International Travel & Adventure: Completing the Rickshaw Run across India.
3 times a year a British company loosely organizes a race across India over a 2 week period. There are 3 different routes, usually one in January, one in April and one in August.
I took part in the north to south route and drove an auto rickshaw some 3000km from Rajasthan to Kerala with 2 girl friends. When I say it’s loosely organized I mean there is a starting point and an end point. How you get between the 2 is up to you. You figure out your route, where you’re going to stay each night and what to do when the rickshaw breaks down. Because, trust me, you will break down.
Our race started in the city of Jaisalmer, so to get to the race starting point we flew from the US to Delhi and then to Jodhpur where we had a driver take us the 5hr drive to Jaisalmer.
Best time(s) to visit:
Personally I think January was the perfect time of year to do the Rickshaw Run as it was cool in northern India and warmed up as we drove further south. The April and August Rickshaw Runs often encounter much hotter temperatures and rain. We were lucky to have excellent weather during our 2 week adventure.
Climate/weather/temperature & appropriate dress for the area and culture:
Outside of Goa I think it’s important to dress conservatively in India. As western women we stood out pretty much everywhere we went, and seeing as we were western women driving a hot pink 3 wheeled rickshaw it was pretty difficult for us to blend in.
The northern part of India was pretty chilly in the mornings and late evenings and we wore fleece jackets and blankets as the back of the rickshaw gets very breezy. As we drove south we needed lighter more breathable clothes.
Main attractions/Must dos:
Here’s the great thing with this adventure- you make your own route. So if you want to detour and head for the Taj Mahal then you can. Our 2 main stops were to Sula Winery in Nashik- did you know that there is good wine in India?
Our other stop was to have 2 nights to stay in Goa with a full day of relaxing and not having to drive the rickshaw.
Other teams got to Goa as fast as they could and stayed there several nights. It’s really up to you and what you want to see!
Rickshaw Run – Key Highlights for me:
The main highlights for me was the interactions we had with local people. When you’re driving in a vehicle that has no doors and a maximum speed of 50km/hr you interact with the environment in a way you can’t in a car. You smell the scents of the passing villages, you can hear the school children calling out as you drive pass. People would wave and follow us all day long.
Sometimes the getting followed part was a little unnerving, sometimes they would pass us cold drinks as they drove alongside us. We had our photos taken hundreds and hundreds of times. We met some extremely kind Indian men who helped us out and without them our journey likely would’ve been different. Many of them came to our rescue during one of our many breakdowns- they never allowed us to pay them for their help- we instead handed out ballcaps as tokens of thanks.
Things that make this experience different or unique:
Everyday on the Rickshaw Run would just happen. We couldn’t plan it out, It just unfolded however it would. I loved the unpredictability of it. We might start the day with a plan and then we might break down 10 times and have to scrap the original plan and just roll with it. It’s not often that you get the opportunity to travel this way. It was a very authentic type of travel and I think that’s one of the things I loved the most- the not knowing who we would meet or what might happen. It really forced me to live in the moment.
Things visitors should be aware of:
The Rickshaw Run is not for the faint of heart and neither are Indian roadside bathrooms. But in all seriousness Indian roads are dangerous. Other teams had bad accidents, some were unable to complete the race. I know a team of 3 girls who recently did the race and their rickshaw flipped when their brakes failed coming down a hill- one of the girls broke her neck. She has recovered, but there is a level of danger with participating in the race.
Travel insurance is essential. Even with insurance you could find yourself in a situation where you are injured and the nearest hospital is a few hours away. We never drove at night as a general rule. We tended to stay on more major roads. Thankfully, we never encountered any situations that we felt our physical safety was an issue.
While here you should:
Interact with the locals and eat local food. Indian food is fantastic. Make sure to stop off at roadside Chai truckstops and have Chai tea with other road warriors. Let go of planning and live in the moment. Trust in yourself and your teammates. Don’t let people tell you that 3 women can’t drive across India safely because I’m living proof that women can!
A lot of things factor into how much you budget. We stayed in mostly middle of the range places, though sometimes super cheap places and a couple more expensive places. We also had our 2 nights in Goa comped as we had contacted the hotel prior to going to tell them about our adventure.
The Adventurists (the company that organizes the race) charges $2100 US per team and you’re required to pay a $1300 deposit which is returned if there’s not severe damage to the rickshaw at the end. You’re also required to raise money for charity- the minimum amount is around $1300. The Adventurists have a charity that they support, but you can choose to support another charity as long as you raise half of the minimum amount for their charity. We supported an Indian based charity for sex trafficked women and children which we later visited to volunteer.
You need to also budget for fuel, parts, food, and alcohol. I would guess that we spent about $3000 each including airfare.
The major centers have all the facilities you might need, but in the villages things get a little trickier. More remote places tend to have more questionable accommodation choices and access to medical facilities is more difficult.
If coming here, don’t forget to bring:
An international driving permit is a great idea. We got pulled over twice- both times while I was driving and the police asked to see my license. I’m pretty sure we could’ve bribed our way out of the situation though, had I not had one. Some basic first aid knowledge is a good idea. We brought gifts from home to give to the kind people that helped us along the way- ball caps and flashlights and such.
Reviewer’s rating out of 10:
An 11. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my time on the Rickshaw Run. It will likely be one of the biggest adventures of my life and I dream of doing it again. It was such an incredible experience and it taught me that you can trust in the kindness of strangers.
Location/Activity relevant websites:
theadventurists.com – the website of the organizers of the race.
kickinitsaristyle.com – the website of the Kickin’ it Sari Style Team.
See the video:
Highlights of the entire trip were captured on video, from which a number of clips were compiled into a single video for Camping for Women readers and subscribers. The video appears below: