Hit The Road – An amazing Journey by Rickshaw across India
By Ric Gazarian
What do these two vehicles have in common? You might chance to see the lawn mower lazily making figure eights on thick verdant carpets of grass in any cookie cutter housing development nestled in the exurbs of a US city. The other, the rickshaw, is ubiquitously visible teaming throughout Indian cities and towns like vibrant herds of wildebeast.
Both vehicles share a common engine; for they are both powered by 7 hp engines. The riding mower ably meets its expectations of pedicuring the lawns of America’s suburbs. And the rickshaw is the modern day draft horse of moving people in dense urban cities of India.
Another common element they share is neither is designed to traverse 2000 km cross-country.
While I chose not to drive my lawn mower across the US, I did opt to steer my rickshaw across the sub-continent of India. My driving partner and I started in the hustling metropolis of Mumbai and two weeks later ended in Chennai. During this time, we braved monsoons, terrorist attacks, police detentions, food sickness, crashes, and horrendous Indian traffic and roads. Days consisted of 8-16 hours of driving, absorbing all the glories and horror of India with our five senses.
The rickshaw has been designed specifically for not driving long distances; hence it is the perfect mode of transportation to challenge your inner rebel. You can expect periodic breakdowns which allows for ample interactions with the locals, frequent opportunities to run out of gas which allows for hour long visits with the staff at gas stations, and the rickshaw is semi-open also allowing for spontaneous interactions with pedestrians or other motorists.
As mentioned, the rickshaw has its sides open to the elements. While this might be nice for the occasional cross breeze, it does a poor job of protecting you from horizontal monsoon rains. Obviously, the rickshaw does not provide either AC or heat. The AC would be appreciated for the humid muggy heat that tops 100 F. The heat is yearned for to contest the chilly mountain air.The rickshaw comes standard with a sole windshield wiper to battle the monsoons. The charming windshield wiper is powered manually. And when I say manually, I mean the driver twists a knob located within the rickshaw at the base of the window while driving.While the rain thunders down, you wish for a third hand. The rickshaw is directed by a handlebar like steering wheel. The steering handle bar also contains the accelerator in the right hand grip, and the left hand grip controls the gear. Hence, your desire for a third hand during rain.
Our top speed on a straight away was 32 mph, making even short distances seems distant. This speed could easily drop to 10 mph when twisting across the cork screw roads of the mountains we climbed. Many Indian roads leave much to be desired. Asphalt covered roads are often asphalt-less. Deep potholes battle to shear off the front wheel of the rickshaw. The law of the jungle rules Indian traffic. The biggest vehicle has the right of way. Giant lumbering lorries and speeding buses brush smaller vehicles to the side. The narrow roads serve as a battle royale as pedestrian and animals wrestle with tractors and rickshaws while buses and trucks lord over the scrum. It is not for the faint of the heart. (See this link from DriverAbroad’s YouTube Channel -Remember , India drives on the left!)
The route allowed us to see a vast subsection of India. We started in late July in the Godzilla-sized city of Mumbai. We pointed south to the beaches of Goa, and eventually headed east to cross the subcontinent to end the rally in Chennai. It covered 12 cities and we drove over 2000 km. The rally lasted 12 days, with one day of rest in Goa in the middle.
Early in the trip we stopped in Pune, our second stop after leaving Mumbai. We strolled through a mall, searching for a sport equipment store. We were planning on visiting a school the next day and wished to present them with some gifts. The sparkling mall looked like it had been plucked from any middle-America suburb. The mall insulated us from the utter chaos in the surrounding city. The half mile walk from the hotel had taken us over 45 minutes. It had taken us over 30 minutes to cross one single street, and this was with the assistance of a local. Rickshaws, motorcycles, car, and trucks hurdled down the street. The ink-like darkness limited visibility while the monsoon rain pounded down from the heavens. Multiple times we attempted to dart across the street but were forced back. It was three lanes in each direction with no median. Our patience was eventually rewarded with a successful crossing better known as a maniacal sprint for survival.
While in the mall, I passed a McDonald’s and briefly debated darting in for a quick meal. I noted the advertisement for the Chicken Maharaja Mac and opted to devour some chicken tikka masala at the hotel. The next morning we were to learn that the McDonald’s was later bombed by terrorists. That action resulted in us being detained by the police the following day under the suspicion of being a terrorist ourselves.
To capture all that is magic about India, we filmed a full length documentary of this momentous holiday. Take a peek at this trailer.
And check us out on www.hittheroadindia.com.
Ric Gazarian,Writer and Producer of Hit the road movie enjoys travel and the experiences associated with discovering new people and places. His travels have brought him to over 75 countries and all 7 continents.Ric spent 6 months volunteering at an orphanage and an after-school group in Yerevan. He also spent 8 months volunteering at an orphanage in Phuket and a homeless shelter for teenagers in Bangkok.
Ric has published two books: 7000 KM To Go and Hit The Road India. He also produced the full length documentary, Hit The Road India, an adventure documentary following two friends, Ric Gazarian and Keith King, participating in Mumbai Xpress – a 12-day-long rickshaw rally across India, from Mumbai to Chennai, recognized by the Lonely Planet as one of the top ten greatest adventures in the world.
“Travel, whether good or bad, contributes to an astounding mosaic of memories. Some of these memories include being shaken down for a bribe by Russian cops on the streets of Moscow, being quarantined by the Chinese government in Tibet for five days, being felled by a case of unbearable food sickness in Yemen, being told by your new friend from Syria that “we hate America” as you drive to Damascus while smuggling cartons of cigarettes, or being advised that the “number one mafia in Taiwan” might want to physically harm you.”