Rickshaw Run India Summer 2019

Five friends journey through India 10th – 25th August 2019

This summer 5 friends from the UK are driving 2 rickshaws from the south to the north of India (Kochi to Jaisalmer). A distance of 1553 miles.

The Rickshaw is a notoriously unstable 3 wheeled passenger cart. They are generally unpredictable, inconsistent, uncomfortable and break down many times. Part of their challenge will be testing their resolve – these guys will be fending for themselves with the problems these vehicles will encounter along the way. That said, the reason why rickshaws are great is that they are generally easy to fix and are often considered the best way to explore India.

To read more about their unique adventure and to donate please click on the link:

https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/Team/RickshawRunIndia

They are fundraising for 3 charities: Healing Little Hearts, Prostate Cancer UK and Cool Earth.

This summer 5 friends from the UK are driving 2 rickshaws from the south to the north of India (Kochi to Jaisalmer). A distance of 1553 miles.

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Team story

WEIRD (Wongs Extra Indian Rickshaw Diary)

WEIRD DAY 1: MADE IT TO INDIA (JUST!)

So Vishal, viraj and myself met up in stansted at around midday, saying our hellos we proceeded through the standard check in and security processed and parked up in weatherspoons for some lunch before we set off for Dubai. Ravi was already in India and has been for some time now and sun was going to leave from Heathrow the next day. The flight to Dubai was smooth, what could possibly go wrong? Well the monsoon season is alot more serious than I had anticipated. We arrived in dubai to scattered texts from all sources of flooding in Kochi and the surrounding area. This was accompanied by some serious messaged about landslides and even fatalities in the surrounding areas. Checking the boarding schedule we saw our flight was dealyed by 5 hours. Well at least emerites gave us a meal voucher that Vishal tried to squeeze every penny out of in Costa. Turns out, haggling is best saved for India. The time came for our flight, despite multiple sources saying that Kochi airport was closed due to flooding, we were all amazed to see that people were boarding at the gate. “Your flight has been redirected to Trivandrum”, the lady at the desk said. After a brief check on Google maps (it’s about a 5 hr drive South of kochi) we were happy to take the flight knowing we’d at least have a fighting Chance of getting to kochi in time from there. That being said, we can only speculate what sunny’s flight is going to do! Hopefully his can be redirected too. Landing in India was a relief, albiet we then had to figure out what to do from there. First port of call was cash. ATM out of cash…Viraj then reveals a wad of rupees that Mina kindly gave for Ravi (he won’t mind right?). We then jump in a bus with other rickshaw runners set for kochi, we sat for about half and hour before we realize that this bus was not going to be going anytime soon. Vishal -an Indian bus veteran- explains to us that they do not go until every seat, standing space and inch of air is taken by a paying customer. Vishal then goes into some negotiator trance and jumps off the bus, brings in every taxi driver he can see and haggles a taxi ride for us three to kochi for 4000 ruppees (Vishal only shouted a little bit). From here onwards I’m in for a shock. I should quickly say that I’m the only one who hasn’t been to India yet. Therefore I haven’t experienced Indian driving yet. Here’s my quick summary from an Indian driving newbee:

1) road markings mean nothing here

2) honking and flashing lights means hi, I’m coming, I hate you, go away and other common communication phrases apparently

3) don’t drive at night, it’s impossible to see anything

The driver Sribath was an interesting fellow, he laughed at virajs nut allergy, saying “it’s all in your mind” and after I let out a small scream as we narrowly missed an incoming bus, he said “it’s good you were all asleep earlier!”. Best not to dwell on that comment I thought. Our driver kindly dropped us off at a restaurant on the way for dinner (cant imagine the bus doing that!) And we had our first meal in India. I pointed randomly at the menu, viraj had butter masala and Vishal a chicken Tikka. Delicious. And seriously cheap. Cost us all less than a tenner. I could get used to this. Following our arrival in Kochi and meeting up with Ravi we can only rest and see what happens during registration tomorrow afternoon!

Woke up at 11am, all of us bar Ravi and ross were super jetlagged so were out cold as soon as we got into bed. Ravi was awake for 3 hours by the time we came around. One cold shower later we left for some food and befriended a kiwi who joined us for lunch. A crazy guy who literally signed up for the rally a week ago. Had a delicious lunch, tried some famous kerela seafood – it did not disappoint. After this we got to the school were our Rickshaws were waiting. This is when it felt very real, seeing the designs we made in person was really exciting. What wasn’t so exciting was driving in a VERY waterlogged field (water was up to our shins, your foot was completely submerged as you walked around). A kind mechanic showed us the ropes and said to go ahead and try drive around in the mud. As an initiation we ended up spending more time pushing the rickshaw than driving it! Some other rickshaw groups later told us that on the road it’s way easier, we look forward to road driving on the road tomorrow (we arrived too late to drive on the road today as they were closing up)! As a self proclaimed rickshaw noob, here are a few facts I didn’t know about the vehicle:

1)There is no petrol guage, to test if you have petrol you have to pull out the petrol line and see if petrol dribbles out. Or you can just keep going till it stops.

2) there is no handbrake, you just use a rock to prop it

3) you can go into 4th gear while reversing! Not recommended or even tried by our mechanic, and we can barely get it to move in first!

4) you can fit 6 people on a rickshaw, we managed it on the way to the school (fun fact- you can order a rickshaw uber here) We definitely won’t do it in our smaller, weaker Rickshaws though!

So test driving over (or some might argue it was more like test pushing) it was time for the launch party. A boat trip away we got to a hotel where we were greeted by some local Indian music and some weird small guy dressed as a tiger and jumping around like a lunatic. Got speaking to a few teams and enjoyed the buffet and music. Just like in clasic Pokemon, we loitered around long enough and a wild Sunnmeet appeared during the night. And so the final team was complete. Ravi, viraj, Vishal, sun, Ross and I. A huge relief we all made it after all the flood scares! Looking forward to driving on the road tomorrow and a final briefing before we all set off on Monday. Also going to grab the spares and parts we need to make it to Jaisalmer in kochi tomorrow

After a late night we got up at 11am again (this will probably be the last time we get this luxury) and made it to some art gallery for food, conscious that we wanted to make the scheduled mechanics talk at 2pm. It wasn’t Indian food, but nice nevertheless – it was at least a good dose of fruit and veg that did our bellies a favour. Bellies full, it was time for business. We made it to the mechanic talk, it was really useful and taught us how to do some basic roadside maintenance:

1) check nothing is falling off

2) check there’s petrol going into the engine

3) if it doesn’t start there was a whole host of little checks like seeing the carborator isn’t flooded by pulling out the air line, cleaning the air filters with petrol etc.

4) if all else fails, the local Shepard will probably be an expert rickshaw mechanic

After this, it was time to stock up. Ravi, Ross and myself set off for some basic supplies like spark plugs and gear cables. Vishal, viraj and sun stayed and drove around the school (this was sun’s first time in the rickshaw). The first times on the road weren’t nearly as bad as we’d imagined, but I suppose it was a Sunday so the roads were less busy. Buses are still pretty scary though! And stalling in the middle of a junction was certainly an experience. The first mechanic shop we found had been ransacked by other runners, so we only managed to get a handful of parts. We met up with the group and changed plans. We had an interesting encounter with a local who pulled up next to us, shouted “this is India, not Japan!”, and drove off. Eh?! The new plan: locals. We quickly aquired some friendly Rickshaw drivers to run errands with us. There was so many little bits to think about, like zip ties and plastic washers to full the holes in the tarpaulin. The drivers drove us to individual shops in tiny allyways for each part, fair play! Sun, vishal, viraj and Ravi all chipped in with some Hindi to get us by. The drivers took us back, and even helped us fit the tarpaulin on. In fact, by then we were under some time pressure to make it to the briefing in a nearby art hall, so we split up: sun and I helped the drivers fix our rickshaws while the other went off and attended the briefing. Turns out, the briefing wasn’t all that important, they mainly said don’t be an idiot on the road and it rains here. We knew this already! I’m writing this in a restaurant waiting for my first thali for dinner, everyone is raving about it – I wonder why? Anyway, overall today was a productive day, and we will be waking up early for the big starting ceremony where we will leave at 8am prompt. Looking forward to it!

Full of excitement for the grand opening ceremony, we woke up at 6 and set off for the last time to St Edmunds school where our steeds were parked for this huge adventure. We saw quickly from other drivers that maybe putting our huge rucksacks on the roof rack wasn’t the best idea, and ended up shoving them in the back of the rickshaw (surprisingly with some force and a good bungee cord, it fits!). We took a group photo, and afterwards upon request of the local councilor and out of respect, we took a minutes silence to honor the victims of the dramatic flooding in kerela. Indeed, this was the final reminder that we were not to stray too close to the west coast. The next 10-15 minutes were a blur of excitement and panic as we forced ourselevs to the starting archway, signalling the beginning of the Rickshaw Run, August 2019. Vishal and myself took first go of driving and managed it surprisingly well. I almost felt like a local. We stopped off immediately to a petrol station and filled up our Jerry cans. 10 L of smelly petrol and 2T oil later we made our way inland, in a bid to avoid the worst of the flooding. We drove through beautiful country roads, with mangroves and rice paddies a plenty. The locals were incredibly friendly and took every opportunity to speak to us. The best example of this was on an an unassuming bridge, where we stopped to fix a bungee cord. We thought it was a good time to take some photos and Ravi opted to whip out the drone for some Ariel footage. The story is debatable but long story short the drone his a cable and span out of control and crashed into the murky brown river below. Watching this as an outsider was like a good novel, it had tragedy, humor (Ravi jumping in after it), community (the locals jumping in after Ravi) and a Mastermind overlord (this random local, who let the boys faff in the water for a while then calmly said, “500 and i get it” – we said ok and he casually dived in and grabbed it in one fell swoop). What an experience. All the while a large crowd developed on the bridge who were very interested in the prostate cancer merchandise we brought from the UK. After this incredible start, the next item on the agenda was food. We stopped off at a hotel in Mala for a feast of Gobi Manchurian, chapattis and something called chicken 65 (it was deep fried chicken bits with spices – it’s pretty meh). We were quite below our aim for 200km a day by lunch, so we decided to put of heads down and get going. It was now viraj and ravi behind the wheel. We suffered our first breakdown of the journey, although we broke down perfectly next to a mechanics! How convenient! The locals instantly knew it was our electrictronics, which already threw our mechanics knowledge out the window. As they continued to fix our rickshaw. A cameraman and journalist approached us. Turns out they want to film us for a story on CTV (we weren’t sure if they were big or not in India). Anyway I won’t write anymore about this, because you can see it all we we get sent the clip tomorrow! After the fix and a thank you, we head off to get as many km north as possible. Myself and Vishal took a final stretch of driving as we entered dusk driving where we headed to some appartments booked on the way in Shoranur. Over and out.

We left Shoranur around 6:30 and made our way north. Plan was to hug the coast but not go exactly on the coast to avoid the floods (going too far inland would take us towards mountains, which our little rickshaws would not appreciate). Sun was on debut driving the rickshaw on the road this morning! It was a trial by fire, as the road suddenly stopped pretty soon and it became pothole central. Around 8, we had our first taste of some local street food for breakfast, it was like a pakora (except more spongey in texture) and masala chai (only 8 rupees per glass!). We continued driving for a few hours, stopping off near Perintalmanna for lunch. Turns out the “tea house” was definitely not good for tea or food (unfiltered masala chai for starters!). Disappoint over we drove for a brief stint in the mountains, the views were stunning. Fog slowly worked it’s way through the forest and when it inevitably rained it just added to the ambiance. In fact, this was probably the nicest place to drive so far (the rickshaw’s engine may disagree). It was here we stopped (mainly under order of produced Pancholi) to have a photoshoot with some locals helping us. I’ll send some of the photos after. Ravi made sure we got every angle! Next up was the mad rush to get as many miles under our belts before night (around 18:30). We made it to Kuttiady, and to my delight I can say we got a proper hotel. Finally I feel clean again.

We set for the nature and tiger reserve east of us at 6 (actually 6:30 due to some toilet breaks). This was a good move to avoid the floods west but we found out the hard way that the ghatts were quite steep. The countryside there was full of tea plantations and banana farms, quite a sight as we drove along. Quite soon in, Ravis weather prediction of 100% rain came to light. It pissed it down. We parked up for breakfast in a random town while waiting out the rain. No matter what we tried to order he just gave us what he had out back, some egg curry and aloo. Quite nice and the uttapam was a new food for me to try. Now we got into the mountains. The poor rickshaws didn’t know what hit them. I live in Bristol and think it’s steep there, but now I will never complain about a hill (or pothole) again. To put it into perspective, by the end of the ordeal we had a set plan, as slick as an F1 pit stop:

1) Drive in 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st until you stall

2) Both passenger jump out and push while the driver tries to full throttle in 1st

3) repeat about 3-4 times

4) passengers run the rickshaw and long jump back into the rickshaw

This was pretty standard procedure in the mountains. This was hard enough if we hadn’t have got stuck when it began going dark. Now we experienced thrill, adrenaline, anxiety and fear all at once. Long story short we couldn’t get somewhere to stay near where we were, so we had to drive an hour in the pitch black on a single track, potholed road with near 20% gradient inclines in the pouring rain. Our destition was the nearest town of Kanhadgad. To add to this, the “full beam” was weaker than sun’s headtorch. I could see maybe 1 to 3 meters ahead. Infact, for most of the this we had Sun dangeling off the rickshaw and shouting where to turn. “SLIGHT LEFT, NO BIG LEFT, POTHOLE RIGHT, OW”. This was the general chat in that last hour ( I think Ross has a video). Half way through we had lost battery to nearly everything, concerning because we needed phones for maps and our walkie talkies to communicate between each other (shouting will have to do) After the mountain pass the road we joined was tarmaced, and therefore my new favorite road. Ravi booked a hotel on the way, a nice one at least and although we will only have 5 or so hours of sleep, it will be well deserved! Over.

It was a tough alarm to hear this morning, we all maybe had 5 hours sleep max. That being said this would have been the first morning we would have actually left at 6am, however Sun was feeling ill and had to take an impromptu toilet break. Ross had the same issue last night, and I will have the same issue later today. It seems that Delhi belly truely has arrived. Today we took National Highway 66, a generally nicely tarmaced road which goes directly north. With this in mind, today was the day we got some good miles in. Other teams are reported to already be in Goa, so we really had to pick up our pace. I won’t comment on the journey, because I was feeling particularly worse for wear and spent alot of it sleeping. For the brief period I did drive and had to pull up to throw up, however I feel alot better now and after a good nights sleep I should feel normal again. What I can say is I think we’ve all mastered the art of sleeping in a rickshaw. We all had a snooze on the way, regardless of the frequent speed bumps that literally throw you in the air. As evening fell, we found ourselves in a sticky situation where we had to power on in the dark to get to a reasonably sized town to stay in. Our aim was Karwar, just on the southern border of Goa (2 hours from the petrol station we stopped at as we discussed this – it would be dark in 30 minutes). As we continued on we quickly found out that the dazzle of buses and trucks, combined with the pathetically weak full beams, meant we had to stop sooner. Fortunately, we saw a hotel on the way near Kumta, and quickly parked up. They even have a restaurant next door which is ideal. Now time for some much deserved sleep!

Today we woke up at 7, a lie in that was much deserved. Full of energy and determination, we pushed on: destination Goa. This was the place I had heard the most about before I came to india, so was particularly looking forward to this day. Vishal did warn us that it was off season so may not be as expected. That being said, after zooming down national highway 66 (as we did for the entire day), we say georgous beaches, expansive rivers and imposing mountains. It was a really nice place and I can imagine I’ll be back at some point. Just before lunch we had a breakdown where our fuel line came out (it has happened quite a few time, since it’s just a simple pushfit and the roads can get quite bumpy!). As we stopped to fix it, we were joined by another team of the rickshaw run, and then another, and then another! By sheer conicidence we met up with about 5 different teams, and even had lunch together, it was refreshing to hear everyone else’s stories on the way. They even fixed our fuel line and gave us a heads up on our extremely loud engine – it was our exhaust almost falling off, so we went to a mechanic to get that fixed. Next on the agenda was Goa International Airport, since we had to drop off our last minute addition to the team – Ross – since he had to fly back to the UK and go to an Ariana Grande consert. I don’t know what was more impressive, the fact that Ross managed to just turn up to the airport and buy a ticket to Delhi straight away, or the fact we managed to hold off the police for about 30 mins right in front of the terminal. Goodbye Ross, and I hope you enjoy the Ariana Grande consert. We are now in Kudal, in a fantastic hotel with the aim of getting to Pune to stay with Vishals cousin tomorrow. And the day after we will spend the day in Pune and visit the Healing Little Hearts hospital and generally enjoying the area. Should be good!

Woke up at 04:30 today, we had to start early and get the miles in if we had any hope of getting to Pune before night fall. It was tough, but we’ve all gotten used to the painful alarms and packed up pretty fast. The route was to go inland then north, rather than hit Mumbai if we continued north from the go. This took us through some beautiful countryside and Vishal and Sun even picked up some hitchhikers. Little did they know that they wouldn’t get out. We didn’t really know where they wanted to go, other than it was a temple somewhere. Vishal and Sun originally thought they wanted to go down the road! We tried stopping twice to kick them out to no avail. So we drove on, a team of 7, up the windy mountain paths. At the first mountain village we got to they eventually jumped out and said “Chai!” while nodding their heads profusely. Turns out this was our payment for our involuntary taxi service through the mountains. Well beggers can’t be choosers, so we stopped and enjoyed a tea break. Is it just me or are the chai cups getting smaller and smaller? The roads before the highway were particularly bad, pothole after pothole. Your head hurt from all the shaking and even 4x4s were struggling through. It makes these Rickshaws seem pretty hardy when they zoon past a land rover mid air. Eventually we joined a highway, it was at least 150km to Pune from here on. A quick stop to dominos for lunch (we are all abit sick – some of us literally- of Indian food and thought we needed a change) and we began the highway slog. It’s not so much driving as just holding the throttle down while occasionally swerving a truck or bus. We got to Pune, our first real experience of driving through an Indian City. Motorbikes taking every opportunity to overtake, cows walking in the bus station and people walking slowing through a wall of traffic, it was all there. There were alot of close calls, but in the end we arrived at Vishal’s family flat unscathed. This was the surprise of the day. We arrived, took our bags and chucked us in a lift and pressed 2. “Which flat?” we shouted…turns out the flat was the whole floor. This flat had an outdoor balcony pool, cinema room and generally a very very nice place. We didn’t quite realize Vishals family were part of the Pune super elite, but here we are. The family are extremely welcoming, and have basically offered our every whim. Covered it mud and dust from the drive, we couldn’t be more appreciative of this hospitality and will definitely never forget this experience. Tomorrow is the day off driving to visit the HLH hospital and a very last minute press conference with the local news!

This was our day off. The day we’ve been looking forward to. Had a lie in, and woke up to a compartively huge breakfast compared to what we’ve orginally been eating (just masala chai and panaji). Next we made way to Ruby Hall Clinic, a fantastic hospital with some excellent staff. Here we met Joseph, a heart doctor who was upskilled by Healing Little Hearts to perform surgery on babies. A great cause, and it is great to hear that they actually train staff rather than throw money at the problem. We also met Shivam, a 9 month old who was due to have heart surgery tomorrow. Seeing a little fragile baby lay on the bed made me realize the difficulty of the operation, the heart couldn’t do have been much bigger than a few cm3. This was particularly touching as my girlfriend of 5 years also had heart surgery at 9 months old. What a fantastic cause, and we wish Shivam all the best in the theater and recovery. After this and a tour of the hospital we met up with Vishals family and the press. I don’t know the channel exactly but it is one of the biggest channel in India. Again, I won’t say much as we’ll forward the clip once we get it. A particularly nice moment was when Ravi got stopped by a complete stranger, who asked what we were doing with cameras and brightly colored Rickshaws in front of a hospital. She was amazed by our journey so far and asked for a link to donate. We could really make a difference here! The afternoon was purely selfish, we had earned some pampering. Vishals family took us to a sizzler restaurant, a speciality in Pune and it was delicious. We even had lamb brain, which was surprisingly nice! After this was a Thai massage, some of us really improved our flexibility! As if that wasn’t enough, after a stop off at the appartment for chai and Vishals ceremony with his cousin (symbolising the love between brother and sister), we went to a barbers. I saw we, but it was all bar Sun as he decided to get Hench and went to the gym instead. The babers in India are a real experience, a cut, wash, massage and facial (which included about 45 mins of a facial massage, I’ve never gone into that much detail in my life combined!) all for the price of one haircut in the UK. Tomorrow we’re back on the road, leave at 6 and make some miles/memories.