“This is India…”

As a rule I avoid deadlines in India. But earlier this year I had to travel from Kalimpong to Bagdogra Airport, a journey of about four hours, for a flight to Delhi. I made my flight, but not before encountering a situation that says quite a lot about India.

Kalimpong is on the edge of the Himalaya. The road to Bagdogra, just big enough for two jeeps, weaves through steep-sided valleys under huge overhanging trees.

I secured a place in a shared jeep (150 Rupees/£2/$3) leaving at 7am. By about 8.40am we hit a huge snake of traffic spewing fumes into the pristine air. Our Tibetan driver clearly had to be somewhere and managed to squeeze us past a mile of queued buses, jeeps and colourful lorries, ignoring the cacophony of indignant horns.

Within a few minutes we reached the heart of the problem. A diesel container lorry lay upside down across the road. It was clear that the driver, who had apparently survived and been removed from the scene, had been lucky not to go over the alarmingly steep drop to one side. Diesel was spilling out over the road. The queue the other side of the lorry was just as long as on our side.

It quickly became clear that a) there was no prospect of any rescue vehicle any time soon; b) even if they did come it was going to be massively complex to move the lorry; and c) the gathering crowd of drivers and passengers were willing to do anything to get to work.

I made my flight, but not until witnessing a remarkable demonstration – captured in the video below – of why India often works, albeit often in a haphazard and non-linear fashion.

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