I’m finally getting around to writing about the super duper adventure of the Rickshaw Run where we drove 3,000km from south to north India, Cochi to Jaisalmer, in a glorified lawnmower, a 150cc rickshaw (tuk tuk).
The Rickshaw Run: The Countdown to Launch Day
We arrived into Cochin, Kerala as bushy tailed as is possible after 20hr of travelling and our plane landing in the wrong airport on the way! As we snaked into the city from the airport in the back of a Tata car it all looked a bit chaotic. Little did we know this wasn’t chaotic at all.
The Rickshaw Run: D-Day minus 2
Bright and early in Cochi we made our way to the Rickshaw Run HQ in to check out what this whole adventure was about because we didn’t have that much of an idea. It was one of those things we signed up for because it would be ‘great craic’ but after paying over the money we didn’t think much else about what is involved. As we made our way in we nearly got knocked by a few doing practice runs around the compound and were amazed how competent they looked. Among the huge number of other rickshaws (94 in total) in a barrage of colours we spotted ours. With our pimping design sent ahead and subsequent regret we were please our black and white themed ‘Rickshaw-Shank Redemption’ design came out well and matched the black and white t-shirts we had. We were the only team of 4 and were a bit worried about the space (1 in the front, 3 in the back) but it was slightly larger than our nightmares so it was a good start. Our 4 year old giant lawnmower already had 30,000km on the clock so it wasn’t new. After the paperwork was sorted we finally got our key and couldn’t wait to tear up the place and try and catch up with all the experts we saw beavering away at their vehicles. I sat in, accelerator, brake, easy peasy! 5minutes later I still couldn’t start it. We called over another team as they surely know. They didn’t know how to start it either. Maybe we are not as stupid as we think. It turns out there is some manual labour involved in starting and one of our team couldn’t actually do it on her own for the whole trip as it took a bit of strength. (This led to some comedic moments in traffic jams when it kept cutting out)
As we just got started a local team member came over and took us for a test drive. Ahh, the clutch is in your left hand. Oh right, we just thought it was the brake! First gear, then neutral, then second, third, fourth. Why put neutral in the middle? This ended up being the bane of our trip. Neutral seemed to pop up everywhere. Especially when you were under pressure. Rafi was his name and he bombed us out the gate and gave us all lessons and an introduction to the vehicle. It was comical how bad we were but at least we knew what everything did.
As there was a leak Rafi brought us to the mechanic. This was our first introduction to real India. The mechanic was just a guy with a big box on the side of the street. Ground was black from oil, several taxi rickshaws were parked up in various states of disrepair and there were two or three guys covered in oil from head to toe. He fixed up a number of things and said he had worked on it 4 or 5 times before. Not a good sign! He also removed our fuel filter which we later discovered is an integral part of the machine as the fuel is so dirty in India. We got the recommended spare parts of spark plugs, filters, clutch cable, accelerator cables, oil for our fuel mix, oil for the engine, oil for the brakes. You could have bought half the shop. This was all great as we were knocking off stuff that had to be done. We discovered much further down the line that they weren’t all honest. Some of the cables we bought weren’t for our type of rickshaw, they were for a rival make and wouldn’t work on ours.
Duct tape which we heard was essential could not be found anywhere. We ended up settling for parcel tape, the brown stuff. Not a great substitute. We were all delighted with our knowledge and spares but turns out that Rafi with the Rickshaw Run t-shirt was actually just a rickshaw driver and managed to find the t-shirt somewhere so he would look official. We didn’t care though as he was very helpful, we now knew how to drive. As it turn out, we didn’t.
As we tried to go around our little 150mtr track we were having big difficulties changing gear, starting stopping etc and we ended up having a bit of a tip off another rickshaw. Of course we were pulled in as much as we could have been so it was his fault. Talking to him the next day and he didn’t know who I was said he had a tip but he was pulled over as much as he could have been so it was the other teams fault! Looking around at all the other rickshaws and their cool designs at the end of the day would cheer anybody up. ‘Naan Stop’, ‘Men go Chutney’ , ‘Tuk Tuk Boom’ and all with crazy designs and paraphernalia hanging off. One team bought a full sized dummy (manikin), sprayed her pink and put her on the top of their rickshaw! Another was like an RAF fighter plane and had wings that could go up and down and a propeller on the front. The Nan-O-Naughts even had a proper parachute out the back of theirs ready to deploy.
A crappy video but it gives you an idea
The Rickshaw Run: D-Day minus 1
Despite tender heads our goal for today was to get a phone, get some padding for the rickshaw and most importantly learn to fecking drive! Around lunchtime we plucked up the courage to go out on the streets on our own. Out into traffic going the wrong way, cows on the road, people walking in front of you etc. Scary stuff. After much searching passed packed streets, very pungent canals and not knowing where we were we found some cheap mattress which we eventually ripped apart and tied (with our parcel tape) to all the metal stanchions in the shaw to cushion the blow for our shoulders. We got tinsel for decoration and a phone so overall it was successful. We even did a bit of extra painting with some Irish shamrocks around the rickshaw. We all had a go and mine looked more like broccoli than any lucky symbol. We also got some local painters to put a green tiger on the back. They were excellent. The tiger was India of course but a green one was like the Irish economy, the Celtic tiger that crashed and burned in 2008-9. That is why we were in jail. Get it? We then noticed that the front windscreen had come apart at the edges so called over a mechanic. It actually did take us about 5hrs to notice it! ‘It crashed’, ‘No it didn’t’ we said forgetting about our little almost non-incident. Part of the main frame was slightly bent so the windscreen was coming out. The ‘crash’ was barely even noticeable but yet we bent part of the structure of Rick. What would happen if we hit a cow at 40km/hr or a truck??
We got to know a few more teams but we were really impressed with Mutt Cutts who spent their entire 2 days putting brown flooring all around on their rickshaw. The rickshaw was now furry, had a tail, eyelashes, a tongue. It was excellent. Before the big party on news years that evening our last job was to fill up with fuel and to fill our jerry can. We were now just about competent to manage this feat but 300mtrs out the gate and we had no gears. A bit of a panic as we were in traffic but as rickshaws are so light you can easy manoeuvre in neutral. Swarms of locals came over to us telling us they could help us but we thought it better to get back to the compound for the first breakdown. Being very embarrassed two of us pushed the rickshaw all the way back to Rickshaw HQ. Turned out our clutch cable snapped. In 15min it was fixed but it was our first little lesson in breakdowns and we hadn’t even started.
New Years night was great. A boat to some island with all the Rickshaw Runners, some food, entertainment before the DJ and then some wild dancing. The bar even ran out of beer. A crazy situation! The best part of the night was probably the 30min back on our boat. There were 3 boats back but some local on our one just pumped out dance music for the fun of it. People were just in a great mood so the boat was mayhem with everybody dancing everywhere. The other boats had to make do with their own signing! Back on land the streets were packed as it was New Year’s night and Santa had just been burned on the beach. It’s a sort of mixed up tradition they have in Cochin. So at some early hour of the morning in Kerala all the Rickshaw Runners went to bed with muddied thoughts about leaving the next day and I’m sure not even 10% were competent to drive on the roads. We definitely weren’t. Not that that was important.