Welcome to my online journal thingy for the summer 2007 Rickshaw run (www.rickshawrun.com). Myself and Anthony Neville will be spending the next few weeks participating in this fine event, which basically involves crossing the indian subcontinent in a 7hp auto-rickshaw, all in the name of charity. So, progress so far...
Well on the positive side, we're booked on flight BA0147 from Heathrow to Kolkata, packing is pretty much finished, and I've brought a map.
On the negative side, we have no real route plan as such, just a vague idea that we're gonna collect our rickshaw on Sunday in Kolkata and bimble up to Nepal (maybe via Bangladesh if we can get visas in time), before following the Himalayas out West to finish at Manali, hopefully about 2 weeks later. I haven't driven one of these contraptions yet, so even getting out of chaotic, monsoon-hit Kolkata should be pretty interesting.
I'm guessing most of the other teams on the Rickshaw run have done a tad more preparation than us! Still, planning is over-rated, it'll be fine... :-)
Well folks, it's all over, got back to the UK a few weeks back after completing the first ever "monsoon edition Rickshaw Run" - a 3,000km bimble across India and Nepal, starting in Kolkata under the glare of the Indian media, popping up to Kathmandu, then finishing in Manali, up near Kashmir. Our trusty steed for this adventure? A car? too easy. A 4x4? not exactly... in the interests of adventure, all practical vehicles were shunned and the journey was undertaken in a humble auto-rickshaw, whose defining features consist of 3 wheels, 7 hp, and a conspicuous lack of doors.
The journey went relatively smoothly compared to other recent trips, most notably last years Mongol rally, the stress of which probably took about 3 years off the lives of those who undertook the journey... however, there were still obsticles. First and foremost in causing trouble where the Maoist Rebels in Nepal, who were being distinctly frisky while we were there, after the assination of one of their top brass. That's "frisky" in a blocking roads, torching vehicles, and attacking rickshaws with bamboo canes kinda way. from the indian border to kathmandu, we were forced to negotiate about 15 road blocks, ranging from trees felled across the road, through trucks and burnt out busses dumped across the road, to burning tyre barracades guarded by crowds of people with big sticks. we got through all these using a combination of westerness (a definite asset in such internal squabbles), and when that failed, just putting our foot (right hand?) down and not stopping. A side effect of these roadblocks, which brought the entire country to a standstill, was that there was no petrol in the whole of Nepal, a fact which left us stranded in Kathmandu. fortunately, we were able to blag petrol from a police depot, guarded by army dudes with big machine guns, and thus escape back into india by making a 900km, 26 hour non-stop dash for the western border before things flaired up anymore.
Other problems? Well "roads" over there have little resemblence to roads here in th UK, being vague tracks populated by cyclists, psycotic busses, wandering cycle-rickshaws, sleeping sacred cows, goats and sodding great trucks. The only rule of the road is that biggest wins, resulting on us having to dive off the tarmac to avoid overtaking lorries/cars/busses on a regular basis. It seems the Hindu belief in Fete means smudging out westerners in rickshaws can be put down to gods will, and so isn't a big concern of the locals... Fortunately however, it's a fairly quick process to adjust to the local stupidity and what initially feels dumb soon becomes commonplace.
In the later stages of our journey, the seceney became distinctly himalayian, and we were forced to negotiate unfenced mountain roads teetering a thousand metres above the valley below, dodging locals all the time. Road surfaces on these roads ranged from something which could almost be described as tarmac, to a muddy layer of gravel, conceling the jarring potholes below. Amazingly despite this we only suffered 2 punctures, though one could be more accurately described as a blowout, which left us fishtailing down a wet road at 55kph. Fun.
Despite the above, we were able to complete the 3,070km journey in 11 days, and were the second team across the finish line, beaten by less than an hour. Smug with our achevement, we spent the following day trip inaugurating the "Rickshaw Mountaineering club", by taking the beastie up Rothang La, a 4,000m himalayian pass on the road to Leh. Suffice to say, these machines aren't designed for altitude, and even keeping the engine going at these altitudes was a challenge, but we did it and made it back down to Manali... wonder if there's a world record for Altitude in a rickshaw? there should be! A further highlight of our time in Manali was a day spent doing interviews and tracking shots for the Indian national TV news, resulting in me being featured on TV in front of a billion people, hanging off the side of a rickshaw on a mountain road. Random.
Last sunday was spent attending the official closing ceromony, in which our rickshaw was handed over to the Indian red cross for use in their work. Following this, and a few days touristing around delhi and Agra (Taj Mahal, mmmm....), we returned to the UK, having also raised over £1,000 for other local charities. Job done!
There are photos from the journey here:
Enjoy! And before you ask what my next ill-advised road trip will be, consider the following: Sahara. Dakar to Cairo. Autumn 2008. My Porsche 944, with a few paris-dakar style modifications. Should be interesting!!!