A ride on the wild side
Organisers describe the three-wheeled auto rickshaw provided for a rally across India as the "ultimate long-distance off-road machine".travel Updated: Oct 24, 2011 12:04 IST
Organisers describe the three-wheeled auto rickshaw provided for a rally across India as the "ultimate long-distance off-road machine".
A driver calls it a "hair-dryer-powered tin can on shopping cart wheels".
A sense of humour is as important as a sense of adventure and a willingness to raise cash for charity for anyone signing up for the Rickshaw Run, a 3,500 kilometre odyssey organised by The League of Adventurists International.
The British-based company says it is "not just hell bent on fighting to make the world less boring but also raising massive buckets of cash for charities".
The Adventurists provide teams with one of India's famed Bajaj 145cc rickshaws, start and finish lines and a two-week deadline.
In return, each team is required to raise a minimum of 1,000 pounds (about $1,500) for a charity chosen by the company, while also paying a rickshaw 'hire' fee of 1,000 pounds.
The Rickshaw Run is held three times a year. The autumn run this year, from September 11 to September 24, was in benefit of Frank Water, a charity building water-treatment stations in poor village communities in India.
The organisers insist they are not "hand holders". Teams of up to four people are given the three-wheeled, hand-cranked, open-sided vehicles -- also known as tuk-tuks, a few tips on what to avoid, and the rest is up to them.
The route, accommodation, rough roads, wild traffic, monsoon floods, cows in the middle of the highways and mechanical and medical emergencies must be handled by the teams themselves.
"That's the adventure," said Matt Davis, an India Adventurists staff member.
At the start of the autumn run at Shillong in northeastern Meghalaya state, 74 teams were presented with their rickshaws, brightly pimped in team colours and with names such as "By Hook or by Tuk" and "Tucking Awesome".
They were all supposedly in good working order.
On the first day three teams lost their wheels.
"We did not know anything was wrong until we saw the wheel roll past us on the mountain road," a team member from Tucking Awesome said. "That was the start of our nightmare."
At one stage Tucking Awesome could only drive at 20 kilometres an hour -- way short of the maximum speed of 60kmh a rickshaw could achieve on a rare good road.
Another team, Right Place, Right Time, also lost a wheel on the first day then went on to have its chassis split in two, its brakes fail, accelerator cable snap and an electrical fire.
They were not alone in their misery. Team Brits Abroad, broke down "a hundred times", complaining that their trip was "not an adventure. Breaking down is not an adventure!"
The breakdowns, getting lost or having to put the rickshaw on a riverboat because the highway "ran out" for Rangeela Racers, were all part of the experience.
Other dangers were more testing.
Some teams were robbed and beaten up in Bihar, a state troubled with Maoist rebels and bandits. Others sought to avoid the state by putting their rickshaws on a train and skipping it all together.
Despite the challenges most teams tried to stay positive. Team Gandhi Warhol wrote on their blog: "Watched sunrise over Mt. Everest this morning in Darjeeling.
"Also, broken: brakes, rear lights, front fog lights, spark plug, chassis, horn, fuel intake. Service and MOT (roadworthiness test) complete. On we go through Bihar."
Not all who start the run make it to the end. One team left their rickshaw at a police station at the end of the first day, telling the organisers "it was not what we signed up for".
But the sense of achievement for those teams that did cross the finish line in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan was tremendous.
"I never thought we would make it," said Jennifer Morris, a Habibi Babes team member. "After days of breakdowns, driving in the dark and being driven off the road by big trucks, we had almost lost hope.
"But we made it, we made it!"
The Adventurists also host the Mongol Rally, Mongol Derby (on horseback) the Africa Rally, Ice Run (1,500km across the frozen Siberian wilderness on 650cc Ural motorbikes and sidecars), among others. Charity always plays a part.
"We figure since we are rather fond of adventuring in the world we should do our bit to look after it," the Adventurists say.
First Published: Oct 24, 2011 12:04 IST