India’s highways are hectic. In a single trip, a driver might encounter bikes, motorcycles, ox-drawn carts, rickshaws, pedestrians, and herds of animals. But even among the clutter, it’s hard to miss the trucks.
Dan Eckstein was traveling through Rajasthan after a 2011 wedding in Goa when he first noticed the colorful, personalized trucks that would later become the subject of his book, Horn Please, to be published by PowerHouse Books in December.
He returned to India in 2012 and 2013 for two three-week trips, and traveled more than 6,000 miles on highways across the country to photograph the amazing vehicles. Along the way, he stopped at restaurants, repairs shops, truck stops, and roadsides to meet drivers and learn more about India’s unique driving culture.
“It was like a treasure hunt looking for the exact ones I wanted,” Eckstein said. “It’s about finding the right trucks in the right light in the right space.”
On a purely aesthetic level, the trucks intrigue the eye. But as Eckstein talked to more drivers, he learned that their ornamentations are not merely decorative—they’re a reflection of the drivers’ religious beliefs, caste, region, and personality. In his photographs, Eckstein aimed to portray the trucks as extensions of their drivers. Approached from the front, the vehicles almost look like faces.
For drivers, their trucks are like second homes. They spend all day and night in them, eating, sleeping, and driving across the country. As a result, the trucks are subjects of constant care and attention.
“It’s a rough life, but at the same time they have the most amazing attitudes,” Eckstein said. “They take a lot of pride in their work.”
Many of the decorations on the trucks, Eckstein said, are meant to bring good luck and ensure safe passage. For a job so full of potential hazards, they’re considered important safeguards—especially at night when animals fall asleep on the road and some vehicles, like tractors, travel without lights. In the morning, it’s not uncommon to see a truck flipped over from the night before.
The name of Eckstein’s project, “Horn Please,” is derived from a phrase that, in some form or another, adorns the back of almost every truck and serves as a sort of mantra for highway order. Since lanes are rarely observed and side-view mirrors are hardly used, drivers honk constantly on the road, a sign to let others know they’re approaching. This informal system, Eckstien said, functions “amazingly well.”
“It’s not this constant death trap. It’s a delicate dance of everyone moving together.”