Road safety

The main form of public transport in the Darjeeling and Sikkim regions is shared 4WD jeeps which are better able to navigate the winding steep mountainous roads. Each one manages to fit in 10 passengers plus the driver for a not very comfortable ride (with luggage put on the roof). It feels a bit like the reverse of an Otis lift which always has a completely unrealistic and unachievable maximum capacity. With the jeeps, I’m sure the maximum should be about 9 in total including the driver but oh no, we get up to 11 and possibly more if there are children too!

Some of the jeeps have specific departure times, others just depart when (over) full. For some, you need to book in advance (very specifically only a day in advance mind you) while others can’t be pre-reserved. The middle row is (marginally) more comfortable than the back row over the wheel which is more bumpy and with less head room. However when we have tried to secure a middle seat, for some reason or another we have usually been bumped to the back seat (domestic tourists are obviously a lot better at playing the system than us!).

In Darjeeling, the West Bengali government have been focussing heavily on road safety signs, interestingly almost all of which are in English rather than in the local Nepali language or the official state language of Bengali.

These signs themselves vary from the quite simple messages such as ” Safe drive save life” , “Drive carefully drive again”, “Safety first is safety always” and “Speed thrills but kills” to the perhaps more philosophical ones such as “Better be late than dead”, “Accident brings tears save [sic] brings cheers”, “Drive carefully to live joyfully”, “Have another day by being save [sic] today”, “Leave sooner drive slower live longer”, “Best gift you can give your family “you”. Please be safe” and “Tomorrow is your reward if you are driving safely today”.

Then there is a whole raft of more curious signs which are actually quite distracting in themselves and could therefore do more harm than good if drivers focus on these rather than on the road itself e.g. ” Feel good and be good” (what relevance does this have to road safety?), “Know before you go” (know what??) and ” For safety is not gadget but a state of mind” (even if the sign had had an “a” before “gadget”, I’m still none the wiser).

One of my favourites however was where a speed restriction had been imposed and the sign simply read “Relax” and then “inconvenience regretted”.

Once in Sikkim, the nature of the road signs changed from road safety to environmentally focused signs as well as signs about health campaigns (AIDS, HIV etc) (again almost universally in English). Sikkim obviously sees itself as a very progressive state and there are a number of signs around praising its health and environmental efforts with the clear message that other states should be watching and learning from Sikkim. This message appears to be endorsed by Prime Minister Modi as his picture appears on many of these signs.

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