You know that chase scene in Ronin where they are driving the wrong way in the tunnel and cars are flying everywhere? That’s what driving in India is like, except add a few billion buses and motorcycles to the mix to spice things up a bit.
Day 1: 146km, ~7 hours on the road
The official launch party kicked off as planned with all the rickshaws circled up around a podium and a bit of fanfare. After many photo ops, a huge line of rickshaws all circled the city and then disappeared. Literally two minutes before leaving, these two people from a random team came up to me and asked where I was going and if I wanted to caravan with them. They were headed east and up also and seemed to have a map, so I said “ok let’s see!” That, you see, was my plan – no plan needed!
Heading out of town, the long line of 50+ rickshaws rapidly dwindled, until I found myself completely lost with no one I knew around, following a random set of three rickshaws hoping they knew what they were doing. Of all the options, they headed out east and just out of town I encountered the team mentioned above (who turned out to be Malena and Adam from Mucho Nacho) on the side of the road out of petrol. Once that was sorted, I took this as a sign of fate and decided indeed to caravan off with them.
Our first introduction to real insane highway traffic was quite the eye opener, and we all had a lot of “fun” getting used to it. The basic principle appears to be this: GET THE F&(#& OUT OF MY WAY! It seems that whoever has the most confidence and leans on their horn the most wins, and everyone else has to move. It doesn’t matter where you are in the road, who is around you, or anything along those lines – just brazen it out or move out of the way. It actually works okay during the day and you get used to the aggressive/defensive combination, but it is mind-shatteringly brutal at night.
In any case, we ended up in the jungle – awesome. Then Mucho Nacho started having engine problems and stalling out – not awesome. Then we stopped to let their engine cool down and I noticed sticks and stuff bouncing off our rickshaws. I looked up just in time to see a monkey throw a stick that hit me in the head. Apparently we had stopped under a monkey tree and they were not happy! A good pack of at least ten kept randomly throwing stuff at us until we finally left.
Then it started to rain – awesome, let’s get cool! It rained harder, to the point where the road flooded, random traffic stopped, traffic accidents occurred, and visibility was less then ten feet – not awesome. The rest of the day can be summarized as rain, random stops for Mucho Nacho engine problems, curving potholed roads, occasional cliffs, many waves from the locals, and finally a random truck driver helping us figure out their spark plug was fouled and change it.
A few kilometers later we pulled into Munnar as darkness was seriously settling in, noticed a bunch of rickshaws parked at a hotel, and joined them. Not an auspicious beginning – but we did have an absolutely fantastic dinner after not eating for most of the day.
Day 2: 410km, ~13 hours on the road
I was up and ready to leave at 6:15AM as agreed, with my rickshaw packed and all warmed up – but Malena and Adam were nowhere to be seen! I almost rolled off with one of the other teams there, but just in time they showed up and we were able to hit the road. Shortly after 7AM we were gassed up and on the move – and man, we were in for a treat!
We climbed up the mountains from Munnar in a deep fog with low visibility on a very small winding asphalt track noted as a National Highway. At one point we took a wrong turn and I managed to back into a ditch while attempting to back up and take photos at the same time – bad idea. Luckily no harm was done to my little rickshaw and we continued around the mountain.
On the other side we came out into these amazingly beautiful tea fields. Quite possibly the greenest, most orderly thing I have ever seen on the side of a mountain, even beating out some of the amazing rice paddy terraces in the Philippines. It’s really hard to describe how epic this was, and the pictures don’t do it justice, but maybe give you a hint.
We spent the next few hours barreling down the mountains at breakneck speeds having great fun before finally connecting with our first “real” highway. Although much of it was under construction, it was straight, wide, flat, and smooth. The rest of the day simply folded up into this road as we pushed hard towards Pondecherry, and as night fell we decided to continue onward. Around 8PM, about an hour after pitch dark, we finally decided to stop in a major town and find a hotel for the night. We did, had dinner, and now are crashing out.
P.S. This hotel is really not at all appealing. I will leave it at that. (Written @ March 29, 10:30PM)
Day 3: 147km, ~4 hours on the road
Ah, the chill day. We slept in, headed up to Pondicherry and arrived around 10AM. Grabbed a simple breakfast at an expensive “western style” cafe and had a much needed relax – then Mucho Nacho #3 Tac caught up to us after a long bus ride from Kochin. He watched our gear while the three of us wandered the town for a bit, got wet in the east coast of India, and generally relaxed.
This was then followed by a stately parade up the east coast, where Tac took a spin at my rickshaw and ran us all the way up to our destination at Mahabalipuram, a small tourist town (he did quite well for his first try, and it was quite nice to relax in back). We arrived, checked into a very expensive hotel (1800 rupees!) and explored some of the local sites.
Shortly we’ll be off to dinner, then up early for a long long day tomorrow – we unfortunately don’t plan to stop in Chennai due to the insanity of driving through the cities here, but I will be thinking of my CSS friends the entire time we’re spinning through the city!