A Road Map to the Chaos of New Delhi

by Dominic James Fusco

Traffic is a defining characteristic you notice right away when studying abroad in New Delhi. It is not the type of traffic that we think of in a western sense – that is, your typical stop-and-go log jam driving home on the interstate. While rush hour certainly does exist there, the term “traffic” can be used instead in a much broader sense to underscore the erratic driving patterns that pervade the streets at all times of day. Horns blaring everywhere as cars weave perilously to and fro, frequent minor accidents that are barely acknowledged, and no definite conception of lanes, create what appears as pure chaos to the unaccustomed onlooker.

A busy street in New Delhi, India.
A busy street in New Delhi, India. Photo by Dominic James Fusco

But the longer one spends studying in New Delhi, the more order one comes to see in that chaos. Horns are used (somewhat) tactically to alert other drivers of your presence. Lanes are arbitrary so that faster vehicles can easily pass slower ones. Frequent accidents are often overlooked because, in the grand scheme of things, who really cares about a scratch on their bumper? If one can understand the underlying efficiency of traffic in this sense, then they can begin to better understand how the city as a whole functions. Because all things accounted for, chaotic traffic is only the tip of the anarchic iceberg which governs the streets of New Delhi.

More Than Humans

Over 20 million people reside in the metropolitan area, a large percentage of which live day to day as squatters with with no formal home. The streets are flooded with frenzied activity at all hours. Cows, stray dogs, goats, and even wild monkeys live side by side and in harmony with the city’s human occupants.

A cow in the streets of New Delhi

Harmony In Chaos

Everyone has something to buy, sell or barter with. Add on top of this: regular power grid failures, erratic monsoons, and a very lax approach to public defecation, and needless to say there is never a dull moment. But just as with the traffic, there is an underlying structure to the city’s madness.

What You See Is What You Get

Everyday life in Delhi is governed by a simple principle: anything goes. It is a quintessentially Eastern culture, one that defies the rigidity of Western interaction in all walks of life. And just as with the veiled road rules, an invisible hand guides the functioning of the city in a curiously harmonious way. Laws exist but are rarely enforced, people go about minding their own business, and the end result is a buzzing of activity which paints the wonderfully unique portrait of a city that has too much going on to care about its image.

Mind, though, that it is not always pretty. Like any other city, New Delhi has its blemishes. During your study abroad program in New Delhi, you will see that poverty and corruption are rampant, sanitation is dismal, and most social programs are visibly dysfunctional. But studying in New Delhi, living in the thick of it, you come to see beauty in the beast. People there live life day to day in all its glory, with little concern for the glamorous or artificial. The city is not perfect, but it does not pretend to be. It does away with formalities and thrives in chaos and raw energy. If you give yourself over to the current, then it cannot steer you wrong. So let the city consume you, and you will find that everyday's an adventure.

Two Indian men

A New World

Culture shock does not seem adequate to describe the experience you will have studying abroad in India. Brain wiring re-adjustment may be better a better term. It is an experience that defies explanation. Upon returning to the States you may find that driving, among other things, will seem plain boring. But that is to be expected. New Delhi is as unique and exciting of a city as you can find in this world. But you will not know that unless you jump in it for yourself.