4100km, 14 days, in a rickshaw
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Stored away in the back of my mind I have a long list of things I want to tackle in life. I guess you could call it a 'bucket list'.
It includes items like run a marathon, raft the Grand Canyon, climb to Everest Base Camp and dive the Great Barrier reef.
A few months ago, 'drive a 7hp, three wheeled glorified lawnmower 4,000 km across India' was nowhere to be seen on that list, and rightly so. It seemed absurd to even consider such a mechanically unreliable mode of transport across a country plagued with traffic madness, 45 degree heat, prevalent violent crime, cows, cockroaches and hotel rooms resembling third world prison cells.
Oddly enough, and without much in the way of persuasion, this was exactly what I signed up for: The Rickshaw Run, a charity drive from south to north across the Indian sub-continent.
There were to be six of us in our merry (or mad) bunch.
Four of us were friends from varsity, while the other two were ring-ins, friends of friends travelling in the depths of South East Asia soon bound for India.
Upon telling my family, friends and workmates what I had planned, the responses included "rather you than me".
As part of the event you are encouraged to fundraise for Cool Earth, a charity fighting deforestation across the world.
We were all pretty keen to tag a Kiwi cause to our mission as well, so we happily decided to pass the hat around for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Given the nature of their work, we were able to draw a few parallels between what we had planned and what these kids were wishing for. So really it all just made sense and it was great to have them on board.
The trip kicked off with a hiss and roar and one hell of a good knees up in Fort Kochi, down on the south west coast of India.
The following day with headaches pounding in the 35-plus degree heat, our two rickshaws named Claudia and Sally, with their freshly painted tiger faces, roared into life first pull (this soon became a rare event). Without hesitation we were on en-route to Shillong, the finish line a very distant 4,000 km away in the north east of India.
What the following 14 days threw at us was nothing short of terrifying, bizarre, tiring, intense, demanding and very often mechanically perplexing (how can you still be driving while your axle is lying on the highway?).
We regularly used 'The Fun Scale' and more often than not found ourselves referring to the day as having been "another day of Type II fun". Google it.
In saying all this, India, its people, culture and food were all utterly amazing. We were taken into people's homes, given food and cold drinks, bombarded with talk of New Zealand cricket players and given looks of astonishment when finally able to communicate what six white boys, dressed in khakis, were actually doing riding two rickshaws painted as tigers.
Thankfully our journey didn't attract any major problems. When I say major, I mean not like the other Kiwis who were held at gunpoint, or the Australians who were run off the road by a bus on the first day, or the mad lot who bribed their way into a tiger reserve at night...and then broke down.
We did have our fair share of setbacks along the way. Rickshaws aren't renowned for being the most reliable vehicle known to man. Though, there is the benefit that nearly every Indian is handy with a spanner and is more than willing to share a laugh while helping reattach your exhaust/axle/wheel/carburettor/sanity which may have fallen out along the way.
We proudly crossed the finish line having covered 4,100 km over 14 long days. Those frosty cold bottles of Kingfisher could not have tasted better!
However, we were sad to say our goodbyes to Claudia and Sally, they had served us well on our sub-continent journey.
It was a wild, intrepid trip that I cannot say is for the faint hearted but it comes highly recommended. We ate curries in tin huts on the side of the road. We slept in bug ridden local lodges. We played cricket on their dusty, arid pitches. We saw the real India.
A huge thank you to everyone who kindly donated towards our charity drive. At the time of writing this we have raised nearly $5,000 total for Make-a-Wish and Cool Earth.
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