Auto-rickshaws I have known

Blogging challenges, India

I am giving you two different people for Just One Person Around the World this time: both of them are auto-rickshaw drivers in India. Here we are in Chennai. Just discharged from hospital, I’m on the first leg of my journey home to England. Look out of the front window of this auto-rickshaw and you’ll see the crowded streets that were more or less my last view of India.

My rickshaw driver in Chennai

This driver was an amiable enough companion, but on my very first day in India, jet-lagged and more than thirty hours without sleep it was a different rickshaw driver who offered me my first taste of Indian hospitality and friendship as I tried to come to terms with the impossibly busy streets of Bengaluru. You’ve seen this photo before, but my first friend deserves his fifteen minutes of fame.

My first friend in Bangalore: the rickshaw driver who took me on a tour of the city, standing in front of ‘his’ Parliament Building

Here’s what I wrote in my diary that day. ‘When I finally set off with the intention of exploring for the morning, I hadn’t gone too far when I was picked up by an auto-rickshaw driver. He could see ‘Arrived this morning’ tattooed across my forehead. He offered to show me round for Rs 10. Well, I wasn’t so green as to believe that’s all I’d spend, but I was exhausted and it wasn’t an unattractive proposition. It was such fun! He proved an amiable guide, whose English, while obviously hugely better than my Kannada often led to mutual incomprehension. He had an endearing habit of describing all the sites we passed as his; ‘This is my Parliament Building … This is my Royal Palace’. He hared me round a variety of sites, and waited while I ‘did’ Bengaluru Palace’ – slightly seedy and where I was personally shown round by an Aged Retainer, and where I noticed a herd of cows in the Royal Gardens.

You see the price? RS 200? Well, my driver in the end asked for Rs. 100, for showing me round for three hours. I gave him twice that and I still got a tremendous bargain.

It was that morning that I discovered that all auto-rickshaw drivers have entered into Arrangements With Shops. The kind of shops, selling textiles, carvings, carpets, jewellery that tourists are expected to make use of. It is their duty to take unwitting passengers there. Reader, I got off lightly (though I did buy something, and kept my friend happy), and learned an important lesson, that ‘No’ must be said with conviction, especially on Day One of a one month trip. What backpacker can lug bedspreads all over South India for four weeks? Later that day, a less accommodating rickshaw driver, on realising that it was fruitless to try to tempt me out shopping dumped me without warning in the middle of a poor part of town (Where? Where?) and left me to get on with it.

Nevertheless, I greatly enjoyed this somewhat basic mode of transport. My friend had had his for fifteen years, and I see no reason why it won’t still be going strong.

It was only a week later that I found myself sharing an auto- rickshaw, designed to take two passengers at most, with three other people. But really, we weren’t trying. Any morning that I was out and about as school started, I would see auto-rickshaws, in total denial of any kind of Health and Safety considerations, disgorging four, six, even ten children at the school gates. Look at the rickshaw here, behind those smartly turned out schoolgirls.

Schoolgirls

Later, when I visited Thanjavur, I found traditional rickshaws drawn usually by one very wiry, elderly man on a bicycle. While understanding their need to work, I couldn’t bring myself to have them haul me around, and in any case, the town was manageable enough on foot.

I look back on this mode of transport with great affection. Nippy, affordable, and with opportunities for cheery conversation, I can’t think of a better way of getting round the confusion which is an Indian city.

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58 thoughts on “Auto-rickshaws I have known

    1. The worst of it was that by then I only had a note worth not far short of Β£50 – useless in an area like that. So I had to find somewhere to change it down. Then I remembered the name of the main road near where I was staying, and once I’d had a mooch round, got a rickshaw back there.

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  1. With only one exception, I enjoyed the company of the drivers I met. As you say, they work extremely hard for not a lot, and driving in Indian cities can’t be easy.

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      1. Have you looked in your Media Library? I will take a look and make sure that logos and other stuff is up-to-date and easily accessible on my site. A long overdue chore. Thanks.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Fascinating account about the numbers of passengers and great photos. When you shared did you join or were you joined? Is there a local etiquette for sharing? I see the girls in the white uniforms were managing the dusty dirt considerably better than the white cow!

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  3. For one week I was on an organised trip, visiting organic set-ups – tea, coffee, biodynamic farming out in rural areas, and so that was when I shared the odd rickshaw

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  4. Margaret, I loved reading this post! And, thank you for sharing it on One Person From Around the World too! I have never been to India, but I would like to go! These experiences are trying but memorable! When we went to Turkey a carpet salesman followed us around for three hours even waiting for us after a museum tour so he could hound us some more! I was soooooo rattled. But, then I came across a woman sitting on a bench, who spoke English, when more salesmen came round…..She said to them in a voice you could hear 3 miles a way……..No, I have all the carpets I need thank you! She was FIRM and LOUD and they all slouched away and we had a lovely conversation…….

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      1. Oh, Margaret what a story! It is interesting to see their hospital care is very similar to ours! But, a heck of a lot cheaper! AND it seems when one is down and out, there is always someone there to help! Beautiful people!

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  5. Do you know I have never used a rickshaw? Despite travelling in India and Thailand and even South Africa’s Durban have them. But I did use a taxi to take me around sites in New Delhi (on my second visit) which was very cheap AND he didn’t leave me stranded either OR take me shopping! Unlike a previous taxi driver who insisted we (OH and a friend) would like to see carpets!

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  6. What a great read and photos, capturing exactly the sort of thing I enjoy about India! I’m glad you managed to find your way out of the area where you were dumped – that can’t have been a pleasant experience. But it’s great that it hasn’t soured your overall impressions of the country and its people. I’m off to read your posts about your misadventures there now πŸ™‚

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    1. And I did just read the post about being sick and ending up in hospital rather than your flight home, but comments are closed on that page so I’ll do so here instead. What an experience! I’m glad you emerged unscathed eventually but it must have been so scary to be ill and alone in such a foreign country.

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      1. The worst bit was worrying about money. I’d lost my flight home and needed another (in the end necessitating another internal flight). I didn’t know what the hospital bill would be. And the Insurance Co. did indeed kick off that I hadn’t rung them. I was (a) too ill, and (b) had to use the health workers’ ward phone so could only make one call – and even that wasn’t to my husband who was in transit. As to the rest – I didn’t care. Just lying in peace and quiet was enough for me!

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  7. I have never ridden in an auto rickshaw, only the sort powered by mature and wiry chaps on bicycles. Quite an experience especially when being driven, passengers first, into 6 lanes of heavy traffic. I suspect though that Malaysian traffic is slightly less scary than Indian, and there are no cows in the roads.

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  8. Wonderful story. It reminded me of my experience in a cycle rickshaw in New Dehli. I didnt want to go but my guide insisted.. I felt mutually alarmed and dismayed that the poor gentleman was hauling the two of us AND that he felt he could outrun yellow traffic lights!

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