was not one of them.

So my first piece of advice for driving in India: Don’t.

But if you’re the adventurous type, and you’re going to do it anyway, you need to know a couple things to survive that asphalt jungle. I lived to tell the tale, and I pass on this knowledge so that you don’t become one of the 140,000 people that are killed in road accidents in India every year.

With the type of chaos on display in the video below, it might be assumed that there are umpteen rules, unwritten and otherwise, that every driver strictly adheres to. In fact, there are only two:
Rule 1: Don’t Hit Anything.
Rule 2: Don’t Get Hit.

Straightforward, isn’t it? But as the Japanese say, the reverse side also has a reverse side. Beneath these simple precepts lie several conventions that are indeed unwritten, which allow for traffic to function normally. None of these practical guidelines bear any of the hallmarks of normal rules or laws, like standardization, adherence or enforcement. Consider them to be broad suggestions on how to not die on Indian roads.

Rule 1 is important because the last thing you want to do in India is crash into someone. While mob justice is rare, insurance and liability are a huge worry. Follow these four guidelines to ensure you don’t cause a diplomatic incident.

Praxis 1.1: Drivers only see what’s in front of them.
Indian drivers are forward-looking people in one very literal way. Under no circumstances should you assume that anyone will check their mirrors, if they have them. Drivers of cars and transport trucks alike will brake and swerve willy-nilly like a Camaro in a car chase. Anything behind their peripheral vision is not pertinent, and for all practical purposes, doesn’t exist. If you cream someone who swerves into your lane at the last minute, that’s your fault, bucko.

Corollary 1.1.1: All mirrors are vanity mirrors.
Corollary 1.1.2: Whoever is behind, even by an inch, is always at fault in a crash.
Corollary 1.1.3: Don’t assume that vehicles have the same safety features as yours, like mirrors, airbags or working brakes.

Praxis 1.2: Be ready to brake.
On the road in India, remember the Boy Scout motto. Never assume that a gap in front of you will stay clear, or that there won’t be an impromptu cricket match after a blind turn on a mountain road. Be prepared. As I was driving on the four-lane divided highway from Agra to Varanasi, I rounded a long bend to find two extremely drowsy cows blocking both lanes. I hauled the car down from 70 mph to 0 with inches to spare. The cows were unperturbed by my horn and I had to slowly creep forward until a light kiss from my bull bars made them get up and move, like a couple of unimpressed teenagers.

Corollary 1.2.1: Animals are everywhere.
Corollary 1.2.2: You can get 7 years in prison for killing a cow.

Praxis 1.3: Use your horn at all times.
Timid foreigners driving in India are at first reticent to use the horn, which back home is deployed only in extreme cases of grievance or impending danger. Since every minute on the road in India is an extreme case of grievance or impending danger, it’s imperative to use the horn liberally and confidently. In addition to establishing dominance, you’ll learn a horn has many other uses, among them relieving boredom, filling awkward silences, breaking up cricket matches and waking cows.

Corollary 1.3.1: The louder the horn, the more important you are. Bonus if it plays a melody.
Corollary 1.3.2: False flag operations, where tiny hatchbacks use foghorns to part traffic, are not unheard of.

Praxis 1.4: Don’t drive at night.
Driving at night is almost a surefire way to hit someone. Until the sun has been well and truly down for several hours, nobody turns on their lights. Then every driver flips on their high beams, utterly blinding oncoming traffic. Humans and other animals are sadly not luminescent, but pedestrians and cows don’t distinguish between night and day when it comes to walking patterns. Just as pedestrians seem to have little sense of the speed of an oncoming vehicle, they also don’t seem to realize they are virtually invisible at night.

Rule 2 is just as important and subtle in its observance. Remember every parent’s pathetically thin defense when faced with lending their car to their teenager? “We’re not worried about you, honey, we’re worried about other drivers.” Were the kids raised in India, this excuse would hold a lot more water.

Avoiding getting hit is less about following any laws, and more of an art or a craft – an instinct, if you will – for avoiding vehicular tragedy. Fortunately, it’s an instinct that can be developed with experience.

Praxis 2.1: Small vehicles make way for large vehicles (Might Makes Right).
Philosophers and historians agree: when Thrasymachus contended that justice remains the domain of the strongest in “The Republic,” he was auguring modern traffic dynamics on the subcontinent. Drivers these days have adopted this ancient maxim. More practically put, that 10-ton truck is going to merge into your lane whether you like it or not.

One night I was inching forward on a jammed two-lane artery road into Haridwar. Several bus drivers who were sick of waiting in our lane simply turned on their musical horns (C1.3.1) and maneuvered into oncoming traffic, high beams flashing. Traffic coming from the other direction parted like a zipper, some vehicles veering into our lane, displacing smaller cars and motorbikes, others nose-diving into the ditch on the other side and bouncing along on their merry way. Point is: move, unless you want to argue the finer points of justice with ol’ Thrasy in the afterlife.

Corollary 2.1.1: Position yourself next to a smaller vehicle for an escape route.
Corollary 2.1.2: Upon a meeting of vehicles of equivalent size, inch forward until one driver yields.

Praxis 2.2: Signage isn’t relevant.
Speed limit? That’s when your car can’t go any faster. Stop sign? Invisibly located behind a tree. Red light? Shmed light. Don’t get hung up on the details like lane markings or “one-way” streets. These are merely road decorations. If you attempt to stop at a red light when everyone is flying through at 40 mph, things will end poorly.

Corollary 2.2.1: Go with the flow.
Corollary 2.2.2: For every sign restricting the weight of a vehicle there will be a smaller vehicle carrying a load as heavy or heavier than the restricted vehicle.

Praxis 2.3: Chill out.
Indian roads are not the place to freak out on somebody. If you get all road rage-y on someone who cuts you off, you’re going to get bashed up.

Here’s an example of how it can go wrong: I was driving into Agra, and vehicles were five abreast on a two-lane road. A little rickshaw hauling about eight people appeared out of a gap beside me and started to worm in between my car and to the left-front of me. Indignant, I moved slightly forward to cut him off (C2.1.2). He squeezed; I inched. Then he gunned his little motor and plowed through, ripping off my front bumper. He stopped and him and all eight of his passengers stared at me. The moment when my mouth was agape, registering my shock, was all the leeway the driver needed. He gave me a little head waggle as if to say, “No hard feelings,” and then lane-split his way down the road.

Another example: at a tollbooth in the country outside of Kolkata, three young men piled into my car. They wanted a ride into the city. At first I protested: my car, in spite of its appearance, was woefully underpowered and the shocks were gone. They simply smiled and wouldn’t leave. I relented. They turned out to be friendly, and I didn’t have to pay any tolls all the way to Kolkata. Also, one of them gave me a samosa.

Point is, if you stick to any principle you have about driving, you will suffer for it. As with all irritants in India, the solution is to take the long view.

Corollary 2.3.1: Every gap is navigable if your vehicle is small enough.
Corollary 2.3.2: Personal space on the road is as abundant as personal space in a crowded Delhi metro car.
Corollary 2.3.3: An accident in India is going to hurt a lot more people than just the driver.
Corollary 2.3.4: All vehicles are pack animals, designed to be worked until their last gasping breath.

Final Advice
If none of this has put you off from driving in India, then you are certainly cut out for it. It is actually sometimes very much worth it. The scenery off the beaten path, especially in the northern mountains, is unparalleled and difficult to access without your own vehicle or a personal tour guide. The apprehensive might parcel out their fate to a local driver who navigates Indian roads on a daily basis, but the thrill-seekers will see to their journey themselves. Just be aware that if you do tackle India like this, you’ll need a vacation when you get back.

N.B. If you are riding a motorcycle, all bets are off.

[Photo Credits: lead photo Bernard-SD; all others Adam Hodge]

5 Detoxifying Spring Break Destinations

Spring break is a vacation time of the year wherein many people let loose and eat and drink with abandon. Fun as that might seem to some, your idea of a good time might be one that isn’t filled with worries about the pounds you’re packing on or the detox you’re going to need post-vacation to recover from all of the alcohol. If you’re looking for an detoxifying escape plan this spring, here are some ideas that will get you started.

1. Sweet + Thrasher: St Lawrence Gap, Barbados

This resort is offering a health-conscious vacation package called “Fitness + Foolishness” for April 18-22. The package includes daily yoga, Pilates, morning runs, surf classes and dancing in the evening at the hot spots in town.2. Playa Nicuesa: Gulfo Dulce, Costa Rica
Playa Nicuesa is an eco-friendly lodge in Southern Costa Rica. Fully immersed in the rain forest, this beautiful destination can only be reached by boat. Once you’re there, you’ll take part in fresh and communal meals and have an assortment of detoxifying activities to choose from in between, including yoga, massage, hikes through the rainforest, swimming and more.

3. Esperanza, An Aubrege Resort: Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
This “Find Your Balance” program offers guests vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free meals and the resort offers relaxing ways to stay in shape. Spend your time attending vegetarian cooking classes, practicing yoga in a private lesson or enjoying a massage at the spa.

4. Wanderlust Festival: Vermont, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Canada and Chile

The Wanderlust Festival’s locations this year are all fantastic and each offer their own advantages. While attending this festival, you can join in on a yoga class and indulge in the food at the healthy marketplace during the day and see live music at night.

5. Grand Velas Resort and Spa: Playa del Carmen, Mexico
This grand expanse of luxurious accommodations is the perfect place to pamper yourself and detox this spring if you’re looking for something top-notch. The resort is all-inclusive and you’ll have your choice of fresh juice, salads and veggie-heavy meals – the restaurants are also equipped to adjust their menu to your diet if you ask. When you’re not taking advantage of the detoxifying food options, you can spend your time swimming, scuba diving, kayaking, snorkeling, doing yoga or working out in the resort’s fitness center.

[Photo Credit: Elizabeth Seward]

Three Unique Spring Break Ideas

These US Hotels Are Helping Guests Celebrate National Yoga Month

yoga September is National Yoga Month and these hotels are helping travelers to celebrate this healthy time on the road. With classes, events and packages dedicated to helping travelers bring out their inner yogi, these properties around the U.S. can help keep you nimble and calm on you vacation.

Hotel Solamar
San Diego, California

As a leader in wellness in the San Diego area, Kimpton’s Hotel Solamar is teaming up with Lululemon Athletica’s San Diego Showroom to offer “Vino and Vinyasa” during National Yoga Month. The program features a complimentary, weekly one-hour session of flowing yoga poses to live music, followed by a wine social hour with $3 glasses of vino. “Vino and Vinyasa” allows participants to practice their poses in the open air, and sunset sessions are available at no cost. Additionally, the hotel will be offering bottles of wine for half off on Wednesdays.

Yoga sessions will be held every Wednesday during September at 6:30 p.m. Room rates start at $200 per night. Click here to book.The Nantucket Hotel + Resort
Nantucket, Massachusetts

The Nantucket Hotel + Resort is a brand new property that just opened on July 12. The property is dedicated to offering rest and a sense of well being for all, from its peaceful island location, to its locally-sourced farm-to-table restaurant menus and complimentary yoga. Until late September, hotel guests can enjoy Hatha Yoga at the Bandstand on Children’s Beach for free from Monday through Saturday, from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m.

Room rates start at $295 per night. Click here to book.

w atlanta buckhead W Atlanta – Buckhead
Atlanta, Georgia

To help guests celebrate National Yoga Month, W Atlanta – Buckhead is offering a “Planking on Peachtree” yoga series every Tuesday beginning September 4. The program features free poolside power yoga followed by healthy and low-calorie drinks on the WET Deck. Yoga is from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., while the smoothie and sips social is from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Room rates start at $149 per night. Reservations required for yoga. Click here to book.

The Fairmont Orchid
Kamuela, Hawaii

What better place to go for a relaxing spa vacation than Hawaii? In honor of National Yoga Month, The Fairmont Orchid is offering a “Nama-Stay In Paradise” package, which includes luxury accommodations and daily yoga. Along with their seaside yoga classes, they also have Floating Yoga, or Flo-yo, where participants stand up on paddleboards as they pose. It is done in the ocean, so you’ll be surrounded by sea turtles, colorful fish and rhythmic waves. The hour-long classes are offered Monday and Friday mornings at 7 a.m. and include a warm up, sun salutations, balancing poses and paddle techniques followed by 40 minutes of floating yoga. The boards are weighted down with hand weights attached to a leash plug, ensuring the boards stay within one area.

Package is offered from September 1 to 30, with rates starting at $249 per night. Click here to book.

yoga Hotel Palomar Phoenix At Cityscape
Phoenix, Arizona

With the Phoenix area being graced with some of the hottest temperatures in the country each summer, Kimpton’s Hotel Palomar Phoenix At Cityscape has teamed up with local yoga studios to make the most of it. Each Wednesday at 7 p.m., yogis of all skill levels are invited to the third-floor pool deck for a complimentary one-hour naturally Hot Asana class taught by a guest instructor. Each week, attendees will be treated to a new teacher, each offering a slightly different work out and signature style. To add to the fun, LUSTRE Bar, the rooftop bar adjacent to the pool deck, will also be featuring a special cocktail each week named after the guest instructor’s studio for attendees to enjoy after yoga.

Room rates start at $149 per night, however, you do not need to be a guest to attend. Click here to book.

Mirbeau Inn and Spa
Skaneateles, New York

If you want to celebrate National Yoga Month while immersing yourself in the peace and natural beauty of the Finger Lakes, Mirbeau Inn and Spa is a great option. During the month of September, the property will be featuring myriad complimentary yoga offerings from Vinyasa to Slow Flow Hatha to Yin Yoga for yogis of all ages, including:

  • Prana Flow Yoga – This “breath inspired journey” offers a complete spectrum of rhythms that meditate, rejuvenate, challenge and empower the participants.
  • Gentle Flow Yoga – An hour-long class designed for beginners that starts with breath work and is followed by an introduction to yoga foundations.
  • Gentle/Yin Yoga – A Chinese yoga that works the body’s energy system, improves sports performance, helps with injury recovery and creates an overall state of wellness.
  • Yoga – This 90-minute Vinyasa class is challenging and features guided meditation to help with awareness and relaxation.
  • Aroma Yoga – A 90-minute Vinyasa flow yoga class that incorporates essential oils to add to the healing and awareness of your body, spirit and breath.

Room rates start at $285 per night. Click here to book.

sky hotel Sky Hotel
Aspen, Colorado

For an unusual yoga experience, Sky Hotel offers guests “Thug Yoga,” a class where laughing is encouraged, posture names make sense and icings are possible. This offbeat yoga style is the creation of Courtney Smith, a yoga teacher and snowboarder in Aspen, Colorado. It was originally designed for snowboarders and skiers who were intimidated by traditional yoga to help them improve athletic performance and keep away injuries. Offered Sundays at 10 a.m. on the patio, students go through a series of postures set to hip hop music or local DJ Berkel Beats.

Room rates start at $159 per night. Click here to book.

Affinia Hotels
New York & Washington D.C.

Affinia Hotels, who offer various properties in New York and Washington D.C., like to encourage guests to stay healthy and fit while traveling. In fact, the hotel offers complimentary “Experience Kits,” including the “StayFit Kit.” This includes a yoga mat, stretching blocks, yoga, Pilates, and boot camp DVDs, workout bands, wrist/ankle weights and a StreetWise city map. Guests can customize their stay via MyAffinia, the brand’s online customization program, and choose from a variety of amenities including the “StayFit Kit.” The items selected will be waiting in the guest’s room upon arrival.

Room rates start at $209 for NYC hotels and $149 for the Washington, D.C. property. Click here to book.

vanderbilt grace Vanderbilt Grace
Newport, Rhode Island

For a luxurious yet peaceful vacation during National Yoga Month, the Vanderbilt Grace offers various yoga options to guests. For $150 per person there is the “Partners In Wellness” package, which lasts for two and a half hours and includes a private yoga class for two people, as well as a “Vanderbilt Signature Massage” with aromatic compresses for the feet and face. This is followed by a pot of green tea and snacks. Another yoga-focused option is the “Yoga on the Roof” program. For $15, guests can take part in an hour-long yoga class with aerial views.

Room rates start at $495 per night. Click here to book.

The Mirage
Las Vegas, Nevada

For a truly unique yoga experience, The Mirage in Las Vegas offers “Yoga Among The Dolphins.” For $40, guests can flow through peaceful poses while being immersed in a serene, underwater viewing area within Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat. The 60-minute classes are designed for yogis of all levels, and are offered Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings. Once the session is completed, participants are given a refreshing smoothie drink.

Room rates start at $71 per night. Click here to book.

Budget Travel Zen: 10 Free/Donation-Based Yoga Studios In The US

free yoga

Knotted shoulders… stiff necks… flight delay anxiety… pent-up aggression toward the armrest-hogger seated next to you on the plane. Travel certainly has its ways of winding you up, and there’s nothing like a great yoga class to wind back down. But with trendy studios charging upwards of $25 per class, it can be difficult to find a practice that doesn’t exceed your daily travel budget. These ten free or donation-based yoga studios allow you to pay what you can, and many of them come with a welcoming community that can help you stay grounded throughout your trip.

Asheville Community Yoga, Asheville, North Carolina
Based on the concept of Karma Yoga, Asheville Community Yoga is a non-profit organization offering a wide variety of free classes, including vinyasa, ashtanga, hatha, yin, restorative, core and various kinds of flow. The center also offers special workshops like “Spring Detox Hot Flow” and “Yoga for Healthy Knees.” Though classes are free for those who truly can’t afford to pay, a “Love Offering” of $5-15 per class is requested. 8 Brookdale Rd. Ste. A, Asheville.

Yoga to the People, New York, New York; Seattle, Washington; San Francisco and Berkeley, California
With nine studios in four cities, Yoga to the People believes that the transformative power of yoga should be available to everyone. Studios offer a mix of power vinyasa flow, traditional hot yoga and hot vinyasa classes. Suggested donation is $10 for vinyasa classes, while hot yoga is available for a flat fee of $8. Click here for locations.Moonlit Yoga, Portland, Oregon
There’s no better way to spend a Saturday evening than with yoga, tea and candlelight. The weekly Moonlit Yoga series, hosted at various studios throughout Portland, is open to yogis of all levels, with a sliding scale donation suggestion of $6-10. Check Facebook for each week’s location.

Black Swan Yoga, Austin, Texas
Black Swan offers a smorgasbord of hatha, vinyasa, power, sweaty and intriguing “candle sweaty” classes at their two studios in Downtown and South Side. Suggested donation is $10-15. 1114 West 5th St. and 4534 Westgate Blvd., Austin.

One Yoga Foundation, Miami, Florida
Enjoy your practice in a park under the sun through the One Yoga Foundation, which offers free outdoor classes in green spaces around Miami and its surroundings. Donations support the organization’s efforts to bring yoga to special needs communities. Click here for locations.

Circle Yoga, Washington, DC
The Circle Yoga Cooperative offers a range of free community classes, meditation sessions and workshops with donations benefiting the teacher’s charity of choice. Their sister studio, Budding Yogis, also offers classes for children and families. 3838 Northampton St. NW, Washington, DC.

Urban Flow Yoga, San Francisco, California
Urban Flow Yoga in the Mission District provides donation-based yoga classes by Bhakti Flow certified instructors as well as community outreach programs. Recommended donation is $10-20. 1543 Mission Street, San Francisco.

Studio 34, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
In addition to its regular and reduced rate community classes, Studio 34 offers a handful of “Pay What You Can” yoga classes incorporating the Forrest method, which emphasizes breath, active sequences and longer holding of poses. 4522 Baltimore Ave, Philadelphia.

Health Yoga Life, Boston, Massachusetts
The yogis at Health Yoga Life encourage participants to “Occupy Yourself” with their accessible, open-level, donation-based vinyasa flow community classes. Drop-ins welcome. 12 Temple St., Boston.

Lululemon Athletica In-Store Classes, Nationwide
If you can deal with being surrounded by pricy merchandise during your practice, you can take advantage of yoga superstore Lululemon’s rotating schedule of free yoga classes from local instructors. Select locations also offer programs like run clubs and motivation seminars. Click here to find your nearest location.

Yoga For Travelers

[Flickr image via lululemon athletica]

San Francisco introduces first-ever airport yoga room

san francisco airport yoga roomIf a long flight has you hankering for a sun salutation, San Francisco International Airport has got you covered. On Thursday, the airport will unveil the world’s first dedicated airport yoga room, just past the security checkpoint in the newly renovated Terminal 2.

“The room gives modern travelers a space that fosters and supports quiet and reflection,” said Melissa Mezill, design director for Gensler, the architectural firm that designed the space. “Those aren’t emotions that people typically encounter at the airport.”

The yoga room joins the Berman reflection room, a space intended for silence and meditation located before Terminal 2 security.

The new room will feature soft blue light and a floating wall meant to symbolize “a buoyant spirit and enlightened mind”. In the spring, felt-constructed rocks will be introduced in a Japanese garden-inspired pattern for added zen. Oh, San Francisco.

[via msnbc.com, image courtesy of San Francisco International Airport via msnbc.com]