Published: October 2008

India's Highway

India Highway Main

Fast Lane to the Future

A new superhighway linking its four major cities is bringing old and new India into jarring proximity.

By Don Belt
National Geographic Staff
Photograph by Ed Kashi

India's new national highway, part crushed rock and asphalt, part yellow brick road, swings through Bangalore as it races across southern India bearing the turbocharged hopes of a billion people from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal. In downtown Bangalore the wheels roll to a stop, briefly, beside an ornate, 50-foot-high Hindu temple where every night a cheerful little man in horn-rimmed glasses named R. L. Deekshith, the temple priest, delivers the Hindu equivalent of curbside service. His specialty is the ritual called a puja, in which he spreads the munificence of the god Lord Ganesh upon a parade of newly purchased vehicles—cars, trucks, SUVs, motorcycles, and auto rickshaws, along with the occasional bicycle or bullock cart—whose owners wouldn't think of hitting the road without the blessings of a happy, four-armed god with the head of an elephant who brings prosperity and good fortune, particularly to machines and those setting out on something new.

Menaka Shekaran, a 23-year-old accountant for a company that imports exercise equipment, is waiting to have Mr. Deekshith conduct a puja over her silver motor scooter, which she just purchased this afternoon. Bright-eyed and slender, Menaka is dressed in the fashion one sees on thousands of young Indian women on motorcycles—designer jeans, brightly colored tunic, black heels, and a white scarf over her hair, wrapped to cover her nose and mouth.

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