Bengaluru: The autorickshaw comes whizzing by at top speed, curving neatly past pedestrians and stopping, an inch away from the kerb. A young man jumps out. Then another, then another. Then two more. “We used two autos for the trip but yes, we squeezed into one now! Two of us in the driver’s seat!” Tanushk Martyn, Kyle Grabowski, Liam Olsen, Sean Lewis and Scott Rieper are all doctors at Tauranga Hospital in New Zealand.
It’s been quite a ride – 2,500 km in two autos to raise funds for two charities, The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation and Cool Earth. The Autorickshaw Run, which they documented on social media, has managed to raise $6,000 (New Zealand). At the moment though, in Bengaluru, they’re in floral shorts and white shirts. Their auto is pink, with names scrawled over the sides and across the back.
August 26 marked the end of their adventure and on Sunday morning, they arrived at Palace Road venue where 95 other, brightly painted rickshaws were pulled up also, many blaring music. Their vehicles, covered with artwork, set them apart from their counterparts in urban public transport. Tanushk, Scott, Liam, Sean and Kyle call themselves the Bra Boys and their two autos have just finished the long journey from Jaisalmer to Bengaluru. The Rickshaw Run, organised by The Adventurists, is a tri-annual 'race', where (mostly foreigners) ride autorickshaws, vehicles specifically not designed for long journeys, to raise money for charity.
They open by talking about the tragedy of the floods in Kerala: Their trip, which should have ended in Kochi, was diverted to Bengaluru because of the rain. "We're really sorry to hear about the situation," says Tanushk. "Why are you doing this?" That's the question they hear most often and all five men find a thrill in it. "In New Zealand, we're encouraged to travel and do unusual things," says Tanushk, adding, "This is more unusual than most, of course!"
The adventure started when Kyle and Sean, who like watching travel videos on Youtube, stumbled onto the Adventurists. "We thought it would be fun," says Sean, who insisted on doing the rickshaw run. The auto is a rented vehicle, which the boys have improved upon to make it through their two-week journey. "We added another mattress, about two inches thick," says Sean. Blue plastic sheets can be unrolled during the rain and a plastic bottle cut carefully to form an "air conditioner" for the driver's seat.
"It's uncomfortable," laughs Tanushk, but with two autos between them, they weren't short of space. "Also, in New Zealand, things are orderly. You don't need to focus on driving as much as you do here. On these roads, you have to stay focused all the time." There was the time, for instance, when the autos found themselves on a two-lane highway, a speeding truck behind them and another, hurtling headlong in the wrong direction, came at them on the space that remained. Somehow, even the boys aren't sure but they all appear to agree, "Some cows appeared."
Cows feature prominently in this road trip, as does the boundless curiosity of the average Indian. "We have lots of people ask us where we're going," says Kyle. "And we have been stopped many times in the hope that we agree to pay a little bribe." It didn't ever come to that, "We just told people we were calling the Embassy," says Tanushk. "Basically, that was Kyle calling Sean." In a few days, however, they were as 'local 'as it is possible to be, cutting through lanes and swerving past cows with finesse. "In the cities, we get flagged down until people look inside and see the rest of the crew," they all laugh.
"We saw the Rickshaw Run and thought it would be a cool thing to do but going through with it is a whole other thing," says Tanushk. Much paneer, butter masala was consumed along the way, although an experiment with lassi didn't go quite as well. "There was another time we stopped at a tiny stall and I found the best masala dosa I had ever eaten," Tanushk laughs. "Our auto broke down about ten times," says Sean. This also proved a chance for them to make friends with the locals, who, provided the ice was broken with a smile, were full of questions and affection. They pile back into their auto after dinner, unfazed by the prospect of their night-time drive through Indiranagar on a Saturday night. Having just learned the only thing left in their tutelage as auto drivers, they say in chorus as they leave, "One and a half!"
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