The Touring Trotters

The finish line

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3 girls from Peckham; 1 rickshaw; 3500km across India. We did this. And with 2 days to spare.

To all those who said this was a bad idea for an all-girl team: eat your words. It was actually another all-girl team who crossed the finish line in 1st place, despite never breaking 45kph. In her award acceptance speech, their team leader said, ‘This is what happens when you tell 3 women they can’t do something.’ As we know, who needs a man when you’ve got a little rickshaw and 2 soul sisters for company?

For the past two weeks, we’ve been privileged enough to have experienced Mother India from a perspective few will ever know. And she has captivated us. From the deserts of the North to the rainforest of the South. From industrial sprawl to languid rural life. From bitter cold to stifling heat. From camels to elephants. We may have moaned often in our blog posts about her sights and sounds and smells and bad hotels and terrible drivers. But those who know us well won’t be fooled by this. Cynicism is woven into our DNA. It’s what unites us as a team. It’s how we express joy.

Crossing the finish line, we felt euphoric. But the sense of achievement will take a while to really settle. While we had many near misses, other teams bore the battle wounds of head-on crashes and somersaulting rickshaws. We never told our parents this, but at the New Year’s Eve party, Matt, the organiser of the Rickshaw Run stood up and proclaimed (very inappropriately), ‘Party like you’ve never partied before. Party like this is your last New Year’s Eve. At least one of you is likely to die in the next 2 weeks.’ Thankfully nobody did. The wrecks of rickshaws at the finish line reminded us of what we had achieved. With no major crashes, a smattering of hairy moments (night driving) and 2 breakdowns, we had faired very well. You don’t have to live recklessly to feel alive. But you do have to feel fear in order to be brave.

The sense of empowerment will fade. We’ll return to our lives and jobs and everyday frustrations. But we’ll always be able to look back on the last two weeks and think We did this. We did what few others in the world can say. We drove a rickshaw across India.

The only thing left to say is a huge and heartfelt thank you to all of you. For your love and support. For reading our blog. For your incredibly generous donations. We received an email from St Christopher’s Hospice to say that they are overwhelmed by the amount that we’ve raised, and this is down to you (over £2200 for St Christopher’s plus £520 for Cool Earth). You are awesome. You are our heroes of the day.

So, that’s all folks. The Touring Trotters are signing off. It’s been emotional. Of course, we’ll leave the final words to Del Boy:

This is not farewell. Just bonjour!

The finish line:

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The party:

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Rickshaw Run Day 12

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Starting point: Vatakara, Kerala
Finishing point: Cochin, Kerala
Distance covered today: ~360km
Total distance covered: ~3120km
Number of breakdowns: 0…Mr Robbie Reliable

Vatakara to Cochin. This was the beginning of the end. We knew that all being well, we would make it to Cochin today. We would never again be Indian rickshaw drivers. This would be the last time that we would squeeze our packs onto Robbie’s back shelf and coax his sleepy engine to life in the hazy morning light. We gazed at the passing panorama of India’s daily life. We breathed in her sights and sounds and smells and bad air. We would never again witness the largest democracy on earth from this most unique of perspectives.

By the time we reached the city limits of Cochin, the afternoon heat was stifling. Cochin is made up of a number of islands with Fort Cochin, our destination, being located on the furthest point from the mainland. By the time we reached our hotel, the resplendent Tea Bungalow, we were ready. It was time. Time to park up Robbie and unload him. Time for a long shower in a beautiful, clean marble bathroom. Time to watch satellite TV while lounging on crisp white sheets. Time to sleep in a bed rather than on a bed. Time to return to our everyday lives. We were Indian rickshaw drivers no more.

Phrase of the Day:
Driving through Kerala was a new experience. There were big houses, road signs (distinctly lacking in Karnataka) and motorcyclists were wearing helmets (well, at least the drivers were, never mind your 3 children and your wife).
Jodie: Traffic lights?! It’s almost civilised.

Moment of the Day:
Having just commented on the fact that we were yet to see any elephants since arriving in the south, we rounded a corner and there were three. In a petrol station! Only in India. Robbie the Rickshaw meets Nelly the Elephant. Our excitement was more than matched by the crowd of whooping young men. It wasn’t clear whether it was the sight of the Touring Trotters or the carnival atmosphere that had whipped them into such a frenzy. Anyways, this was a moment of Rickshaw Run gold.

Of course, our second moment of the day was our arrival in Fort Cochin. We had made it, and with two days to spare. But we weren’t quite emotionally ready to say goodbye to lovely Robbie just yet. We decided to keep our keys and to cross the actual finish line on 14 January 2014 as planned. We could see our rick from the bedroom window. We all stole the occasional wistful glance out towards him. He had done us proud. And we had done him proud too.

Our top tips for driving in India:
1. Never give way. Never ever. Not even at big roundabouts and major junctions. Unless what’s coming towards you is very big. Or moving very fast.
2. Don’t bother with your wing mirrors. You only need worry about what’s happening immediately in front of you. What’s going on behind is not your concern. Unless what’s behind you is very big. Or moving very fast.
3. The horn is your best friend. Use it liberally. Sound it at anything in the road. Or near the road. Don’t be shy.
4. Undertaking is always a good idea. Especially if the other vehicle is bigger than you. Even more so around tight bends on steep hills.
5. Don’t worry about blind bends or summits when overtaking. Don’t let the oncoming truck concern you. Whether you survive this road trip or not is down to karma. Just go for it.
6. Lane discipline? Are you having a laugh? Every road junction is a cluster-f*%k. Get involved.
7. Forget your indicator lights. Nobody’s paying any attention. If you really must signal, use your arm. But don’t bother. And working brake lights are a rarity.
8. Stop anywhere you like. In the middle of the road. On roundabouts. At busy junctions. The road is your parking space.
9. Ignore all the conventional rules of the road you thought you understood. Driving the wrong way up the carriageway? U-turns across several lanes? Careering down the hard shoulder? Animals roaming free everywhere? All perfectly acceptable. If it’s likely to endanger life, it’s probably normal.
10. Use only full beam at night. The strength of your headlights is directly proportional to the size of your…ahem. Dippers are for wimps.
11. Pull out of side streets in front of oncoming vehicles. Then drive really sssssslllllloooooowwwwwwlllllllyyyyyyy.
12. Policemen will flag you down. You don’t always have to stop. More often than not they just want to smile at you. Make a judgement call based on the intensity of their arm waving.
13. There are speed bumps everywhere. Even on motorways. They are rarely signposted. If you take these at speed, it hurts. If you take these slowly, it hurts. Suck it up. This is India.
14. Cut in really close. If you can’t hear the intake of breath from the occupants of the other vehicle, you’re too far away. Any gap is yours for the taking.
15. Lose all your inhibitions and manners. Be aggressive. Be brave. Fear. Less.

Question of the Day:
Claire: Why does it smell so bad?
Jodie and Erica in unison: It’s India!

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Rickshaw Run Day 11

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Starting point: Udupi, Karnataka
Finishing point: Vatakara, Kerala
Distance covered today: ~350km
Total distance covered: ~2760km
Number of breakdowns: 0…c’mom Robbie….keep on rolling

Udupi to Vatakara. This was a day of epic driving. Lots of hot, sweaty driving. And confusion. Confusion as to what the waiter’s head wobble meant at dinner. He’s one of our anti-heroes of the day. Confusion at where we were. This cannot be the national highway? Not in this condition. Not with pot holes like this. Surely? Not even in India. We took a detour to try the coastal road in an attempt to break up the monotony of the highway. We never found it. But we did find the Indian equivalent of the Cotswolds (according to Erica…we’re not sure if she’s ever been to the Cotswolds): all huge gated houses, tropical gardens, abundant wealth and rural tranquility.

The late afternoon brought yet more confusion. While trying to bypass a city centre on the NH17, we found ourselves completely lost in an area that can only be described as the Indian Hollywood Hills. Ostentatious mansions with sweeping sea views lined the steep roads. But for all the neighbourhood money, the road was more hole than pot. The juxtaposition was stark. Could this be the worst road surface in India? Would Robbie’s recently welded exhaust pipe fall off with all this bumpety-bumpety-bump? To make matters even hairier, Erica was once again in the driving seat. Her two-handed gear changes, meaning no hand on the accelerator and standing starts on near vertical inclines in a vehicle with only a foot brake, were frankly alarming. We somehow made it back to the main road and on towards our overnight stop in yet another grim hotel in the forgettable town of Vatakara. But our spirits could not be dampened. We had crossed the state border into Kerala and were now in striking distance of our ultimate destination, the gold at the end of our rainbow – Fort Cochin. And with several days to spare.

Catch of the Day
Having gossiped our way from Karnataka to Kerala, we’ve already analysed what doesn’t impress us in men. So now our thoughts turn to what does. We’ll use our Robbie as a prime example of what we’re looking for.
1. He’s reliable but not too reliable. We don’t want boring. We like a bit of adventure and excitement, but only at the right times and in the right places (10km from a beautiful beach and not in a Northern Indian industrial hell hole, for example).
2. He’s strong and carries all our bags, but doesn’t make a big deal out of this. It’s all very low key.
3. He has a big horn.
4. He’s pretty handsome, but never vain and looks a little weathered around the edges.
5. He only requires some feeding and the occasional pumping to keep him going.
6. He has no opinion about how we drive. We’re in control. Most of the time.

Anti-heroes of the Day
Two characters stand out as our anti-heroes of the day. They both may lack traditional heroic qualities, but we will remember them nonetheless.

Confusing-head-bobble-wobble man:
The Indian head wobble can be somewhat perplexing anyway. Its meaning entirely depends on context: hello, goodbye, yes, no, good, bad, OK, definitely not OK, I understand, I don’t understand, you’re welcome, acknowledgment, encouragement, embarrassment, bewilderment at what these crazy girls are doing in a rickshaw. Confusing-head-bobble-wobble man was our waiter in the hotel restaurant in Vatakara. He had a stutter, which meant that there was a short pause between the wobble and the words. This added to our confusion. The kitchen was wildly understocked, and so our ordering was a lengthy process.
Jodie: So you don’t have any paneer?
Confusing-head-bobble-wobble man: (Head wobble. Long pause.) No ma’am, yes. (Head wobble)
Erica: You have paneer, or not?
Confusing-head-bobble-wobble man: (Head wobble. Long pause.) Yes ma’am.
Jodie: Yes, you have paneer?
Confusing-head-bobble-wobble man: (Head wobble)
Claire: Does that mean they have paneer?

Violin-jamming man:
On checking into the hideous hotel in Vatakara (‘North Park Hotel: a pompous hotel’), Thompson, a young Indian ‘musician’ in an all black outfit and unlaced biker boots introduced himself to us. His enthusiasm was irritating. You girls are awesome! We passed you on the road. You are SO cool. Awesome rickshaw. You are awesome…You won’t believe it! Our rooms are next door to each other. We’re neighbours! Oh my days, no. The inevitable knock on the door came barely 20 minutes later. Do you girls drink shots?! You know, shots?!! Shots of liquor. Join us. Our room or your room? I’m a musician. We play the violin. We’re going to jam a little! Jamming with a violin? Really? Is that even possible?

A misty morning in Kerala:

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Rickshaw Run Day 10

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Starting point: Palolem, Goa
Finishing point: Udupi, Kanartarka
Distance covered today: 330km
Total distance covered: ~2410km
Number of breakdowns: 1

Palolem to Udupi. We didn’t quite match the early start of previous days. It was just too difficult to drag ourselves away from breakfast on the beach. But once on the road, we really flew. This was a day of driving. Dusty, hot, uncomfortable driving. And no music to entertain us, only the chugging of Robbie’s engine. Then out of nowhere that sinking feeling as the chugging faded into silence and our little rick cruised to a halt. Again. What now? Claire had a feeling it could be a blocked fuel line. We unhooked it and blew through it. Still nothing. It was like the blind leading the blind. Only we were the mechanically-challenged leading the mechanically-challenged, fumbling around in Robbie’s rear end.

Then a gleaming white 4WD pulled up. Four gleaming people got out. They had the unmistakable Indian English accent of the wealthy. And they also had a driver mechanic. Oh what happy fortune. It was a problem with Robbie’s fuel line. We just need to blow a little harder. And off we flew again.

In order to keep us awake in the soporific heat of the afternoon, we contemplated our most memorable moments of the run so far. We gossiped. As you may have already realised, 3 girls driving a yellow rickshaw across India attracts a lot of attention. This is often unwanted. We have already mentioned that standing in a cow pat and the direct have sex? approach have failed to impress us. We can now add henna tattooing to that list. Gentlemen, while you may think that having the name of the object of your desire emblazoned on your chest, a grand romantic gesture and a sign of your commitment, we beg to differ. Too much. Chad, a Rickshaw Runner from the USA, should take special note. It takes more, far far more, to win Erica’s affections.

We overnighted in Udupi, famed for its Krishna temple. We gazed at if for at least a few seconds from the surreal setting of the rooftop terrace restaurant, complete with thumping house music, mood lighting and a huge plasma TV screen. The surreality reached mind-altering heights when the call to prayer sounded from a nearby minaret at the very same moment as It’s raining men blasted from the sound system. We hoped that the wrath of Allah for such impropriety wouldn’t impede our progress the following day.

Conversation of the Day
This took place between ourselves and the gleaming family from the 4WD.
The family matriarch (clad in a red and gold sari and hiking boots): Where’s your driver?
Us (in unison): We are the drivers!
The matriarch: No! Where are you going?
Us: Cochin
The matriarch: What?! In this?! Where have you come from?
Us: Jaisalmer
The matriarch: No!

Moment of the Day
We had not long crossed the Goa – Karnataka border. Erica was in the driving seat. Suddenly she exclaimed, ‘Shit, I think I just drove straight across a roundabout!’ Claire and Jodie look back. Uh yes, that would be a huge roundabout at a major highway junction. And we had just gone straight down the right side, instead of clockwise around to the left as convention (and traffic laws the world over) would dictate. Oh well. If you can’t beat em, join em.

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Oh dear…

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Rickshaw Run Day 9

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Starting point: Palolem, Goa
Finishing point: Palolem, Goa
Distance covered today: 0km
Total distance covered: ~2080km
Number of breakdowns: 0, Robbie spent the day with the mechanic having his piston replaced

Palolem to…err…Palolem. We didn’t move a muscle from the beach today. We felt the warm sand between our toes, bobbed about in the waves, sipped fresh lemon sodas and gin (‘gimlets’) and ate non-curry dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was glorious. Whoever said this Rickshaw Run was tough, eh?

Late in the afternoon we fetched Robbie from the mechanic and his little engine started like a dream. His stereo system now didn’t work though. Why on earth replacing the piston had any effect on the music system is anyone’s guess. This. Is. India. It is not for us to question why. No matter. At least Robbie could run again and we now had a chance in hell of making it to Cochin and actually finishing this thing.

Phrases of the Day
Can you put sun cream on my back?
Another gimlet anyone?
Wanna go for a dip?
Your left arm’s going red.
Pass the chips.
You all get the gist. It was a lazy day.

Revelation of the Day
Many other Rickshaw Run teams had gathered in Palolem. It was something of a reunion. We heard that some of them had bet against the chances of the all-girl teams actually making it to the finish line. Oh, how we do like a challenge. They’ll see. We’ll laugh in the face of failure and conquer all that Mother India has to throw at us. With two states still to cross, we’d better catch an early start tomorrow. Fingers crossed for no more big problems (Robbie, we hope you’re reading this).

Hero of the Day
Our mechanic of course. We never doubted his talents. Not even for a second. Ahem.

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Rickshaw Run Day 8

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Starting point: Kudal, Maharashtra
Finishing point: Palolem, Goa
Distance covered today: ~160km under our own steam + 20km under somebody else’s
Total distance covered: ~2080km
Number of breakdowns: 1 (big problem)

Kudal to Palolem. Life is cruel. We were on the road early again, full of anticipation and excitement: today was Goa day. After a lovely morning drive to the Goan border and a smiling welcome from the Goan customs officers, we had arrived. And it was as good as we had expected: lush, green rainforest lined the road; the earth was a dark rust brown; the traffic was quieter and somehow more accommodating; the town centres oozed old world Portuguese charm; there were other ‘white folk’ on mopeds; everything seemed smaller, cosier and more manageable; and there was a strange absence of wandering cows.

We were 10km short of Palolem and it was only 13:00. An afternoon on a glorious Goan beach beckoned. POP! Robbie lost all power and slowed to a standstill. Then nothing. Not another peep. A lovely passing Rickshaw Run team helped us to fetch a mechanic from a nearby town. He couldn’t coax any life out of Robbie. One minute he was fine, our reliable old Robster. And the next minute he was gone. Life is cruel.

After nearly 3 hours, Claire, who had gone ahead to Palolem arrived with a truck and Robbie was towed into the beach town. A humiliating entry for our fine road warrior. The diagnosis? A rather large hole in his piston. Poor poor Robbie. The prognosis? The mechanic would have him fixed and good to go by 16:00 the following day for the cool cost of around £25. It looked like we would have our day on the beach after all.

Phrase of the Day
This came as the second mechanic of the day gazed at Robbie’s inert back end and delivered his carefully considered opinion.
“Big problem”.
No. Shit. Sherlock

Moment of the Day
The smallest flatbed truck in India pulled up alongside Robbie, and Claire and the driver emerged from the cab. The driver looked at the three Touring Trotters, now standing anxiously together next to their stranded ‘shaw. He was dressed unnervingly smartly for a mechanic. How to get a rickshaw onto the back of a flatbed truck? He indicated to us that we should lift Robbie. Now he’s only a little rickshaw. But lift him? Onto the back of a truck. Above shoulder height? Us three? You’re having a laugh. He wasn’t.

We refused and politely suggested some ramps. We watched as he ambled down the road to find some suitable pieces of wood from the surrounding forest. We looked at each other, incredulous: how had he not thought about this before leaving Palolem? Oh India, how we love you. We burst into giggles. You’ve got to laugh at times like this.

In the end we went for the simpler towing option. With the shortest piece of tow rope imaginable. Poor Robbie. In the hands of this amateur, his future wasn’t looking very bright at all.

Robbie under tow:

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Rickshaw Run Day 7

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Starting point: Mahad, Maharashtra
Finishing point: Kudal, Maharashtra
Distance covered today: ~320km
Total distance covered: ~1900km
Number of breakdowns: 0 (touch wood), but we did have to stop for a mechanic to replace a screw in Robbie’s wobbly nose

Mahad to Kudal. After our terrifying night-driving experience of the previous evening, we were on the road earlier than any day before: 07:30. India was looking her best. All misty, swirling mists against dark rolling hills; shafts of dawn light breaking through the roadside trees; groups of girls and boys making their way to school; lone farmers leading their buffalo to pastures; quiet, expansive, empty roads. Our love affair with the South continued.

As the early morning cool gave way to a stifling midday heat, Robbie began to struggle in the face of Maharashtra’s punishing hills. The fastest rick on the road was now panting uphill in 2nd gear. The towns seemed to grow dustier and ever further apart. And as the light started to fade, we all quietly worried that we would be on the road in the dark once again.

Then, like an oasis in the desert, we arrived in the town of Kudal. A funny-looking concrete oasis with a litter problem. This is India. We chose the best hotel in town: the RSN Executive. We can only assume that the person who named the place had a sense of irony. This was the worst hotel of our trip so far. The floor was dusty; the bed linen was dirty; the ‘Indian-style’ bathroom had no shower, only a tap and 2 sets of big and small buckets (one for your general body and one for your bum – choose the wrong set at your peril); the restaurant was filthy, dingy and empty save for a blue disco light and thumping house music. Had we truly reached Claire’s limit of shit hole now?

We ate dinner outside at a roadside snack restaurant (Erica: ‘I prefer outside dirt to inside dirt any day’) – delicious dosas, uttapams and Pav Bhaji – thank Shiva for Southern India cuisine – and contemplated the delightful thought of our arrival in Goa tomorrow and a day off at the beach to follow.

Phrases of the Day
Maharashtra has hand painted signs along the roadside to encourage safe driving. They’re charming. But they don’t work. Here are some of our favourites.

Safety on the roads, safe tea at home
Highways not dieways
Speed thrills but kills
Drive with care, life has no spare
Speed is like a knife, it cuts life

Revelation of the Day
We drive up behind a motorcycle and sidecar. Does the rider only have one leg, or is he riding side saddle? We couldn’t tell. We pulled alongside. He only had one leg. He was riding a motorbike at 65kph. The sidecar was there to provide stability. Ingenious.

This man’s missing limb reminded us of our experiences of extra body parts earlier in the run.

A cow with a 5th leg dangling from its hump at the back of its neck on a Mumbai street. We don’t have photographic evidence but this is for real. Maybe the locals thought his extra leg made him extra holy. Holier than cow.

A hotel worker with a 6th digit protruding from his wrist. He helped mend our silencer. It was a successful fix, so clearly the extra digit came in handy.

Morning mist:

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Rickshaw Run Day 6

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Starting point: Pen
Finishing point: Mahad
Distance covered today: ~220km
Total distance covered: ~1580km
Number of breakdowns: 0 (touch wood), but we arranged for Robbie to have a full 4.5 hour service

Pen to Mahed. This day was a major departure from our usual routine. When we say ‘usual routine’, we mean our routine of the last 6 days. It already feels like we’ve always been driving a rickshaw across India. Our clean London flats, clean London clothes and clean London lives seem like distant memories. We wake up in the morning. We drive a rickshaw. We sound our horn aggressively, overtake and undertake on blind corners, swerve round cows and never give way. We are Indian rickshaw drivers and our daily routine is as follows. The alarm rings at around 06:30. We’re on the road by 07:30 – 08:00. We drive for 9 – 10 hours with 10 minute breaks every hour or so. We start looking for a hotel around 17:00 and aim to be off the road by 18:00 before the sun goes down.
Our typical Rickshaw Run day. Apart from today that is.

Today was the day of Robbie’s service. We spent 4.5 hours sitting outside a mechanic’s shop in the town of Pen as he underwent a complete overhaul. That rattling noise at 40kph? The exhaust was hanging on by a thread. Ahh. The pulling to the right when negotiating a left hand corner? His steering column was bent. Ahhh. His losing speed up hills? 3 soft tyres. Ahhhh. His unresponsive brake? 2 worn brake pads. Ahhhhh. After his rebuild, Robbie purred like a kitten. Or maybe a kitten with a chest infection. He is still only a little old rickshaw after all.

All this meant that we didn’t hit the road until after 15:00. Which meant that we broke a golden Rickshaw Run rule: don’t drive at night. Robbie’s lights could barely illuminate the ground immediately in front of his own wheel, let alone the deep crevasse looming ahead. Indian drivers use only full beam which, when combined with Robbie’s badly scratched plastic windscreen, meant that Jodie in the driving seat was completely blinded 90% of the time. Claire and Erica guided her by leaning out the sides of the rickshaw and shouting ‘left a little’, ‘right a little’ and ‘TRUCK IN YOUR LANE’. At 21:30, after 2.5 terrifying hours we made it to a hotel. We had survived. We were awesome. It was an empowering exercise in team work and tenacity. But one that we will not be repeating again in a hurry.

Conversation of the Day
While waiting for Robbie to be serviced, the mechanic carried over his cute 3 year old daughter to say hello. The following conversation then took place between Jodie and Claire. We’re not sure why Jodie and Claire keep having these inane exchanges. Perhaps after 31 years they’ve run out of intelligent things to say to each other. Maybe they never had any.
Claire: Is that a bindi or a large mole in the middle of her forehead?
Jodie: A bindi
Claire: Why is it brown and hairy then?
It’s lovely to see how this trip in India has really brought out Claire’s maternal side.

Moment of the Day
After we pulled into that hotel car park in the dark night, we embraced in a group hug. We could feel each other’s hearts beating fast out of our chests. The adrenalin was pounding. The relief was palpable. We knew that this would be one of those moments. The moments that stay with you. It only lasted for a few seconds, but it was there. And then we went inside to make a start on the lengthy hotel registration forms

Robbie’s medical:

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Rickshaw Run Day 5

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Starting point: Danam, Gujarat
Finishing point: Pen, Maharashtra
Distance covered today: ~300km
Total distance covered: ~1360km
Number of breakdowns: 0 (touch wood), but Robbie is labouring on the hills, rattles at 40kph, drifts to the right and his brake is unresponsive…it’s time for a service tomorrow morning

Danam to Pen via Mumbai…well now. 5 days ago we could barely start Robbie and 2nd gear felt like quite a challenge. Today we successfully navigated our way in soaring temperatures south through the suburbs of Mumbai. It was an epic example of graceful, feminine teamwork. We smugly glided by frazzled looking learner drivers (yes, they have motoring schools in India…we were shocked too). We are pros now.

As we drove deeper into Maharashtra, past the urban sprawl of the Mumbai metropolis, monotone motorways and industrial grey gave way to lush green, pink Bougainvilleas and monkeys playing along the roadside. And it’s steamy hot. Everything seems more relaxed. Life a little slower. Vehicle horns a little softer. Cows in the road more accommodating. The beaches of Goa are tantalisingly close. Hello South India. We’ve arrived and we’re happy to be here.

Moment of the Day
After the exhausting experience of finding our way through Mumbai and a forgettable encounter with a place called Panvel, we were just about to turn off the motorway onto a much gentler A road towards Panjim, Goa. But we overshot and missed the turn. This happens a lot. Road signage in India is haphazard. It’s not generally a problem though, as U-turns in the middle of a busy junction and driving the wrong way up the carriageway are all perfectly acceptable. When in Rome.

We were about to perform both of these legal/illegal manoeuvres when a man in a Maharati police uniform approached. We’ve been flagged down many times over the last few days by men in official uniforms and have learnt from bitter experience that they just want to ask which country we’re from and take our photo. We weren’t in the mood. But this man was insistent that we go to his checkpoint so we smiled sweetly and agreed.

There was some confusion and a lot of talking. One of the only pieces of advice offered to us by the Adventurists, the organisers of the Rickshaw Run, was that if you’re stopped by the police, the best way to avoid having to pay a bribe is to confuse them by talking so much. Erica made a sterling effort to do just this. She confused us all and herself.

In the end we worked out that the police wanted to see our ‘Pollution Control Certificate’. Relieved, we found this in the bottom of our vehicle documents wallet. It expired in October 2013. Welcome to India.

The police wanted to check the emissions coming from Robbie’s bottom. 6 officers dressed in dusty-as-white uniforms and aviators, looking like extras in Top Gun, stood by and watched us struggle to push our ‘shaw into position. They then stuck a rod up his exhaust pipe and came to the conclusion that his emissions consisted of 20% oxygen and 0% CO2. Strange considering that he’s burning around 10 litres of petrol a day. But he passed! Welcome to India.

Before we were allowed to leave, there was the requisite photo call, both group shots and each of us individually posing holding a red rose while being presented with our new Pollution Control Certificate. The police men then stopped the traffic across several lanes so that we could perform our illegal U-turn and be on our way. British Bobbies take note please.

Question of the Day
‘Is that a man or a woman?’
We discovered today that every toll plaza in Maharashtra has transvestite hookers standing between the lanes. Mumtaz introduced herself to us this morning. Erica was so transfixed that she couldn’t even squeak out her own name.

Conversation of the Day
A man pulls alongside us on a moped as we’re attempting one of several U-turns in Panvel (we should have U-turned our way right out of that place immediately on arrival. Don’t go!).
Man: ‘Photo?’
Jodie: ‘No’
Man: ‘Ek (1) photo?’
Jodie: ‘Nahin (no)’
Man: ‘Kyon (why)?’
Jodie: more firmly ‘No!’
Man: ‘Have sex?’
Jodie: ‘NO!’

Robbie’s revelations so far
1) His steering column is a little bent to the right. We decorated him with pom poms, tinsel and flower garlands. What did we expect?
2) When we ask him to stop, he likes to think about it for 30m or so before agreeing. This is rather like the Gray family dog, Dylan. They’re spirited and that’s just fine.
3) He protests a little at 40kph. He’s highly strung. But his top speed is 65kph, which makes him one of the fastest ‘shaws on the road. Our Robster.
4) Sometimes he has a tantrum and hides neutral from us. Come on Robbie, after you’ve just stalled in traffic is not the time for games. A gentle rocking backwards and forwards usually solves the problem.
5) As we discovered today, if you drive him at 60kph over a huge speed hump, his 3 feet leave the floor and Robbie flies. He found this exhilarating, but we won’t be doing it again in a hurry. He hasn’t yet perfected his landing. We came down with quite a bump.

Our encounter with the Maharati police:

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Rickshaw Run Day 4

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Starting point: Vadodara, Gujarat
Finishing point: Daman, Gujarat
Distance covered today: ~310km
Total distance covered: ~1060km
Number of breakdowns: 0 (touch wood)

Vadodara to Daman. On a motorway. There were many hairy moments. Mostly involving trucks trying to squish us, vehicles travelling toward us on the wrong side of the road and cars full of people who think it’s entirely normal to either pull alongside you or stop in front of you or try to flag you down in order to take a photo. Take a photo. On a motorway.

We skirted around Ahmedabad. On a motorway. We ate brown/beige food. On a motorway. We ate bananas and orange. On a motorway. We searched for suitable toilet break stops. It’s tough for girls on a motorway. It was motorway madness.

We ended the day in Daman, an Indian seaside resort a little like Skegness, only with an open sewer on the beach. But nothing could dampen our spirits at being by the sea in the warm sunshine. South India was so close we could almost smell it (if it hadn’t been for the overwhelming stench of fish). Only Mumbai stands in our way now. We’ll be attempting to navigate our way round tomorrow. On a motorway.

Phrases of the Day
There were many, all yelled from the rickshaw and all involving the excessive use of expletives (sorry parents).
Don’t pull out you f*^king idiot…don’t you even f*^king think about it…oh you f*^king did
Aaaaaaaa…you just cut me up you f*^king tool…idiot
Watch out for the lorries…they’re coming in….aaaaaaaaaaaaaa f*^k aaaaaaaaaaaa

Moment of the Day
We realised that we haven’t really mentioned the other teams on the Rickshaw Run. There are 78 in total from all around the world. To begin with we saw many rickshaws along the way, but now we’re all dispersed, we rarely pass 1 or 2 a day. Sometimes locals tell us that they saw a ‘shaw pass a few hours before. It’s always fun to come across another team. We sound the horn and smile and gurn. It’s comforting to know that we’re on course and we’re not alone out there.

The other Rickshaw Runners are drawn from every walk of life. But there’s a commonality in our craziness, so we’re never short on conversation. We don’t know all the individuals’ names, so we refer to them by their teams or nationalities: the Bananas; Team Jayden; the Norweigians; the Kiwis; the Canucks. I wonder what we’re known as…?

On a late afternoon pit stop on the motorway, a father and twin daughter team from the US came over the hill and pulled up behind us. Mike, Lauren and Brie. We had shared a hotel room together in Palanpur a few nights back. We convoyed into Daman, stayed in the same hotel, drank beer (in Gujarat, a dry state, you can drink alcohol by the sea apparently) and ate a Gujarati thali dinner together. It was lovely. Our memories from the Run will not only come from the sights we’ve seen or the locals we’ve encountered, but also the friendships we’ve made with fellow crazy Rickshaw Runners. We are all awesome.

Hero of the Day
Today this accolade goes to Mike the Dad. He gifted us a pepper spray (he had 3, one for each of his girls and a spare).
Mike: ‘If a man tries to grab you again, don’t hesitate, just spray. And make sure it’s pointing in the right direction.’

Some scenes from the motorway:

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Rickshaw Run Day 3

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Starting point: Palanpur, Gujarat
Finishing point: Vadodara, Gujarat
Distance covered today: ~290km
Total distance covered: ~750km
Number of breakdowns: 0 (touch wood), but we had to get a new horn, weld the battery back on and fix the silencer

Palanpur to Vadodara. Today saw us tearing down the Indian version of a motorway, still dodging man and beast. The scenery remained green. Our food remained brown/beige. But it was warm. In fact so warm, that layers of clothes were removed and blankets discarded. We passed through a delightful town called Nadiad. And marvelled at the sights. ‘This must really be past your limit of shithole now’.

Plonker of the Day
This one goes to the small Indian man with long black finger nails, red stained teeth and tight white trousers who popped out of a gate while we were giving Robbie a rest. “Photo? Photo?” We grudgingly acquiesced. ‘Kya mujhe phone ka number dijie?’ No chance. Tips for a positive response gentlemen: don’t ask us this question while standing barefoot in a cowpat, cut your finger nails and don’t try and touch me up when we’ve only just met. One more thought – given that you speak a different language, what were you planning on saying when you called? Plonker.

Questions of the Day
Are you in the circus? (from a man who tried to fix Robbie’s horn) Oh yes we are! India is a circus! Erica’s the acrobat, Claire’s the clown and Jodie’s the bloody lion tamer.
Which way is Vadadora? We asked this a million times today. Agee, agee (straight, straight) the only answer.

Moment of the Day
We found ourselves driving the wrong way back up a slip road after our carefully constructed plan to make up time by taking the expressway was scuppered by the chaps at the toll both.
No rickshaws allowed.
Ok, which way do we go?
Back that way.
That way? (Incredulous tone)
Yes.
Ah. Right. Shit.

Hero of the Day
We fear that so far our blog has been a little overly critical of some of the people we've met or the places we've visited. While we stand by our assessment of most of the towns we've passed through (holes), the vast majority of Indian men we've encountered (and it's all men, we haven't spoken to any women yet) have been incredibly friendly and helpful. They are not all zombies, staring at us open-mouthed, or asking for our phone numbers while simultaneously standing in a cow pat and fumbling for a grope.

Take, for example, the lovely mechanic who crossed 6 lanes of traffic to help us with our horn problem. OK, he couldn't fix it himself (he knew somebody that could, straight straight) and he asked us whether we were in the circus, but he refused to take any money for his trouble.

Or the men on a motorbike who chased after us for several kilometres to give us back our bag of bungee cords that had flown out of the rickshaw when we bounced over one of many speed bumps.

Not forgetting the hundreds of smiling faces and waving hands out of the back and sides of packed jeeps, lorries, rickshaws, cars and buses. We wave back, give a thumbs up and sound Robbie's horn. Their waving and smiling intensify. We try not to crash into the back of them as the driver almost comes to a complete halt in the middle of the road. It's a lovely moment.

But, our hero of today is the manager of our hotel. Not only did he discount the room to meet our 'budget' (Rs1500), but he then drove Robbie into town (with us in the back) to have his battery casing re-welded and silencer tightened. When he couldn't find anybody to re-bolt the silencer, he bought a screw and fixed it himself with a spanner and a length of wire by torchlight in the hotel car park. He asked for nothing in return other than a few British coins for his daughter's collection. A true swashbuckling Bollywood hero.

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Rickshaw Run Day 2

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Starting point: Barmer, Rajasthan
Finishing point: Palanpur, Gujarat
Distance covered today: ~300km
Total distance covered: ~460km
Number of breakdowns: 0 (touchwood), but we suffered from intermittent horn action

So, Barmer to Palanpur. What can we say? It was Baltic in the back of the rickshaw in the early morning, so much so that Erica took to wrapping herself in the map in order to break the freezing wind. We ate a lot of brown/beige food, all of which went out-of-date several months ago. As we drove south, sandy scrub land gave way to dusty green, the temperature rose, the locals’ vehicles seemed to cut in closer and the backwards staring at us while speeding past became even more hair raising. Perhaps they all need a drink and we’re the most exciting party to have hit these parts since…well, the last Rickshaw Run (Gujarat is a dry state). This really is India’s Wild Wild West.

After a search around Palanpur, we found ourselves in the Way Wait Hotel, the highest rated place to stay in town on TripAdvisor. It doesn’t say much when you consider that Claire didn’t even make it past the front door of one of the other places we tried first before flatly rejecting it (‘this really is my limit of shit hole’). Day 2 was over and we had survived. Tomorrow brings a dash round Ahmedabad and an attempt to navigate past Anand and its prohibited military zone. If you don’t hear from us again, assume we’ve been arrested and are languishing in an Indian jail. Please inform the Foreign Office.

Plonker of the Day
Jodie, for coming out with the following ridiculous utterance as Claire returned from a quick loo break behind the thorn bushes in a sand dune: ‘Did you find a toilet?’. Sure. It was really clean. There was plenty of toilet paper and Molton Brown hand soap. There was even an attendant who gave me a Chupa Chup. In. Our. Dreams.

Moment of the Day
We’re famous! That’s right. Not only are we surrounded by crowds wherever we go but today that same crowd thrust a newspaper into our hands. We’re in the paper! Check us out below. We’re feeling very smug.

A second important moment was our first foray onto an Indian motorway. This was not exactly the M1. Sure, there were speeding lorries and a complete lack of lane discipline. But these things are to be expected. There were also speed bumps, 4-way junctions with no traffic control system, traffic coming willy-nilly the wrong way up the carriageway, cows (of course), dogs and large camels. Surprisingly, the camel carts tended to stick to the hard shoulder, which is pretty civilised by Indian standards. The fact that we think camels on the hard shoulder is ‘civilised’ shows how quickly we’ve assimilated to Indian road conditions.

Mob of the Day
OK, so this isn’t a mob of staring, zombie-like Indian men (although there were plenty of these today), but instead a gathering of bewildered, exhausted Rickshaw Runners in Palanpur and a lack of available hotel space. No room at the inn. Having driven round the town for sometime looking for somewhere to stay, we all had to ask ourselves, who on earth is in these hotels and why would anyone come here? It really was a dusty hole. But a dusty hole with a hotel capacity issue. The result? 8 Rickshaw Runners, 1 hotel room, 1 bathroom and a whole lot of petrol-filled jerry cans (the golden rule: never leave anything in the ‘shaw overnight, especially petrol). Cosy. And a little smelly.

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Rickshaw Run Launch Day

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Starting point: Jaisalmer, Rajasthan
Finishing point: Barmer, Rajasthan
Distance covered: ~160km
Number of breakdowns: 0 (touch wood), but we ran out of petrol with no funnel and had to flag down a passing ‘shaw, plus the ‘horn incident’ (see below)

We did it. We launched. We drove Robbie out of Jaisalmer and down a long desert road to Barmer. We encountered camels, cows, sheep, goats, dogs, donkeys and peacocks on our way, mostly meandering in the middle of the road, but occasionally leaping out of thorn bushes just to keep us on our toes. We stopped every hour to let Robbie’s hot bottom cool down. We ate out-of-date crisps. We entertained the locals. We got lost in Barmer and discovered that when an Indian says ‘straight straight’, he actually means ‘You’ve gone too far. Turn around and cross 3 roundabouts. At the 4th, take the 2nd exit. Do a u-turn underneath the half-finished fly-over. Come back round the 4th roundabout and it’s on your left. And be careful of the section where the road is crumbling away. ‘ We’re now safely installed in the Hotel Maraudhra Palace (funny looking palace). And there’s free Wifi. Tomorrow’s another day.

Phrase of the Day
Jodie ‘Can I see your funnel?’
By way of explanation, funnels are very important for rickshaw drivers as they allow you to fill the tank from a jerry can. And as a rickshaw’s range on a tank of fuel can be anything from 100-200km, depending on all number of unknown factors including Krishna’s mood, Ganesh’s breakfast and the whim of Shiva, finding ours had been stolen overnight was deeply concerning. Cue posing this question to several of our fellow Rickshaw Runners. No, not that funnel, thank you.

Moment of the Day
After 9 months of planning and fundraising, a long journey to Jaisalmer and several days of preparations, pimping and test driving, we boarded our little Robbie, crossed under the start line and we were off. It was actually happening. We guided our trusty ‘shaw through the chaos of Jaisalmer, as other road users – 2 and 4 legged and motorised – appeared to dive intentionally in our path from every direction. It was terrifying. We were awesome. We bloody did it. Nothing could stand between us and the open road. Now only 13 more days and 3350km to go.

Mob of the Day
Our Mob of the Day has to be our first mob of the Rickshaw Run, of course. As an all-girl team driving a delciously-pimped rickshaw across India, we tend to attract a lot of attention. The very sight of us seems to whip the Indian general public into a state of frenzy, which reaches its peak when we pull over to the roadside in some one-horse town for a scooby snack break/to buy some water/to mend Robbie. In this case, we stopped as our horn had stopped working some several kilometres back. Yes, Robbie had lost his rather shrill voice.

Now permit us a brief divergence. A horn is almost a better friend to a rickshaw driver than a funnel. In India it’s quite acceptable – neigh recommended – for you to sound your horn at every given opportunity: to warn a person, beast or motor vehicle that you’re passing; to warn a person, beast or motor vehicle that you’re not passing; to say hello; to say goodbye; to indicate that you’re setting off; to indicate that you’re pulling over; just because you like the sound; even if you don’t like the sound, just because you can. You catch our drift. The sound of vehicle horns is the sound of India.

So, we pulled over as our horn had stopped working. A huge crowd of Indian men swelled around us. They all had an opinion on the rickshaw, our stereo, our decorations, our Christmas lights and the location of the nearest mechanic. None knew how to fix the horn. Until…one onlooker decided to bash Robbie’s nose and miracle of miracles, by George, he did it. Robbie had his squeak back again. And the excitement level of the crowd reached such heights not seen since Tendulkar’s retirement.

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Rickshaw Run -1

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We scurried around all day carrying out last minute preparations and drove Robbie on the open road for the very first time. Nobody move…we actually managed to reach the heady heights of 4th gear and 60kph. We. Are. Awesome. Tomorrow is D-Day. Send us your prayers and happy thoughts. We’ll try to keep blogging from the road, but don’t panic if you don’t hear from us for a few days. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re in a ditch.

But before tomorrow, there’s New Year’s Eve. This time last year, we three Trotters-to-be spent NYE in Erica’s flat, where, after a few too many bubbles (and mulled cider, red wine and port, if I remember rightly), we promised to be somewhere very different by the end of 2013. We didn’t think for a minute that we would be seeing in 2014 on a freezing desert night beneath the towering golden sandcastle that is Jaisalmer Fort. What happens next is down to the Indian open road, Robbie the Rickshaw and our own pitiful driving skills. The world is our lobster.

Moment of the Day
Happy New Year! Not technically a moment of this day but we thought we’d include this: seeing in the New Year with a bhang in Jaisalmer.

Plonker of the Day
Claire, for screaming ‘I’ve forgotten where the break is’ as we hurtled into the path of a truck turning left in front of us while trying to drive the rickshaw on a public road for the first time. It’s the ‘shaw’s only pedal. Reckless.

Buys of the Day
Toilet roll (of course)
Pen knife (fixing ‘things’; self defence)
Spanner (flat tyres)
Double shot glass (for measuring out 30ml of 2-stroke oil to mix with petrol for Robbie…he’s very precious)
Mini sieve (for filtering rubbish out of the petrol so Robbie doesn’t get bunged up)
Flower garlands and some pom poms (Robbie’s bling)
Fleece blanket (it’s BALTIC in the back of a rickshaw)
Crisps and biscuits that only went out of date last month (scooby snacks)
Small bottle of vodka (definitely not to be drunk using the shot glass; well, it is New Year’s Eve)

It’s strange what provisions you may need for the Rickshaw Run…the weirdest holiday shopping of our lives.

Phrase of the Day
Jodie ‘This is a dick fest. By which I don’t mean you are all dicks. I mean you all have dicks.’
Jodie, trying to make friends with a fellow Rickshaw Runner, while commenting on the much higher number of men to women participants.

Rickshaw Run launch – 2

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Meet our new man, Robbie the Rickshaw…’he’s quite a card, ain’t he?!’ After the briefest of driving demonstrations (the lights are shit; don’t use reverse, just push it; the wipers are crap; the handbrake’s a brick behind the wheel; the gears will move position over the course of the 2 weeks; oh, and you’ll never find neutral, especially when you stall at a busy junction with 10,000 horns a-hooting and 10,000 eyes a-staring), signing the rental agreement (?), looking over and discarding the tool kit (‘like…uhm…what do you expect us to do with this), we were ready for TEST DRIVING. An hour later we had still failed to start the beast. 2 hours later we had driven in a circle round the car park in 1st gear. Maybe tomorrow we might venture onto an actual ROAD in 2nd gear. The day after, we’ll attempt to drive Robbie across 1/10th of the world’s circumference. Bloody hell.

Plonker of the Day
Jodie, Claire & Erica were all plonkers today for failing miserably for several hours to even start their rickshaw. Notes to remember for the next 2 weeks: it helps if there’s petrol in the tank and the ignition is turned on.

Moment of the Day
Running a little late for the all-important Rickshaw Run briefing, we accepted a lift from the friendly Sunil, nephew of our guesthouse owner. Question: how many Trotters can you fit on the back of a moped? Answer: all 3 + Sunil + a daypack. It was dark; Sunil was speeding; we dodged goats, cows, dogs, pigs and a camel with a rotting eye, not to mention pot holes and open sewers (all quite normal for Jaisalmer). Jodie, who was balanced on the back, only stayed aboard thanks to Claire’s grip around her knee. Erica, who was at the front, got far closer to Sunil than she ever thought possible. We would like to apologise to our parents. This was reckless behaviour. But it did make us giggle.

Phrases of the Day
Claire ‘I really have reached my shithole limit now!’ After we walked past a dead dog and a flattened chipmunk with its eyes bulging out on the way to the market to buy Rickshaw Run supplies.

Fellow Rickshaw Run participant ‘I’m a former criminal hedge fund manager. An exonerated crim.’ Right then. It seems that a race across India in a rickshaw attracts all sorts.

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