In India one of the first things you must adjust to is the level of shit: cow shit, garbage on the street, the waft of urine from the slums as you deboard the plane in Mumbai. It seemed appropriate, given the massive amount of shit in India, that we drive the ultimate piece of shit vehicle – a two stroke, three wheeled Rickshaw.
Goa to Bombay. Seven Teams. Eight Days. Monsoon Rains. It’s the Rickshaw Challenge!
To learn how to drive our new ride we were led to the local parade grounds or what some would call a swamp. The monsoon rains had begun and we were soaked, mud crept through our toes and the smell of compost soon overwhelmed the senses. The fun had begun!
It was here that we realized that driving a rickshaw is not nearly as easy as one would expect. A rickshaw is a bit like a lawnmower, you must pull up on the starter to start the engine. From there you use hand gears to shift and accelerate and a foot pedal to brake. It takes some getting used to but by the second day, it feels like you’ve been driving for years.
It turns out that learning to drive is only 1/100th of the Challenge, the other part is figuring out how to repair your shaw. A rickshaw is an authentic piece of shit, breakdowns started on the first day. One team had an engine that was not mounted but rather tied on to the frame. Another team lost their muffler during the race. Many of the Shaws didn’t have a working odometers or speedometers or lights! Our big problem, initially, was that our rickshaw did not like neutral.
These may sound like trivial concerns until you’re stalled in traffic, surrounded by motorbikes, massive trucks and farm animals. Everyone is beeping and staring, and you don’t have a clue what’s wrong. You don’t know how far you’ve gone so you don’t know if you need gas, or possibly the engine came unmounted. Maybe you’re totally fucked and muffler fell off or the alternator burnt out. Or you’re simply not in neutral.
Figuring out just what has gone wrong is part of the adventure. The rest of the fun is figuring out just where the hell you’re going.
Directions in India are a big joke. There are no real street addresses instead a place is located “next to the Church” or “Near the Taj”. Once you know what landmark to ask for, figuring out how to get there is next to impossible. Everyone will always tell you to go straight. And when you attempt to confirm the directions, you are met with the famous Indian ‘yes, no, maybe so’ headbob.
What are you supposed to do when someone both shakes their head up, down, back and forth all at the same time. THIS MEANS NOTHING!
The headbobs, the breakdowns, and the directions, these are all just warm ups for the real Challenge: Driving in India. Nothing can prepare you for the sheer terror and exhilaration one feels when passing an ox-cart while driving in oncoming traffic down a 25% incline. Particularly when you’re staring right into the face of a shipping container on wheels.
India is a crazy country, and only someone mentally insane would decide to travel 1,043 km from Goa to Bombay in a Rickshaw. But we did it, and it was fantastic.