I received an email the other day from Kristine, who is one third of Kicking It Sari Style, an all-girl team preparing for the Winter Rickshaw Run India in January 2014. I was excited to hear that the girls had signed up for the crazy 3,000 KM journey across one of the most amazing countries on earth. They have a 15 day Intepid tour of India to give away and are selling tickets for $5 in order to raise the dosh to cover some of their expenses (this particular adventure aint cheap, you see).
In the process of checking out their site and offering my support for their upcoming adventure, I decided to pull out the footage I shot of my journey with Hannah and Kim and put together a little ‘inspiration clip’ for the girls of ‘Kicking It Sari Style’ and anyone else who wonders what it is like to drive across India in a glorified tricycle.
Note: This clip does not show the emotional melt-downs, multiple vehicle breakdowns, traffic-induced anxiety attacks or dust-induced coughing fits, because this aint reality TV, this is show biz people!!!!!
And although all those things and more made this journey one of the most challenging I have ever had, they were not enough to tarnish the memories I have of this unique experience, one that I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in.
Now sit back, relax, and drive across India with me! Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!! (After you hit play, click on the cog icon on the bottom right to change the setting to a HD resolution). If you can’t view it in your browser click here to view it on Youtube.
While I realise that the girls will have their own unique adventure with their own set of challenges and triumphs, I feel it would be remiss of me not to pass on some veteran’s advice (ha!), so here goes:
1. These things were the most useful items we took (in order of ‘could not survive without’ to ‘makes life a little easier’).
- A smart phone with GPS (and an Indian sim card). Two girls from Singapore completed the journey without a GPS, but we were not those girls. We relied HEAVILY on our GPS and I fear what would have happened if my phone hadn’t been handed to the Police in Udaipur after I lost it during a minor bingle with a motorcycle.
- Driving gloves. Our friend Diane happened to be traveling India with a pair of leather gloves and gave them to us in Goa before we left ‘just in case’. Well ‘just in case’ turned into the only thing that stood between us and blistered-to-hell hands which we were so, so grateful for. Remember, they must be leather to grip the handles…
- Warm stuff: Beanies, gloves, thermals, blankets, sleeping bags. It is cold in Northern India in January. It is freaking freezing in the back of a rickshaw which although only travels about 45KM an hour, is completely open to the elements. The Adventurists should provide you with a ‘buff’ which is excellent for shielding your nose and mouth from both dust, pollution and cold, but you will need to provide the rest, so rug up!!
Me, modeling the full-face version….
Us after a night sleeping outside (hey, no-one said you were going to look good doing it!)
- Wet wipes You will be doing this a lot:
Your hands will get covered with petrol and dirt and your nails caked with grime. Although it’s a little soul destroying cleaning your nails with a wet-wipe to have them filthy again five minutes later, sometimes a girl just has to try.
- A length of hose for filling the gas tank. The Adventurists will give you a funnel and a Jerry can, which are almost completely useless without a hose to insert into the gas tank. We lost ours during a sharp turn on about day 10, and found that a plastic coke bottle with a hole cut into the side will do the trick at a pinch.
- A plastic sheet and bungee cords to secure your luggage on the roof rack and protect it from dust (bring these with you to India).
- A USB stick filled with music. You can get a stereo and speakers installed in Jaisalmer, just make sure to have plenty of music to listen to as you will get sick of listening to the same stuff over and over (we did).
- A Pee Skirt. Now, this one is optional, but we bought a long, extremely ‘roomy’ wrap around skirt at the market in Jaisalmer. You will need to pee on the side of the road, or in a field, and you will never be alone. So rather than copping a squat for all the world to see, you can cop a squat and pretend like there’s ‘nothing to see here’ and even though no-one will believe you (they will stare anyway) you will maintain a tiny modicum of self-respect.
Kim looking quite glamorous as she strides out into the desert to pee…
Take your time. This is an arduous, sometimes tedious, often exhausting journey. We broke down multiple times per day, every, single, day. That doesn’t mean you will, and if you do, don’t worry, they are the fun parts. Blowing a gasket at dusk after 12 hours of driving through the dusty state of Gujarat, with no idea where you will be sleeping may not sound like everyone’s idea of a good time, but our most exhausting and challenging day gave me my favourite memories of the trip:
Meeting Aniket, the young student from a nearby town who did a 20KM round trip to pick up a mechanic for us and then AGAIN for the new part, and Kim and I looking obsessively for her pocket knife ‘just in case’ the slightly weird but very harmless guy who decided to babysit us while we waited for said part, got any funny ideas.
Needless to say, he didn’t, but a girl can’t be too careful.
Anyway, because we broke down so much, we felt like we were behind the other teams and pushed ourselves a lot, resulting in long days on the road and major sleep deprivation. Live and learn, but if I was going to do it again (which I would), I’d take my time and not worry if we didn’t make it to the finish line in time. Don’t get me wrong, it is nice to hang with the other teams at the after-party and share war stories, but don’t sacrifice the enjoyment of your journey just to get there.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and you are allowed to take a few extra days if you need it, so why not?
That brings me to my next and final piece of advice: Trust your instincts. We live in a world where the media, the government and special interest groups like to tell us how the world works to forward their own agenda. What I love about travel is that I get to experience the world for myself and create my own idea of it accordingly.
My view of the world is therefore pretty positive.
The Rickshaw Run is travel on steroids. It is intense, unorthodox and most of all, takes place in crazy, chaotic, infuriating, intoxicating India. She will take you down lower than you’d like and raise you up higher than you ever thought possible, and you will not leave her shores without learning something about yourself and the world.
We found ourselves driving at night (though we swore we wouldn’t), driving through Ahmedabad’s crazy traffic (and subsequently breaking down in the middle of it) and accosted by over zealous young men in a town which will forever be known as ‘crazy town’ (I’d say avoid that one, but I cannot for the life of me remember where it was – let’s just say, you’ll know it when you see it, drive on!). We slept outdoors at a local restaurant owned by the kindest men I have ever met, who watched over us and our things protectively and respectfully.
We did things that we would ordinarily warn others against, but you know what? We came to trust our instincts rather than what we have been told about big, bad, rapist-filled India and experienced nothing but kindness. As a result we were given precious memories which we will carry with us forever.
Good luck team Kickin’ it Sari Style! May the force of the 7 horse power engine be with you, at least some of the time