My First Jeep Ride in India

There I was, walking around the busy center of town in Ujire, India, sweating more than everyone else around me and clearly not looking or feeling like a local. But I was already used to that. I've been into town twice now and the strange stares and odd looks are practically expected. I've discovered that if you stop looking at everyone in the eyes, it's easy to forget that they're staring.

It was about twenty past four in the afternoon and I was headed back home; a remote farm nestled in the foothills of the Western Ghats about 10 miles from town. I had two options for getting there: Wait for the bus and be crammed in with students headed home from school, or look for one of the jeeps and ride like a real local.

I noticed a bus arriving and waited to ask if it was headed to Kukavu (pronounced "kokow"), the name of the area about two miles from the farmhouse. The ticket attendant on the bus gave me a disgusted look and shooed me away.

As I walked toward the jeeps, a group of chatting drivers noticed me and asked where I was going. "Kukavu", I said several times before they pointed me to another group of jeeps. It seems that the locals get confused when someone who is obviously foreign speaks the name of a native town properly.

Approaching the second group of jeeps, another driver nods at me and asks, "Kokow?". I nod back and he points towards the back of a jeep where a few other people are already sitting. I climb in and wait. It's hot -- about ninety-five degrees -- and there's almost enough humidity in the air to squeeze water out of it with your bare hands.

There was a young man in the front passenger seat and two old ladies sitting beside me in the back. One of them started talking to me in Kannada, the local language in the state of Karnataka. I tried to explain that I only speak English, but she seemed to not understand and tried speaking to me in yet another language. I shook my head and smiled.

The jeeps are small and simple: two flat benches in the back facing each other and one long bench in the front for the driver and a few passengers. The jeeps are fairly loud, clunky, and outdated looking but they get the job done. (I later learned that even the new models resemble this.)

As I sat there waiting for the jeep to leave, I noticed an Indian girl and her two Muslim friends staring at me. The two Muslim girls were dressed in black burqa's with nothing more than their eyes showing. Meanwhile, three more people climb in the back of the jeep, a man and two women. A few minutes go by and then another women climbs in the back and two additional men get in the front.

There are now a total of five people sitting on the five-foot wide front seat and six people in the back.

Then, as the two Muslim girls and their Indian friend walk towards the jeep, the driver asks me and the other man sitting in the back to get out and sit in the front. I smile and nod understandingly, but the Indian man grumbles and says something under his breath as he climbs out.

When I reach the front of the jeep I see five faces staring back at me -- there was absolutely no room at all. The five people stretched from one side of the jeep to the other. And the driver hadn't even gotten in yet.

I tried to push my way in anyway and managed to get barely three inches of my bottom on the outside edge of the seat. I put my foot on the small foot step outside the jeep grab a handle near the windshield -- it seemed to be placed there specifically for situations like this. I placed my backpack on my lap in between my two arms and held on.

The driver climbed in and got about as far as I did: three inches of his body resting on the seat. Grabbing the steering wheel for support, he reached across three people to gain access the stick shift and pushed legs and feet out of the way to reach the pedals.

He drove carefully, just as you'd expect anyone hanging out of a jeep while simultaneously driving it to. There were now seven people crammed in the small five-foot wide front area and ten people stuffed in the back. Thankfully the ride only got more comfortable from that point on as people were dropped off and more room was made.

The jeep drivers are a happy and friendly bunch and they charge the same amount for the trip as the bus does (Rs.10, about 20 cents). They also leave more frequently than the buses, so it's easier to catch them.

Since having this first jeep experience, I have taken the jeeps several times. I'm beginning to actually look forward to taking them -- the ride is always interesting and not without it's challenges. Sure, it might be a little more precarious, but sharing that experience with everybody else, young and old, makes it entirely worth it.

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    • I think the rest of the jeep passengers thought I was too! They usually can’t believe I’m taking the jeep with them, let alone ride hanging outside like the driver! 😀

  1. lol…. nice ride. Us Turners would probably pay extra money to have the jeep for ourselves.

    Be prepared…. when in Viet Nam, we’ll prolly ride in air conditioned taxi’s.

    • Haha. I like a challenge (and the heat)!

      I took the bus to lunch the other day with some friends from the local SELCO office. There was quite crowd getting on and I was the last in line. The bus started driving away, but I ran with it and jumped in. One of the guys I was with was impressed. 😀

      I just watch everybody else and do what they do. If they can do it, I can too!

      Maybe I’ll ride on the roof of your air conditioned taxi in Vietnam. 🙂

      • There might be a chance that you ride in a small crowded stinky bus. They don’t drop people off the bus, they push people off the bush and throw your things at you. It was fun to watch, however we got off at the bus station.

        All Asian bus/taxi drivers must learn to drive from the same school.

        • Push people off, huh? I can play that game too! Sounds like a fun challenge. 😀

          Sometimes I wonder if the jeep drivers here ever went to a driving school. I’m more afraid of going with the younger drivers — at least the older drivers probably have more experience!

  2. its definately interesting.. im sure your loving all the new experiences.. 🙂 i would love to do that..

    • Thanks for the comment and for stopping by, Eva!

      I’m definitely loving the new experiences! You can do it too, if you really want to! 🙂

  3. glad 2 see that u are doing what makes u really happy. I live in Hyderabad and u can shoot me an email if u go thru here.

  4. I have been through that ride, its really great fun and different! I could relate every word you mentioned to my own experience! To everyone not experienced it, its a must try! Infact, I believe it’ll be more wonderful doing it in a foreign country with alien people, right Raam?

  5. P.S. India is the best place for all these rides, too many people and strange rules to piss you off on the road!

      • Talking of trains, visit Mumbai and travel in the local train exactly at 6 pm. Trust me you’ll have a time of your life.

        P.S. Board on Western line from Churchgate station towards Borivali (thats my place!), you’ll find and amazing crowd. If you happen to board a Virar local you’ll be able to hear to the people play Bhajans (Spiritual music) on the way home. Its a ritual since the train blasts occured on July 11, 2007.

        • Thanks for the suggestion, Aadi! I’ll definitely look into that if/when I visit Mumbai! That’s also a very interesting fact about the music!