Name: Rickshaw Rampage
Destination: Kannyakumari, India
Distance: 3,750 kms (2,340 miles)
Vehicles: Auto-rickshaws 125cc
Never play chicken with a bus
In the darkness of the interior you could just make out the fidgeting silhouettes. It was 4am, and we were nine hours into a sixteen hour coach journey. Everybody was shattered but only fitful sleep was possible. Just when you’d got into a momentary state of calm, the coach would lurch sideways with a blare of the horn as yet another lorry with full beam on came straight at us on the single track road.
How ironic, to die now in an air-conditioned Volvo when we’d just spent two weeks crossing Southern India in a vehicle with the crash protection of an eggshell.
Welcome to Rickshaw Rampage, a mission to cross India from East to West coast and then south to Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of India where the waters of the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal, and Indian Ocean all converge.
On a hot and humid evening in Chennai a motley collection of competitors began to gather. Most hadn’t the faintest idea about what lay ahead since this was the first event of it’s kind. There were teams from Britain, America, Russia, Canada, and a fair few places in between. The local interest in the event was huge – in fact it was a national story, but strangely very few locals were taking part. Did they know something we didn’t?
The next morning amid a clamour of news cameras, reporters and curious locals the rally was flagged off from the beach in downtown Chennai. In a haze of blue smoke the competitors weaved up the road still trying to get to grips with the gear change on these part moped, part car, part sofabed contraptions. Talk about going in at the deep end.
As we merged in to the city traffic it was like being fired into a gigantic pinball machine. From every conceivable angle traffic converged and somehow threaded itself through the narrowest of gaps. Or occasionally didn’t. The scene resembled a classic movie chase as we negotiated our way round crates of flapping chickens, carts piled high with water melons, and piles of cardboard boxes. The only thing missing was two blokes carrying a large plate of glass.
The Russian team thought they’d played a masterstroke by fitting a police siren to their rickshaw but were left somewhat disappointed when it proved particularly effective at having absolutely no effect.
In the motorised food chain, the local bus is king. A late bus equals a bus driver losing money so they basically didn’t stop for anything, sometimes not even passengers. The unucky ones could be seen running alongside trying to hang off the people already hanging off the bus.
It’s surprising how quickly you acclimatise to the local conditions when your well-being depends on it. Team “Ring of Fire” regaled us in the tale of how they outmaneuvered a local taxi driver through rush hour traffic. He became so incensed that he’d been beaten at his own game that he resorted to suicidal moves in order to save face. Unfortunately his bid for supremacy ended abrutly when he shot up the inside of a parked bus only to find it unloading luggage in to his path.
As we headed south the landscape became more rugged and the traffic less hectic. On a particular stretch of deserted road along the East coast, the one-upmanship began.
First up was Team “Reggae Ambassadors” who cruised past driving from the back seat. Not to be outdone Team “Curry in a Hurry” tried a spot of roof surfing before Team “Ring Sting” successfully performed a rickshaw to rickshaw leap. During this time Team Extreme Triffle (sic – blame the local signwriter for that one) managed to strip completely naked.
In a desperate attempt to regain the crown Team Reggae Ambassadors decided to attempt to surf on a bamboo mat whilst clinging on to the side of their rickshaw. A few moments later their was a jolt as our would be surfer went under the back wheels of his own rickshaw. We decided to calm down for a bit.