Over 250 adventure seekers from around the globe revved their engines in a radical rickshaw rally at Jawahar Niwas Palace in Jaisalmer on Thursday, celebrating their epic 3500 km journey from Kerala to Rajasthan in the name of adventure and charity.
Curated by the British based The Adventurists, the Rickshaw Run happens three times a year, attracting wild and daring travelers who enthusiastically embrace the crazy challenge of driving a 7 horsepower “glorified lawnmower” from Kochin to Jaisalmer; Jaisalmer to Shilong; or Shilong to Kochin, journeys many travelers wouldn’t venture even by car. No support or direction is offered beyond witty instructions to be safe, have a great time and make the rickshaws look snazzy! Rickshaw Runners are warned that there is no set route, no back-up and no way of knowing if they’re even gonna make it!
While many adventure activities involve getting strapped into technical gear, the risk and freedom of the Rickshaw Run entices a truly fearless, free-spirited crowd, ready to face rambunctious Indian drivers, dusty roads in terrible disrepair, rickshaw breakdowns and the inevitable Delhi belly. And they sure like to party!
“Other than decorating our rickshaw, there was nothing else we could do to plan,” said Kiran Sodah of England. “You just have to be open to anything and anywhere, never knowing when you might break down.” And break down they did, 17 times, with flat tires, blown gaskets and broken pistons. “We had to stay in random villages which was awesome. We got to experience how incredibly warm, helpful and hospitable Indians are.” Sodah and his teammate smiled glowingly as they recalled the nearly impossible, steep dirt track they climbed, praying their rickshaw wouldn’t tumble and crumble as they approached what turned out to be their favorite homestay, in middle of a lush, wild elephant filled Keralan jungle.
Others flipped and crashed, bandaged bodies and mangled vehicles as their relics, but spirits, as they often do in India, remained high. All sorts of creative solutions for mending the cartoon-like rickshaws were employed, zip-ties being the savior of choice for David Cook from Brisbane Australia. “We even used a ziptie to fix our exhaust pipe – and crazily enough, it didn’t melt!”
The Adventurists use the renowned rickshaw not just as a wacky vehicle for showcasing the pandemonium of India for some intrepid travelers but also as a way to raise money for the rainforest-saving Cool Earth organization and other charities of participants’ choice. Each team is asked to raise a minimum of £1000 for charity, at least 500 of which goes to Cool Earth. To date, The Adventurists have proudly raised £5.5 million for aid organizations.
“Although the cause isn’t what drew us to it, it’s made the experience all the more special, getting others excited and knowing we’re making a difference,” shared Warren Duncan from Capetown, South Africa. “Rickshaw is definitely the best possible way to see real India. This has been the trip of a lifetime!"
Each team navigating its own voyage, the 103 rickshaws stayed in contact over their two week journeys through a what’s app group, sharing tales of splendid sunsets and classic flip-overs.
A highlight for many was finally spinning their wheels all together as they paraded their colorful motorized three-wheelers through the desert city of Jaisalmer, blowing horns and waving hands from atop their rickety rickshaw roofs. And as Indian hospitality would have it, I was warmly welcomed atop the loudest rickshaw of ‘em all, joining in the fun and spreading love for a Cool Earth.
Four months into my blessed adventure through this country of chaos and charm, India most certainly gets my two thumbs up!
My head races each day with thousands of things I could ramble and blog about. The people. The systems. The history. The food. The nature. The social issues. My fellow travelers. The cultural traditions. Even this list does no justice to what cycles through my head. I’ve been so busy experiencing, observing, understanding, learning, processing and connecting that finding time to write, getting in front of a computer, and narrowing it down has been a crazy little challenge for me.
It’s a new year though and I have lots to share – so I’ve decided to start with a POP! The best pop out there that is (or soda as some of you may call it.)
Seriously, I’m a bit obsessed, almost feeling a physical need for a daily dose! While I might make a dozen bottles of plain homemade seltzer each week back in the US, very rarely will you find me sipping a Coke (never ever a Pepsi.) But here in India, the land where ‘everything is possible,’ what better way to toast the positivity each day than with the most delicious, perfectly spiced, specially fizzed Thums Up, the local pop (soda) which puts Coke and Pepsi to shame.
Delectable pure sugar cane sweetness coupled by robust bubbles not only makes Thums Up the ultimate thirst quencher; it also drives home that powerful message of local being better. Yes, I know, I’ve seen those famous curly cursive Coca Cola letters atop the Thums Up bottle cap, but to me they just indicate there’s a story to be told.
Rumor has it that in the 1970s, big corporations like Coca Cola were unwelcomed in India unless control was handed over to Indian subsidiaries so Coke said “chalo" (Hindi for ‘we’re outa here’) opening the door for the local company Parle to craft the famous, mouthwatering, widely-worshiped Thums Up. In the 90’s however, Coca Cola and other giant companies made their way back to this holy land, only to discover the unbeatable flavor of India’s new local pick-me-up.
And so, as the story often goes, the big guy bought the local guy, capitalizing on the homegrown formula’s legendary status. Thankfully (though likely driven by dollar signs) the brilliant, positive, local Thums Up name remains on the front of the bottle, tantalizing me each time I see it.
Sadly, as the story also often goes, the cola wars continue and our beloved Thums Up is sometimes nowhere to be found. A true travesty! No folks, a Pepsi just won’t cut it.
So as this new year begins, I say Thums Up for all! Local is better. Even if local is 8000 miles from the big city I call home.
Thank you Thums Up!
Thank you real cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup!
Thank you India!
A social worker…..working socially, around the globe.