How to Survive Auto Rickshaws in the Subcontinent

I love rickshaws. They are exciting. They are insane. These days they a little green as well, running on LPG. But rickshaws aren’t for the faint hearted or the weak of stomach. They demand a certain strength of character, and a cheat code: as with everything Indian, there is order in chaos, and once you figure it out things seem perfectly normal. So here goes:

Think crazy theme park ride, not transport – Remember those crazy car chase sequences which only the Bournes and the Bonds of the world are destined for, well think of the rickshaw as your ticket to the adventure-thriller genre. The trick is to approach the ride as you would a roller coaster.

He isn’t Michael Schumacher; he is better – As ridiculous as this sounds, the driver knows how it’s done. He knows when to hold back, when to squeeze through, and when to power on. In the many years I’ve travelled by rickshaw, I’ve never been involved in a rickshaw accident, and it’s not for lack of trying, mind you. Or maybe it’s all about luck.

Road safety means being a prude – This one goes out to the ladies. If you’d rather he keep his eyes on the road, instead of the mirror staring at the girls, you’ll want to fix your neckline to boring. Button up or wrap yourself in a scarf; the scarf doubles up as a pollution mask as well.

Don’t worry, they will blink first – There’s no point in getting a heart attack over a little rash driving. Traffic rules in India are mythical; everyone’s heard the stories, but there’s no proof they really exist. The rule of the road is more Darwinian – survival of the fittest (bravest, actually). The more pig-headed the driver, the quicker you’ll reach your destination. You’ll hear abuses hurled around, you’ll have to hold on for an unpredictable swerve or two. But you’ll get to your destination in one piece.

Keep an eye on the rate cards and the running meter – The subcontinent is a big, big place. Different rules govern different places. If you are in Mumbai, the rickshaw will run to the meter. Of course, chances are the meter is tampered, but still. In Delhi on the other hand, the meter is just an accessory, like the party clutch, useless but shiny. You must fix on the rate before getting into the rickshaw. Get your local contact to find you a recent rickshaw rate card or find out how much the journey should cost you. Either way, accept that you will be overcharged.

Go ahead, steal a peek – Sure you might be running into a lounging dog or barely squeezed in between two obese buses, but don’t turn your eyes away from the road. It might be ugly, it might be uncomfortable, it might be intense, but it will never be boring out there. Take in the colours and flavours of the country that changes every two steps. The number of absurd, amusing and fascinating things one gets to see from a rickshaw is a long rambling post on its own.