Driving a Rickshaw – Dilisha

Comparing a driving lesson in the villages of India compared to a car park in Northwood!

So for those of us that have been to India have undoubtedly ridden in a Rickshaw, maybe with the allowed 3 people in the back seat, or more commonly have as many people hanging out the back and front as humanly possible, and then a few more! The experience is one vastly different from the roads of the UK. So if you thought sitting in the back is an experience, how about physically driving it yourself! Here is how I found it when I had my authentic lessons in India! Firstly, for a young girl to be driving in India is a spectacle for all to raise intrigue, for this said British born young girl driving a Rickshaw around the village roads raised a few eyebrows! This is what I experienced, by the time I had finished my first 500m stretch I had an audience with news travelling round the village that, “Babubhai’s youngest daughter from London is driving a rickshaw come see!” Talk about pressure! Now first of all, we have to start the Rickshaw, by pulling the lever from the ground as hard as possible, I tried. I failed. It’s really hard; I thought I was going to pull a muscle! I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it… then comes to controlling the vehicle predominantly with your hands and not your feet. Clutch, gears and accelerator are all hand controls on either side of the steering. This is why you commonly see rickshaw drivers with their legs crossed driving around India! There is no need for feet, well except to brake of course! Don’t underestimate the importance of braking!

My first lesson was driving around a dirt field that is also used as the local school playground. By the time I completed 3 circuits, my trusty instructor jumped out and ate some paan and watched with some locals! So again no pressure! I managed to complete a total of 4 half hour lessons, and by the 3rd I was only stalling when trying to put it into reverse, result! The main considerations on the rural streets are the abundance of pot holes, stones and other bits of rubbish on the road. Each little rock impacts the small vehicle, the secret is to relax and drive smoothly, no sharp turns, slow down for everything and use your horn! I learnt this the hard way, when one very warm afternoon I was driving along a path where on either side were rice fields. As I was calmly driving down the path, suddenly came two carts pulled by cows. Sudden braking does not describe what happened next! It was more pump the brake, let go of the accelerator, turn the steering to the side very sharply and ultimately stall with the front wheel nose down into the grass! Not only was I shaken up, my rickshaw instructor was crapping himself and the cows; well they were unfazed and kept on going! So to reiterate, slow and steady with no sudden movements and we shall be fine!

So now the driving lesson in Northwood, London. This Rickshaw started via the turning of the key, no muscle pulling here. This rickshaw had an MOT and had been serviced, a large difference when comparing an Indian road driven vehicle. As it was around 2 degrees and my hands were frozen, I found it difficult to literally turn the handles and get the rickshaw in gear! Here I was thinking my hands were too small, but I am sure there a number of other likely explanations, although none of which come to mind at the moment… So further failures on my part, I forgot to turn the engine on, so when I managed to finally get it in gear… it didn’t move.Overall, the handling of the London Rickshaw was highly similar to the India one, the main difference we will find are the road conditions, the number of obstacles we will have to avoid, from dodging potholes and dealing with oncoming traffic on the wrong side of the road! Not to mention the notorious traffic in the cities! The idea of getting around this is an obstacle course based rickshaw driving lesson! We shall try and have cones out and a number of unexpected situations to contend with! We hope to organise this closer to our departure, so watch this space!

That’s all from Momma Rickshaw who has accepted the possibility of growing our hands is probably not the best idea… x

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