Which is precisely why every year, hundreds of hardy souls pay for the privilege of risking life and limb in the quest for thrills on the Rickshaw Challenge.
Described by a former participant as ‘an amazing race for the clinically insane,’ fearless tourists from all over the world make their way at breakneck speed (or at least as near as is possible on an auto rickshaw) across the country in tuk tuk-like vehicles in a thrill seeking activity that is gaining a huge cult following.
And, as if it isn’t enough to see India from a totally new (and often terrifying) perspective, you can even raise money for charity and help save the planet as you go. All it takes is a combination of bravery, foolhardiness and daring, with the promise in return of the experience of a lifetime.
The event was started in 2006 as a new way to promote parts of southern India less visited than traditional destinations like the Taj Mahal and the Himalayas. The original race, an 11-day trek from Chennai to Kanniyakumari, is called the Classic Run and takes place at the end of December.
Other races you could try out include the nine-day Malabar Rampage, the nine-day Deccan Odyssey or the 14-day Mumbai Xpress. Each member of the two or three-person team takes turns at the wheel, while the others either hang off the sides like intrepid yachtsmen looking to gain an extra few seconds on the bends, or take the opportunity to savour often breathtaking scenery as it flies by.
“Among the many questions posed to us, the one I could not answer was, ‘What do you hope to achieve by doing this,'” says former competitor Adrianna Tann, in her excellent blog Popagandhi.
“It simply happens. When I first read about the Rickshaw Challenge I knew I had to go. The insanity took over and consumed me, until I finally bit the bullet and went for it.”
Although ‘madness’ is a word that often springs to mind, there are serious aspects to the Rickshaw Challenge too. Keen to promote responsible tourism, the organizers work closely with local authorities and use local people for all elements of the trip logistics. In doing so, they help develop the local economy for everyone.
Round Table India – an organization working to educate underprivileged children – is also involved in the Rickshaw Challenge. Participants can make donations to its ‘Freedom through Education’ initiative and all racers are encouraged to visit the many schools and other institutions along the routes, which have been set up as a direct result of the charity work.
“The Rickshaw Challenge believes firmly in participating in, not simply passing through, the lives of the people they meet in villages and cities along the route,” says Nikhil Bagri of Round Table India.
Getting lost is a concern for many, but every vehicle has a mobile phone with a tracker so that racers can be located at any time on the journey. That said, one of the most appealing parts of the race is a chance to see the ‘real India’ and meet locals along the way. Participants are actively encouraged to ask locals for directions along the way. For canny, reliable advice on short cuts through a town, tips on great hotels, or cheap restaurants, you can never beat first-hand knowledge from those who know the area best.
There are more luxurious ways to make your way across this beautiful subcontinent, and there are certainly quicker ways too, but if you are looking for one more fulfilling and memorable, the Rickshaw Challenge would be very very hard to beat.