The Three Wheel Trip
The Indian Auto Rickshaw is a beautiful machine. This three-wheel urban workhorse weighs 272kg (600 lb.) and has a top speed of 55kmph (34 mph). Its 150cc, 2-stroke single cylinder engine powers a seating bench on wheels so small they would not look amiss on a wheelbarrow. It has no suspension worth noting and lacks a fuel gauge so riders know when it has run out only when it sputters to a halt. Run on a toxic mixture of oil and gas, it ferries people to and fro in the sprawling mega cities of the India subcontinent. It is the last vehicle you would choose to do a 4,830km (3,000-mile) cross-country race from India to Nepal. In the marathon adventure known as the Rickshaw Run, it is the only vehicle you can choose.
Dirt tracks, tropical jungles, and Himalayan peaks are just some of the obstacles encountered on this mad cap chase that attracts up to 60 teams for an event so popular it is now held three times a year. Perhaps more formidable are the everyday mundanities thrown up by this colorful continent, such as wandering elephants, aggressive water buffalo, and lake-size potholes. Certainly most terrifying are the mammoth buses and trucks that dwarf the rickshaws on the chaotic highways. Organizers advise participants to keep to minor roads as the main thoroughfares are rickshaw deathtraps, as can be seen from the frequent crumpled wreckage along the roadside.
The route is a route in the loosest sense of the word. Riders are encouraged to take whatever way they choose with only a handful of meeting points to drop into along the way. Starting and finishing lines vary, but in general the race begins and ends in either Goa, Southern India, or Pokhara in Nepal. In between, the rolling tea hills of Ghats and the scorching deserts of Rajhastian are just some of the multitude of landscapes riders traverse. Once undertaken, there is absolutely no support provided by the organizers and drivers are expected to use their wits and cunning to get themselves out of the many scrapes and mishaps encountered along the way. Team numbers are unlimited but in general, three to four people ride a rickshaw. An unlikely 14 is the record. Participants can choose to sleep wherever they like and the run is usually done in 2 weeks, though digressions are encouraged with the emphasis on the fact that the Rickshaw Run is not a race but an adventure. A website keeps friends, family, and sponsors informed of each team’s progress and the event begins and ends with a round of cricket and gin and tonics.
First started in 2006, the Rickshaw Run is put together by a Bristol-based collective called The Adventurists in the U.K. The entrance fee is $1,400 per team and this gets you a rickshaw that must be returned in working order at the end of the escapade. Participants are also compelled to donate at least $1,600 to charity, and teams often raise much more for a vast array of worthy causes. In fact, charity fundraising is one of the main motives behind the venture, as well as the desire to encourage people to get off the beaten track and throw caution to the wind. “Tropical stupidity in slightly powered tin cans” is how the Adventurists themselves describe it. Just make sure to pack a can opener. —CO’M
When to Go: Jan, Apr, and Sept. Check website for exact dates.