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No 4x4, just tuk off across India

2011-10-19 08:32


NO GOING BACK NOW:Teams in the Autumn 2011 'Rickshaw Run' prepare to depart from the hill-station town of Shillong in India's Meghalaya state. Three weeks of hell will follow. Image: AFP

JAISALMER, India - Organisers describe the three-wheeled auto rickshaw provided for a rally across India as “the ultimate long-distance off-road machine".

A driver calls it “a hair dryer-powered tin can on shopping-cart wheels".

A sense of humour is as important as a sense of adventure and a willingness to raise cash for charity for anyone signing up for the Rickshaw Run, a 3500km odyssey organised by The League of Adventurists International.

R25 000 - TO START

The British-based company says it is "not just hell-bent on fighting to make the world less boring but also raising massive buckets of cash for charities".

The Adventurists provide teams with one of India's famed Bajaj 145cc rickshaws, start and finish lines, and a two-week deadline. In return, each team is required to raise a minimum of the equivalent of R12 000 for a charity chosen by the company, while also paying a rickshaw rental of R12 000.

The run is held three times a year. The (northern) autumn run this year, from September 11 to September 24, was to benefit Frank Water, a charity that builds water-treatment stations in poor village communities in India.

The organisers insist they are not "hand-holders". Teams with a maximum of four people are given the three-wheeled, hand-cranked, open-sided vehicles - also known as tuk-tuks, a few tips on what to avoid, and the rest is up to them.

NOW THAT'S WHAT WE CALL A POTHOLE! A "racing" rickshaw putt-putts through a village road in heavy rain during the Autumn 2011 'Rickshaw Run' near Patna, in India's Bihar state. Organisers describe the three-wheeled auto rickshaw provided for a rally across India as "the ultimate long-distance off-road machine". Image: AFP

The route, accommodation, rough roads, wild traffic, monsoon floods, cows in the middle of highways and mechanical and medical emergencies must be handled by the teams themselves.

"That's the adventure," said Matt Davis, an India Adventurists staff member.

At the start of the September run at Shillong in north-eastern Meghalaya state, 74 teams were presented with their rickshaws, brightly pimped in team colours and with names such as "By Hook or by Tuk" and "Tucking Awesome".

They were all supposedly in good working order.

On the first day three teams lost their wheels.

"We didn’t know anything was wrong until we saw the wheel roll past us on the mountain road," a team member from Tucking Awesome said. "That was the start of our nightmare."

At one stage Tucking Awesome could only drive at 20km/h - way short of the maximum speed of 60km/h a rickshaw can achieve on a (rare) good road.


Another team, Right Place, Right Time, also lost a wheel on the first day. Later its chassis split in two, its brakes failed, the accelerator cable snapped and the electrics caught fire.

They were not alone in their misery. Team Brits Abroad, broke down "a hundred times", complaining that their trip was "not an adventure. Breaking down is not an adventure!"

The breakdowns, getting lost or having to put the rickshaw on a riverboat because the highway "ran out" for Rangeela Racers, were all part of the experience.

DOING IT FOR OTHERS: London-based 'Some Like It Hot' team John Tilly, 29, Olivia Hague, 28, and Katie Ball, 26, with their rickshaw after joining in morning prayers by the River Ganges at Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers. Sixty-seven teams from 12 countries were participating in 'The Rickshaw Run' from the western Indian city Goa to Pokhra in Nepal to raise money for sexual violence against women charity 'Maiti Nepal' and safe drinking water projects across India. Image: AFP.

Some teams were robbed and beaten up in Bihar, a state troubled with Maoist rebels and bandits. Others sought to avoid the state by putting their rickshaws on a train and skipping it all together.

Despite the challenges, most teams tried to stay positive. Team Gandhi Warhol wrote on their blog: "Watched sunrise over Mt. Everest this morning in Darjeeling.


"Also, broken: brakes, rear lights, front fog lights, spark plug, chassis, horn, fuel intake. Service and MOT (roadworthiness test) complete. On we go through Bihar."

Not all who start the run make it to the end. One team left their rickshaw at a police station at the end of the first day, telling the organisers "it was not what we signed up for".

But the sense of achievement for teams that did cross the finish line in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan was tremendous.

"I never thought we would make it," said Jennifer Morris, a Habibi Babes team member. "After days of breakdowns, driving in the dark and being driven off the road by big trucks, we had almost lost hope.

"But we made it, we made it!"

The Adventurists also host the Mongol Rally, Mongol Derby (on horseback) the Africa Rally, the Ice Run (1500km across the frozen Siberian wilderness on 650cc Ural motorbikes and sidecars), among others. Charity always plays a part.

"We figure since we are rather fond of adventuring in the world we should do our bit to look after it," the Adventurists say.

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