From the Cutting Room Floor: India’s Bedazzled Wheels

Sure, these trucks will transport you from one place to the next—but they’ll also give you unique insight into authentic India.

Photographer Dan Eckstein spent months shooting the wildly decorated trucks of India for his book, Horn Please—and, along the way, he discovered they are a lot more than Ru Paul’s dream semis. Long-haul drivers spent weeks and months on the road, away from their families, so the trucks become de facto homes, complete with sleeping quarters, kitchen supplies, and shrines.” The drivers decorate the trucks so the painting, ornamentation, and design all become a reflection of who they are,” Dan says.

A truck’s decor might tell you…

…A driver’s religion

Most trucks have some sort of religious decoration, Dan says. “Trucks with Hindu drivers or owners will often have images of Hindu deities on the front and henna paste smeared on the bumpers (they get blessed by Hindu priests at roadside temples).”“Christian trucks will often have images of the cross or Jesus. Muslim trucks will often have images of the Taj Mahal or the number 786 which is a reference to the opening passage of the Koran,” he says. “Sikh trucks will often have images of the Sikh gurus and spears and “Khandas” which are both Sikh symbols.”It could also tell you...

…Their caste

The caste name—generally the name of the owner of the truck or fleet of trucks—is often written on the banner board area above the windshield, he says. “In India, a caste name is like a last name in the West. Some are more famous than others and denotes higher status.”Or even...

…What they’re carrying

What’s inside the truck is sometimes indicated by displaying a garland of the item (say, guavas or tomatoes) across the front of the truck, he says. “It’s usually for perishable goods so that they don’t get stopped by the police for inspections.”

Aislyn Greene is the associate director of podacsts at AFAR, where she produces the Unpacked by AFAR podcast and hosts AFAR’s Travel Tales podcast. She lives on a houseboat in Sausalito.