|Border Road Organization signs, Arunachal Pradesh, India|
We were bouncing on the craziest, dusty rutted road system I could imagine, heading far north into the hills of northeast India when I first smiled at one of the “BRO” signs. Like the old Burma Shave people fondly remember in the US, the BRO signs boasted of the road condition (ghastly), and with a touch of humor urged caution in driving. With quirky typos, grammar and sometimes sexist sayings they encouraged drivers to pay attention, avoid alcohol, gossip and speeding, drive with caution and honk their horns in blind curves.
I soon realized that Bro wasn't slang but the initials for the Border Road Organization and it tickled me even more that every sign started with the word BRO. I got out a pen and paper but it was hopeless to try to write in the bouncing jeep. My butt was soon numb and as flat as the hard back seat of my brother's '96 Mahindra jeep that we traveled in with three nephews and two little pups we eventually picked up in Tawang.
The entire state of Arunchal Pradesh seems to be occupied in the business of road construction but there was little evidence of progress. Women dressed in colorful tribal-wear often with babies on their backs and knitting in hand for break time, chipped rocks at the roadside. Occasionally there would be a short stretch of paved road but it was just a tease before clouds of dust poured back in the windows from Army convoys in front of us on the dry dusty road. Indian Army soldiers with rifles waved cheerfully from the back of their trucks at my two year old nephew. Cow, goats and yaks ambled across the road. Diverted highway stretches for roadwork were marked simply – with a boulder in the middle of the closed section. Memorial tributes scattered along the route paid tribute to those who had lost their lives in the construction of the road or who hadn't heeded BRO's wise advice. I mentally designed my memorial stone in case it was needed.
On the mornings that we got an early start we saw the day unfold at the side of the road. People watched us go by as they brushed their teeth, scrubbed and washed clothes at taps and waterfalls. Groups of kids in uniform walked to school and trucks dropped off the road side laborers. Convoys picked up and dropped off soldiers at army bases. Roadside workers enjoyed their picnics and tea breaks.
The scenery was breathtakingly dramatic. We passed through mountains that reminded me at times of Ireland, the Peruvian Andes, the Rocky mountains and Switzerland as we headed into the foothills of the Himalayas. TATA trucks stormed up the mountains with their professed religious symbols painted on the front. From Christian symbols in Shillong, Hindu in Assam, the trucks heading north soon changed to the Buddhist Om Mani Padma Hum and had solar prayer wheels spinning efficiently on the dash. The back view reminded drivers to honk their horn “HORN DO” and "Use Dipper at Night."
You know me, I was in hand-painted sign heaven. Unfortunately most were in spots too dangerous to pull over for photo ops. Some of the others we remembered were:
Don't Gossip. Let him drive.
Do not rally in the valley.
For safe arrival, no liquor in driving.
Leave sooner, drive slower, live longer.
Life is a journey. Don't let yours end here.
Check your never on my curve.
Alert today. Alive tomorrow.
Kindness is giving the right of way.
This is not rally or racy; drive with gracy.
Speed is a knife that cuts life.
Safety is as simple as ABC. Always Be Careful.
Wanna enjoy life fully? Drive carefully.