The Rickshaw Run – Gujarat to Mumbai

It was quite a relief to arrive safely in Surat without any serious breakdowns.  Morning Glory pulled her weight from Khambot for almost 250km all the way to Surat but sadly we didn’t make it out of Gujarat by sundown.  That meant we were still in a dry state on the Rickshaw Run but we got lucky and stayed at a hotel with Tuk Tuk Roost, a team who snuck a bottle of rum across the state lines.  Bonding over the bottle we decided to join forces as a 3 tuktuk caravan and aim for Daman.

Waking early the 3 rickshaws were on the road before sunrise but unfortunately Morning Glory wasn’t a happy camper and sputtered to a halt early on.  The good news was it was simply that a spark plug had popped out.  We screwed it back in and Sarah drove off only to have it sputter to a halt again.  It took another 2 tries before the spark plug stayed put and our caravan was moving again!

I swapped places with Dan from Tuk Tuk Roost to be in the lead and snap photos while making new friends with Caitlin, a fellow American, and Mike, a Dutch gentleman.  We drove along the highway dodging the massive trucks that we were becoming all too accustomed to.  Every chance I could I hung out the side and snapped photos eliciting smiles and high fives from my teammates and crazy stares from the locals.

We were beginning to feel like celebrities driving around India and it became a normal occurrence for cars and motorbikes to pass us with phones extended taking photos and videos.  Wide grins and wild waves happened anytime they weren’t staring in a confused state of disbelief.  One time the 3rd rider on a motorbike even swiveled around to film us while his friends drove in front of us for about 15 km.  They stopped and tried to buy us a beer but we wanted to take advantage of Morning Glory’s chipper mood and kept driving.

Daman was only 125 km from Surat and we thought we were going to get there without any other incidents when suddenly Morning Glory’s muffler fell off.  Joe was driving Afternoon Delight and expertly swerved avoiding an accident as they pulled off to the side.  I was still leading in Tuk Tuk Roost and had no idea this was happening.  We stopped a few hundred meters down the highway when I noticed they weren’t following us and rolled along a service road to find them “securing the muffler” to the roof!

She was loud before and now it sounded like a jet engine driving down the highway.  The stares earlier somehow grew even more frequent as they could hear us coming from miles away.    Luckily we only had about 40 km to go so the Morning Glory team donned ear plugs and we gave her a wide berth.  The beach and cold beer was waiting for us in Daman!

We arrived by noon and had a celebratory beer before Ben, Sarah and I ventured forth to find a mechanic.  Over the last few days 2nd and 3rd gear started slipping into neutral and we needed to re-attach the muffler.  Our hotel found a mechanic just down the road and he was just the man for the job.  A quick weld and the muffler was on; then he pulled out what I assume was the clutch (or perhaps transmission) greased it up, banged some things and popped it back in.

Morning Glory was alive once again so we joined the pool party in Daman.  The aforementioned beach turned out to be quite polluted but I sent out an open invite to the WhatsApp Rickshow group to join our caravan at a classy hotel with a pool.   Before we knew it 5 teams were jamming out and having a relaxing day with us.  We swapped breakdown stories and swam in the pool well past sunset.  Eventually everyone trickled back to their rooms for a dreaded hungover morning of driving.

I kept my beers in check and was much better off than most of the others the next day but we all rolled out of bed and jumped back in.  Today it was just Morning Glory and Afternoon Delight; we were aiming for going around Mumbai to protect our security deposit from the dents and dings of the city.  With any luck we could pull another 300+ day and make it all the way to Pune where we might even catch an IPL cricket match.

The drive started well and highway driving was getting easier everyday.  Joe commented how “we must be getting better because we downshift as we slow down now” and I think everyone was feeling quite comfortable behind the wheel.  Morning Glory was still a little jumpy in 2nd and 3rd gear but Ben discovered that if you hold the handle just right it isn’t so bad.  Plus highway driving is mostly 4th gear anyway.

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Stopping for lunch we bumped into the Sweet Ride team and shared breakdown stories.  Morning Glory held the trophy among everyone we met for most visits to a mechanic but rumor was of Team Mustachio who had 14 attempts to leave Jodhpur only to breakdown every time!  Heading in different directions we opted no to caravan too long with Sweet Ride.  With any luck we could drive through our first national park before skirting the suburbs of Mumbai.

Both tuktuks were riding well as the afternoon wore on.  Morning Glory’s top speed still had us limited to about 45 km/h but we were planning on cruising all day when she sadly puttered to a halt yet again.  This time we were on the highway and were sure that we could fix it ourselves.  We changed spark plugs, filled the fuel, changed a filter or two and checked everything we knew how but nothing would work.  The one time we wanted a gaggle of locals trying to help we were stuck in between the hills of Tungareshwar National Park on Highway 48.  That meant little traffic and no roadside villages to come see what these strange white people were doing in a rickshaw.

We started to discuss towing her 14km to the next town with Afternoon Delight when I flagged down a Highway Patrol car who happily stopped and jumped right into action.  They were able to push start Morning Glory a few times but every time drove a few meters and stopped dead.  Discouraged but not disheartened we agreed to let the patrol car tow us to town and the magical friendliness of Indian locals warmed our hearts.  They drove us around for over an hour and dropped us right at a mechanic before explaining the issues and negotiating a good price!  It would take almost an hour and a half between getting the parts and labor so they even drove us to a nearby restaurant too.

Morning Glory had broken an O-ring and a piston which they replaced before cleaning and greasing up every inch of her engine.  The whole treatment only cost us 1000 rupees ($15) and we were back on the road by the time we were finished eating.  The tow had taken us much further south than planned but we could still skirt the outside of Mumbai and find somewhere to stay without driving through the dreaded megalopolis.

I took the wheel as suburbs became more and more urban.  The highways felt like massive waves rolling up and down overpasses while apartment buildings replaced the natural landscapes of earlier in the day.  The Eastern Express Highway leads directly to downtown Mumbai but we only took it for a second jumping back on Highway 48 and then the Mumbai Highway leading out of the city.  Except that out of the city meant straight towards Navi Mumbai aka New Mumbai.

Traffic grew thick with tuktuks, bicycles, cars, trucks and pedestrians.  There were a few traffic lights but most intersections were still sign-less circles with everyone blaring their horns.  Driving alongside an overpass meant we could peer into the tents of the street children and gypsies living in squalid conditions.  We stopped at a light as a little girl approached looking hungry and gesturing towards her mouth.  Just before the light turned green we handed her some fruit and a bag of chips we had lying around (we’d have done it earlier but didn’t want all her friends to swarm us)

One benefit to driving in Mumbai meant there were actually traffic lights, street signs and painted lanes.  Well, sometimes there were.  Sarah found a cheap place on the way out of the city and we ended up staying in a section of Navi Mumbai called Panvel.  With another grueling day behind us we crashed early and were excited to head to Konya Wildlife Reserve tomorrow!

 

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Mike Still
Mike is a travel enthusiast, photographer and teacher. He loves adventure travel, meeting the locals and exploring new culture. As an outdoor enthusiast you can often find him hiking mountains or exploring forests trying to capture the beauty of mother nature. In 2013 he founded www.LiveTravelTeach.com as he left his home in America and has been teaching or traveling around the world ever since!

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