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Get Out There – Travelling Across India – Part 1

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Get out there and… Travel across India, in a plane, a rickshaw a Peugeot 205 or a bamboo boat and back again! First in a 2 part series by a team member of the Rickshaw Run 2015. Part 2 coming soon.

Get Out There – Travelling Across India – Part 1

India is vast and expansive country with a variety of cultures, habits and believes in a swirling cauldron of existence that can be exhausting, breath-taking and leave you missing it madly as soon as you leave.

I decided as an ultimately inexperienced traveller that I needed an adventure. I needed to get ‘it’ out of my system, what ‘it’ was I wasn’t quite sure but with growing jealousy of friends travel and voyeuristically living out their experiences through social media I needed to actually hop on a plane see a bit of world.

Travelling across India seemed to be a good bet, rough around the edges and enough culture to sink a ship! And how best can I see as much of this part of the world in my allocated 3 weeks holiday? By train is an obvious and popular option, car, van, camel? Nope a driving a Rickshaw seemed like the most sensible option! Four friends and I took the journey through a company called the Adventurist, in interesting and comical bunch based in bristle that organise… Adventures.

The Rickshaw Run 2015

The Rickshaw Run

The Rickshaw Run is whirlwind adventure consisting of 80 rickshaws and around 220 entrants. It runs twice a year and lasts around 3 weeks, there are no support vehicles, no mechanics, no medics, just the teams there wits and a lot of strong ‘upper-lippery.’ It starts from Shillong in the north and by any means possible finishes in Kerela some 2500km south

So adventure began landing into Guwhati where we quickly organised a taxi to Shillong in the northern ‘eye brow’ of India and area I didn’t know existed until this trip. The taxi would take 2 hours and cost less than a meal in your local curry house. As the sun was setting I was blown away by how frantic, fast, populated and pungent the area was. I sat quietly in the back of our people wagon taxi silenced by what I saw. At one point (this is true) I saw a cow eating a burning pile of rubbish.

We AirB&B’ed our first three nights before we set off, so tried to acclimatise to the local way of life by eating local food, buying spare clothing, mechanical parts and learning how to drive these tiny, chaotic vehicles. They seat 5, 3 at a push with any luggage, pack a 50cc engine and don’t like to be started whilst on a hill…. Oh and they have no hand break.

Shillong is a peaceful place in Assam a mountainous tea region of India. It has a population of 1.2million in what is a very sprawling and quite wild looking area of the world.

3 days later, the day was upon us, we set off just 3000km’ (ish) to go. Slightly hungover from enjoying India’s standard 8% larger the night before, it was the first day we had seen rain. Before we set off we were soaked, we would not let our spirits be dampened. The first stop was to head back to Guwahati, 80km down the road then another 400 odd kilometres, about 3 days driving, to skirt around the outside of Kalcuta and make our way to coast. That can’t be that bad, can it?

The first night we stayed in a nice hotel and promptly agreed the following couple of nights needed to be cheaper, this meant we stayed in village temples, ‘hostels’ with no beds, just blankets and hotels that cost a whopping £9 for the five of us! We started early, in the Rickshaw by 5am and set off soon after, the roads were quieter and we quickly realised that we needed to drive… A lot. We were averaging 10 hours a day travelling, this included food and convenience stops, which meant we ate on side of the road. I can honestly say we didn’t have a bad meal, we all ate the same thing to make life easy, a dosa in coconut leaves with a peanut masala curry dip seemed to popular in the north and honestly it was delicious.

5 days in and we hadn’t seen a western restaurant, advert or even person. This was exactly what I wanted when we decided to take on the adventure of travelling across India.

The Indian Roads

Travelling in the north was hard, the roads resembled the surface of the moon with pot holes larger than bath tubs taking precedence over the single tracks roads in Assam and west Bengal. We had to aim for the ‘gate’ a small slither of access way between Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan. Once we made our way through there we face one maybe two days before arriving at the beach. This access way between the three countries is a source of land traffic between India and China and is teaming with huge HGV’s coaches and 4X4 all trying to drive as quickly and ferociously as possible through the avenue.

The sight of a motorbike overtaking a Jeep, overtaking a coach, overtaking a lorry wasn’t uncommon. Lorries two abreast on the wrong side of the road not slowing and encouraging you to throw yourself and your rickshaw off the road as quickly as possible before you become road kill, was common. All vehicles were packed with passengers in and on the roof tops all as quiet and peaceful as Hindu cows during this pin ball’ess driving experience.

Travel India - Get Out There

A few days later we made it to the coast, a city called Puri. It was far more engineered towards tourists. It sits on the coast about 200km south of the Bangladesh boarder. It was a fleeting visit, as the next day we had to make serious ground as we were falling behind. We had two options take 160km detour or try and navigate across the estuary, about 50km south of Puri. We decided to take our chances on the water.

We arrived at a tiny dock that was manned by two men and a boy no older than 12. One 40 foot bamboo was already populated with locals wanting to make their way across the estuary. They gave us two options, roll the vehicles onto the bamboo boat or wait 2 hours for a ferry… we decided to take the bamboo. After a rough placement of old railway sleepers and a lot of grunt we rolled onto the boat. It swayed heavily, we clung onto the Rickshaws and the boat with all our might as the boat set off. Powered by a rough and spluttering petrol engine the boat rocked pushing the Rickshaws Millimetres away from the warm and dark water below.

Yet everyone around us again, seemed un-phased but what was going on, maybe my friends and I are too accustomed to western safety regulations. Once the boat settled we were able to actually take in what an epic ride this was, sea eagles flew above, stalks perched perfectly on stray drift wood and after a terrifying start to the journey an overpowering calm set over the boat and its passengers.

Check back to the blog for the second part of this story…. Coming soon!

Get Ot There and travel India

Andy Chapman

Andy Chapman

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