The Rickshaw Run, India – Day 1
We started much too enthusiastically on launch day. Despite the sore heads from our New Year Rickshaw Run escapades we trekked down early to get everything organised and packed our Rickshaw Shank Redemption in preparation for the 11am send off. Of course as it turned out not everybody was as eager as us. As the half hours passed gradually more people came and it was only about 11am before everybody was on site. There was a great buzz of excitement. It was a real notch above the low level bustle of the previous two days. Everybody was busy making their final preparations, tying bags and mascots to the roofs, putting on tinsel and flags etc. We got told by a local that our 4ft of gold and green flowers that we tied onto our rickshaw (Indian and Irish colours), like we had seen in several others in various colours, was actually an indication that somebody had died!
Everybody was dressed up in their fancy dress to match their rickshaws. The plane people were dressed up as RAF pilots, the astronauts had very good astronaut suits complete with helmets. There were tigers, crocodiles, Evel Knievels, prisoners, the list goes on. After getting all rickshaws into a tiny field, some speaching and photos we finally were off. Ages late. All 90 rickshaws were revving, then cutting out, then revving again before finally slowly getting out into the city and Kerala. Our first foray into the wilderness of India. This is where the adventure truly begins………
The excitement didn’t last long. Within 100mtrs we were in a traffic jam in Kochi with all the other rickshaws! We only had to go on another 2 minute drive to get to the ferry which most rickshaws were takings. It was that or driving for an hour through Kochi City to get to the same place. So when we finally got past the initial jam we were then in a huge rickshaw queue for the ferry. The sight was bizarre. In the middle of Cochin (Kochi? All the same) there were this line of colourful rickshaws stretching back half a kilometre from the ferry point all causing havoc for the locals. The ferry was every 15minutes so after another while we were packed onto it, really packed onto it. They really know how to maximise their use of space. Finally on the other side and some manual turning on the boat we were off into the wilderness of India. Again!
On we zoomed at 40-45km/hr which was by far a new high speed for us but was nothing compared to some other rickshaws who flew off into the distance like we weren’t moving. The road was straight and there wasn’t too much traffic which was good for us because we basically had no breaks. And I mean, no brakes. It may slow you from 5km/hr to zero but just about, that is how useless they were. We took this as normal and presumed all the rest were the same and just used the gears to slow down which meant a lot of anticipation and staying back from the vehicle ahead. This was okay for this road but was to prove not so good for most other normal Indian situations. With a lot of other rickshaw on the same ferry there was lots of jockeying around trying to get ahead which was good fun. About 30minutes into our Indian foray our power went. From 45km/hr to nothing. We pulled over as we had our first breakdown only half an hour into a 2 week trip. Not a good sign. Within minutes we had 4 or 5 locals around asking to help. Although I am an engineer I wouldn’t know a steering wheel from a roof rack. We did though do some practical lessons before India and there were a few tips in HQ. So as we stared confused into the engine we started with rickshaw breakdown 101. Do we have fuel? Checked the line, got petrol all over my hands (a recurring theme throughout the trip) and yes we did. Is the spark plug working? Took it out and it seemed to be. The rickshaw still wouldn’t start. Let’s change it because we can’t think of anything else we can do. It started! We were mechanics!! We actually managed to fix something. Brilliant. We were back on track. At this very moment, this was the high point of my life!
It is also interesting to note at this point that as we were not long off the ferry we got passed by loads of our fellow rickshaws while stranded on the roadside. It solved our question of what the etiquette would be if somebody breaks down and you pass them by? Screw them, every man for themselves!
We all had a go driving and everybody was nervous to begin with but after a while you get used to it. Getting used to buses over taking coming around corners however was a different story and meant that several times they would nearly drive you off the road. The roads were busy and only a single lane each way so horns are a constant companion. A beep means ‘I am going to over take you’, ’I am pulling in after overtaking you’, ‘I hear your beep to overtake me and I beep to acknowledge this’, ‘Watch out pedestrian I am coming’, ‘Watch out cow, stay where you are’, ‘what are you doing on my side of the road’. A beep can mean most things and you could almost have a conversation with your horn. We made our way up the coast revelling in our little wagon and drying our armpits in the breeze it provided. With an hour to go to nightfall we arrived in the large town of Ponnani which would provide our beds for the night. There were lots of hotel signs so we figured we should easily get somewhere decent to stay. Wrong! We discovered that hotel in India means a restaurant. We searched over and back, up and down asking anybody who would listen but could not find anywhere to stay. This large town had no accommodation which was hard to believe. The hour and more passed and it was now dark. We were warned against driving in the dark. Drunk truck drivers take over the road and you will never survive was the narrative. There was a glimmer of hope as usually Indians are vague with ‘straight, straight’ being the response but one guy was very specific except it was a 40min drive away in the next town. It turned out that we met several other teams on the Rickshaw Run that had the same idea with Ponnani but couldn’t find accommodation either which made our situation a little easier to take.
We made the inevitable decision of having to drive in the dark. We were now doing on the first day with no experience and no brakes what we were told we should never do. Off we went and discovered why it is not a good idea. The lights on the rickshaw are brutal on one hand while on the other Indians like to drive with their full lights on. In other words you cannot see anything. It is like driving into a black wall. To add to the excitement Indians also walk on the edge of the road if they are not blinding you with their lights so as well as not even knowing where the road is because a truck is blinding you, you have to try and stay off the edge of the road in case you mow over a whole family. And no, they didn’t have hi-vis vests! It was a very long and harrowing 40minutes but we eventually made it to the ‘lodging’ as Indians call it. It was fancy but we would have paid 5 star prices by the time we got there as we didn’t care.
We had survived our first day on our own and got two big hoodoo’s out of the way. We broke down and we drove in the dark. We just hoped tomorrow wouldn’t be as adventurous.
The Rickshaw Run, India – Day 2
From our calculations of 2,500km for the trip we needed to be doing an average of about 190km per day to arrive on time. That was if we drove everyday but with a few rest days/sightseeing thrown in then this goes up to about 230km per day excluding any time lost for breakdowns. With the late start on day 1 we only managed 170km so we already had 2 hrs extra driving to make up. With this in mind we started early, 5:30am but with it taking 15minutes for our beauty to start it was nearly 6am before we got going. It was dark again before the sun rose but as the roads are quite in the morning it is easy driving. Even in the tropics of Kerala it is chilly at this time of the morning and especially with no doors or windows to shelter you. We still though got to see India get out of bed and sh!t in the fields! No messing, this is what the folks do in the country even beside a big road. Sunrise was beautiful, the quite roads were beautiful and we really felt we were on our own now. We stopped to drink chai after sunrise. A tradition we kept up for the whole holiday. No matter how dilapidated a shed looked they still served chai. Tea, milk, cinnamon, ginger and sugar. Copious amounts of sugar all went into this shot of tea. Maybe 35grams (nearly 3 tablespoons) in 50ml (a shot glass) of tea! Still though it was good and warmed us up. As the day progressed and our driving improved, the layers for the morning were shed and we were in t-shirts by lunchtime. We didn’t pass through any big cities but just towns which were are nice every hour or so as they spice up the driving with a few more obstacles to be negotiated.
Where you from?
Of course there were a few u-turns here and there but not too many but as we entered Beypore. Then again we lost power and pulled over. Another breakdown. So we stared blankly into the engine again before starting with the basics. Do we have fuel? I checked the line, eh no we don’t. Oh right, we ran out of petrol. Does this counts as a breakdown? In with our fuel from our jerry can as I headed off for chai. School just finished meant I was bombarded with questions about my name and where I was from from kids eager to practice English. The girls were surrounded by hormonal teenagers with very greasy hair when I returned with the drinks but after complimenting one on his new shoes that were 5 sizes too big for him they left happy. Despite being full of petrol we still couldn’t start it and thought something else was wrong but with the help from locals shaking and pushing they got it started. We still had a lot of tricks to learn.
Further on during the day we passed by a group of policemen when they signalled us to pull over. We were in a bit of a panic trying to get documents out before they walked up to us. In the end after two questions they were happy to let us take a few photos with them and only pulled us in out of boredom! After the fiasco of accommodation the night before we didn’t want to get stung again so when it was getting past 5pm and we passed lodging in Bekal we decided to check it out. Although our final destination was the bigger town of Kasaragod we took it although it was a 3 star hotel. We were fancy for the second night running. This India thing isn’t so bad after all!
It turned out that another rickshaw group, James and Francis, were staying in the same hotel and were mad for a drink and the only place to get it was in the exclusive 5 start Taj hotel 2km away. A lot of drinks later we returned to our hotel in their brand new rickshaw. It was like driving a Ferrari when compared to ours. We were very jealous. We did have one up on them though because they didn’t know where to put the engine oil in as there was no dip stick and it turned out nobody else did either!
|Launch location - Fort Cochin|
Cochin, Kerala, India
|Day 1 - Tirur|
Cochin, Kerala, India
|Day 2 - Bekal|
Bekal Fort, Kasaragod, Kerala, India
|Day 3 - Bhatkal|
Bhatkal, Karnataka, India
|Day 4 - Palolem Beach|
Palolem Beach, Goa, India
|Day 5 - Belgaum|
Belgaum, Karnataka, India
|Day 6 - Pimpri Chinchwad|
Pimpri-Chinchwad, Maharashtra, India
|Day 7 - Nashik|
Nashik, Maharashtra, India
|Day 8 - Surgana|
Surgana, Maharashtra, India
|Day 9 - Bharuch|
Bharuch, Gujarat, India
|Day 10 - Udaipur|
Udaipur, Rajasthan, India
|Day 11 - Sheoganj|
Sheoganj, Rajasthan, India
|Day 12 - Jodhpur|
Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India
|Day 13 - Jaisalmer, the finish line|
Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India