Drive thousands of miles across India in a glorifed lawnmower on the Rickshaw Run and you're guaranteed to get into trouble. Which is of course the point; if you don't find yourself in the odd pickle it would be boring and not a proper adventure.
There are varying degrees of trouble though. There is the trouble you can seek out yourself, and trouble that just rolls up and lands right in your lap, right there on the chaotic road in front of your three wheeled adventure machine. 77 teams have just finished the Rickshaw Run so we whittled down all the weird shit that happens on the road and compiled the Top Ten Hazards of the Indian Highway as recorded by the three-wheeled adventurists of January 2013.
1. Parked lorries: When it is truck vs. tuk, they always win
You’d think the millions of lorries barreling across India (with their drivers known to harbour some anger and a penchant for stimulants) would be enough of a threat, but no: they’re at their most dangerous when stationary – at least that’s what Canadian team Triple Threat discovered when they took a corner too fast and went sliding into a parked transport truck. Rickshaw: 0 Lorry: 1
2. Holy cows: At the top of the food chain
There is only one thing higher than buses on the carefully established hierarchy of the Indian highway and that is the ubiquitous holy cow. They graze on gravel in the middle of the road, shit wherever they like, and sunbathe exactly where you need to steer your trusty steed – secure in the knowledge that any potential collision is strictly your problem.
3. Rivers: Forever getting in the way
What could be so hazardous about a river? If US team the YogaSlackers hadn’t been paying attention, they would’ve tested their two rickshaws’ floating capabilities when a back road dead-ended into a reservoir. Clearly being ferried across on boats so narrow their tuks almost slid off into the water was an appropriate alternative to driving.
4. Crowds: Otherwise known as human roadblocks
Locals are often just as curious about you as you are of them. You can’t blame them, though, given that a rickshaw full of foreigners with a tiger strapped on top is certainly something they don’t see every day – and neither do we, now that we think about it. But good luck parting the sea when you want to get back on the road.
5. Buses: Beware the Red Killers
In Kerala – where the January Rickshaw Run ends and the April Run begins – local buses are known as Red Killers; we presume because of the color they’re often painted and not from the devastation they leave in their diesel-fumed wake. Even still, they’ll run you off the road only to screech to a halt as soon as they’ve overtaken you. At least the rickshaws’ brakes are renowned for their reliability.
6. Broken down buses: Just as much of a menace
The only thing worse than an Indian bus is a broken down Indian bus, especially when it has conveniently done so across both lanes of a highway. For any normal-sized vehicle, this would mean you’re not going anywhere fast – or slow. But Aussie team Goa’s Ark was not to be deterred; they merely enlisted a group of onlookers to help them carry their rickshaw around the bus. It was most likely the only time they were glad to be in such a light and flimsy vehicle.
7. Camels: A depressing measure of your speed
Camels are a common sight on Rajasthan’s highways, and they seem not to notice they’re moving at a significantly lower speed than everyone else around them. Just like rickshaws, really. For Danish team Ratata, who broke down not once, not twice, but three times each time they tried to leave the paradisal city that is Barmer, it was a painful reminder of how swift they weren’t going.
8. The weather: It is not what you expect
Come to north India in January with visions of sweltering tropical heat and you’re in for a rude awakening. Rajasthan’s brutally cold mornings make for a chilly start to the day, as the open sides of the rickshaw do a splendid job of not keeping out the winter chill. But it’s nothing that ski masks and Buffs can’t protect against, and the warmth of your rickshaw’s engine overheating for the hundredth time will keep your bum nice and toasty.
9. State highways: Do not let them fool you
The term ‘state highway’ sounds official, right? Wrong. There’s no guarantee a route with such a designation will do any less damage to your rickshaw – or your sanity. Just imagine vision-impairing dust storms, more cracks in the pavement than in a desert, and roads riddled with potholes. Then attempt to traverse them on three very unsuitable wheels – and get ready to keep a tally of the breakdowns.
10. Spontaneous dance parties: You might get carried away
Literally, as Rory from Aussie team GetAmongstIt! almost was on the first day of the January Rickshaw Run. Two times they got caught up in dance parties taking place right on the highway – always a brilliant decision to place oneself directly in harm’s way. But perhaps the Indian revelers were simply trying to keep them from continuing their journey, who no doubt thought the team was driving off to a certain and most painful death.