Co.Design

A Photo Exploration of India's Ragtag Truck Culture

Dan Eckstein documents the ornately decorated trucks that serves as homes away from home for their drivers.

For centuries, the Grand Trunk Road has transported goods and culture across South Asian countries, by way of diagonally cutting through India to reach Afghanistan. Life along the ancient Indian highway is a chaotic clamor of horse-drawn carts, food stalls, cyclists, and trucks—the latter of which caught photographer Dan Eckstein’s eye while traveling through the north country. What struck Eckstein, specifically, were the ornate decorations adorning the looming highway vehicles.

“The trucks are decorated like a high school kid would decorate their room or locker,” the Brooklyn-based photographer tells Co.Design. “It’s very much a reflection of who they are.”

The images, beads, flowers, baubles, talismans, and so forth, express myriad things: Some trucks resemble mobile shrines, and depending on the region, brim over with Hindu, Muslim, or even Christian iconography. Trucks in the Punjab region are more likely to pay homage to Sikh culture. Other drivers prefer to collage their trucks with pop-culture nods and posters of pretty girls from Bollywood movies. The men are young, from 17 years old, to older family men. They drive from sunrise through the late night, stopping only in the middle day to rest at dhabas, for shade and masala chai. It’s easy to see how sacred the trucks are: Drivers spend long stretches of time away from home, and keep camper-like beds in their trucks. The trucks are homes away from home.

Eckstein’s photo essay, dubbed Horn Please is the result of two and half weeks spent cruising across a 2,000-kilometer radius of northwest India. His driver, guide, and translator—Sukkhi—introduced the New York photographer to the men who make up Indian roadside culture.

“India is such a hard place to photograph, because colorful, beautiful things are everywhere. It’s so much that you really need to focus in on something to get a story that isn’t a cliché,” Eckstein says. “But on these long, big, dusty highways, it’s not where tourists go, so they weren’t jaded, and were completely genuine.”

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2 Comments

  • Ashmith

    Thanks Rohit! Note to Margaret: Thanks for bringing Punjabi trucking to limelight using your article! Also for this very important fix (SIKH).