We started north on our final leg to Shillong, in the north-east of India. There’s pretty much one road into Assam through a very narrow channel in the north-east and off that there leads a road up to Darjeeling. How tempted we were to take the Rickshaw up to the foothills of the Himalayas, but we would have only got to spend one night there, so we drove past looking wistfully over our shoulders as other teams with more time than us took the rickety road north. Still, it didn’t matter as we were greeted, for the first time since arriving in India, with sweet-smelling air.
The region is known for it’s tea growing and as such, there are plantations that span for acres and acres across the countryside. It made a difference from the general refuse smell that seems to hang over India and even the countryside seemed a little cleaner, with less plastic waste being thrown from car windows into the kerbside. Maybe this was the lovely India we had heard so much about after driving through the dust and dirt for many days? A consequence of the tea growing, is the extra flora that grows around it i.e a lot of weed! (see below…)
This region seemed to be undergoing a regeneration as the roads were literally being built as we drove along them. Sometimes we’d have to switch onto the other side of the road as the highway just ran out and the Tarmac stopped dramatically with heavy plant machinery perched alongside it. If we were feeling brave, we’d drive our little rickshaw thought the bollards that stopped cars carrying on and drive along the road for as long as we could, using little dips off the side to rejoin the highway when needed. It meant that for a few glorious and brief minutes, we’d have whole highways to ourselves! Imagine doing the on the M25!
Even though we found the region to be much greener, fresher and quieter than the rest of India we had driven through, there was no denying that the roads got worse and our optimism about reaching Shillong in time for the finish line party was diminished as we soldiered through. We managed to reach Alipurduar on our first night in the region, and even bump into another team to swap hints and tips. We had been told that there was civil unrest in the area and to get off the roads after dark as kidnappings of tourists were quite common. Well, we had been told that when we drove through the Orissa and our ignorance had helped us quite a lot as it meant we enjoyed ourselves and the scenery and were happy to meet locals.
Our last night on the road was stayed in Guwahati which we made in the evening. We were only four hours away from Shillong at this point, but it meant that we could rest and then deal with any last-minute problems without it being night-time.
The following morning though, we learned there was a strike in the state (one of many), and that people were being encouraged not to drive on the freeways – plus, there would be no fuel stations open. On the day of our much-hoped-for arrival? This reminded us very much of the Mongol Rally where our final leg had to be made in a cab and our car left behind and with all the good luck that we had so far on this trip, hoped the bad wouldn’t come in the final stretch. Of course, we had absolutely no idea about any of this until we were actually out on the road (which, incidentally, had already been subject to delay because of a flat tyre). Then, whilst circling Guwahati trying to find our way out of the various road blocks, our engine died. Josh managed to skilfully use a lot of gaffer tape to stick various wires back into the engine which kept it running for a while, but then we encountered further roadblocks which meant we couldn’t leave (that is, until we found a road with the help of some locals), whereupon we finally managed to get on the very steep road from Guwahati to Shillong.
By this stage and after nearly 4000km, our first gear no longer worked well. The engine kept overheating and so we had to drive fairly slowly and pulling away was a pain. The framework had two cracks in it, one which had been welded by us after Josh had nudged a truck with the rickshaw in a traffic jam a few days previously. We had lost most of the plastic flowers; the stereo had died and our official stickers had peeled off. We looked very much like we had driven across the country! Our final test was running out of fuel on the way up to Shillong, which fortunately we were able to refill with on-board supplies quickly, and off we went making it to the finish line at 11am, just shy of a fortnight since we left the start line a respectable thirteen days previously.
When we arrived at Orchid Lake Resort on the shores of Lake Umiam, there was no fanfare and no music, just a few rickshaws already parked outside. It wasn’t like the big crowd we were waved off from at the start, although in a way, we were pleased it was quiet as we got to have a moment to ourselves and reflect on our time through India.
We headed on in after that to join some other teams, where we learned that we’d finished 9th out of 70 teams, raising £1045 for Frank Water! We spent the day drinking beer and swapping stories – which is an obligatory part of being part of an event like this. The next night we were even treated to a party by The Adventurists, which we thought would have been cancelled due to the strikes in the states, but too many teams had crossed the finish line that day to let that happen! All in all, it had been a great achievement for us both. It had also been challenging and at times frustrating, although to be honest, we thought that there would be a lot more problems than we actually encountered. Josh details some of the problems further in the video below…
We were very lucky that our rickshaw didn’t really break down as some teams were in a garage non-stop, and one even flipped their rickshaw resulting in a hospital trip! If we did have problems, like running out of fuel, locals were always lovely and would always stop to help. On that note, the best part of the trip by far for both of us was seeing these communities go by and how the faces changed the further north we went. You could say being able to take it all in was one of the bonuses of going so slow (ah – the art of slow travel eh?) What always made everything so much easier were the smiling faces we were greeted with, all the time, and all over the country.
We’d love to go back to India at some point, despite being initially glad to go home. In particular, visit Darjeeling and the Taj Mahal, both of which were either too far away or impossible to fit into our schedule if we wanted to get to the finish line as planned.
We’d like to thank you for reading about our Rickshaw Run adventure and would love to know what you thought of it. Would you do it yourself? Have you already done it and have some great yarns? Let us know! We’ll continue to post tips and advice about how you can take part in the future, with interviews and stories from other teams that have taken part.