I continue my series on Pakistan with a topic that is often shown off on TV, but still has the ability to shock you. In fact, it shocked me even though I had learnt to drive there. I am talking about the first thing that hits you as soon as you come out of the airport, and that is the traffic. Now while I call it Pakistan traffic, it must be noted that my focus is mostly on traffic from Lahore, and it will touch the traffic seen on motorways as well as in Islamabad. Sadly, I have never been on a road in Karachi, and while I imagine it is somewhere between that of Lahore and Islamabad, I am not qualified to comment.
Where to begin. Yes, roads. Now you may expect a third world country to have horrible roads. You may not be far off normally, but I have to say that thanks to the current government in the area and their love of building roads, underpasses and bridges, Lahore has a great network of roads, which are surprisingly well maintained. They are wide and at times spread to three lanes inside your city.
However, forget the lanes. Forget the roads. Nobody cares about the lanes. They are marked but you will find about 5 lanes going through the three marked lanes. If your car can go through a gap, you will drive through the gap. Also, indicators. Most people do not use them, and when they do, they might not use the right one.
Speed limits exist in the city, but people don’t normally pay that much attention to them. It has to be said though, that the traffic conditions prevent anybody speeding.
Roundabouts exist in plenty of numbers, but the traditional law of giving the preference to the person already on the round about does not apply. You go in where you find a gap. You also come off when you find a gap. If you want to make a U-turn, you don’t go around the round about, you just turn around at the opening of the round about.
Seat belts come as a standard in all the new cars, but people hardly wear them in Lahore. Of course, they no longer laugh at you for wearing seat belts.
Traffic jams exist as much as people exist. I can probably go on about them for ages, but if you just put 2 and 2 together, and the fact that people never bother with lanes, you can paint a picture. Add to that the fact that people will always think they have preference, and try to get out first, means that nobody leaves. NOBODY! On my second day there, I completed a 5 mile journey in about 3 and a half hours.
Add to this the fact that they had ripped the whole city apart to build a Metro service, which meant killing off most main roads and rerouting everything, and you had quite an interesting predicament on your hands.
This takes me to going on the Motorway. A good network of motorways do exist in Pakistan. What is surprising that the same drivers who drive like maniacs in the city have to stick to strict laws on the motorway. You have to wear seatbelts, you have to stick to lanes and you have to stay within speed limits. You pay a toll, and if you have been caught speeding, you will pay your fine as you pay your toll.
Because all the speed checks are done by cameras facing cars from front, you find an interesting phenomenon going on. People who speed do so in hoards, and all you need to do to speed is find another speeding car and simply tailgate it. Close enough such that your number plate isn’t visible from a distance. This makes for some scary driving experience when the guy driving your car is one of these.
Once you hit Islamabad, you enter another traffic zone. Islamabad has very strict principles as well, much like the traffic found on the motorway, but slightly less strict. It does make it very tolerable.
I did not feel brave enough to drive on my visit to Lahore, but the traffic will stay with me. It has to be said though, about three days in you do get used to all the ‘organized chaos’ and just become a part of it.
Also, people from Lahore proudly claim that one who can drive in Lahore can drive anywhere in the world. Believe me, it is true!!!!