Almost one of the first things that I was told to watch out for when I announced to a group of people that I would be travelling to Ladakh (Himalayas) was the most creative collection of road signs put together in any one locality. Of course never having been to Ladakh I had no idea why these road signs were so special.
If you have lived in India for any considerable length of time, chances are that you have at some point complained about the state of the roads. Although things have turned for the better in most urban areas there are swathes of the country where there are either no roads or roads in very poor condition. It is very easy when travelling in Ladakh to carry over the same impressions- “can they not build a proper tar road here?” “can’t they see this portion of the road has been washed away and needs to be rebuilt?”. Extremely facile to keep complaining and not realise the truth of the matter- that it is almost impossible to maintain roads in perfect condition in those mountainous and high altitude areas. The landslides will keep washing out whatever roads you build and the meltwater streams will erode roads at unpredictable spots- you can’t do much!
Border Roads Organisation (BRO) is the government agency that is tasked with maintaining the border roads. Apart from serving the interests of the Indian armed forces that are posted in this volatile region, the roads that these divisions build also helps thousands of tourists like yours truly visit the region every year (though I do wish the BRO had been a little quicker about clearing the mudslide at Rohtang so I didn’t have to be stuck for over 24 hours!).
Not exactly a thankless job (my thanks to them! and I’m sure the other tourists agree too)- but also something that involves a lot of challenges- I could not even get out of my car at Tanglang La (the second highest pass in the world) leave alone thinking about working on a road project at that altitude. And let’s not forget the crazy weather conditions. And the fact that some parts in these areas can be extremely remote with no permanent habitation.
Obviously this allows for a certain amount of patriotic fervour and pride in the BRO guys doing what they do.
But what completely surprises you are the collection of whacky and witty slogans that the different divisions of BRO come up with to make sure you get to your destination safe.
I unfortunately could not photograph every one of the road signs that I came across but most of the funny ones just imprinted themselves into my head. I mean who in the world would come up with slogans such as:
“Fast won’t last”
“Safety on the road is a safe tea at home”
“Overtaker beware of undertaker”
“Drive on horse power and not rum power”
“Left is right, right is wrong”
There were also the standard collection of “Don’t drink and drive!”, “Speed thrills but kills” and quite a few very racy signs.
“Be gentle on my curves”
“I am curvaceous be slow”
“Darling I love you but not so fast” (Seriously!!! )
And the few signs that it took me a long long long time to figure out
It took me four months and wikipedia to finally figure out that Gama Pehelwan was one of the world’s greatest wrestler from Kashmir and that this sign urges you to be calm (like the lamas). At least I think that is the correct interpretation (quantum physics somehow didn’t seem to fit).
And the other classic “Divorce Speed”. In the beginning I could not for the life of me figure out what this meant. I thought of all possible speed limits and assumed that divorce speed meant something concrete like speed of light or mach speed or something except that I finally understood that the BRO were asking us to divorce speed (divorce used as a verb). Phew!
If not for anything else I would like to return to Ladakh only to photograph and savour these awesome road signs once again. I’m not sure if there is something quite similar anywhere else in the world.
And do remember “Drive like Hell and you will be there”
Thanks to BRO for adding an additional dimension to the long scenic drive through the Himalayas.