“Covering 3900 odd kilometers in a rickshaw is definitely no easy feat,” says Matt Dickens. whose superfun Rickshaw Run became a runaway hit from the word Go!
Nearly 100 teams compete at one or all of the three runs each year, held in January, April and August. They race across the Indian subcontinent, and there is no official route. Who won? No one really cares. The fun is in the run! Founded in 2006, it is an event that revels in the unknown, and brings strangers together as they hit the ground running.
So how the Dickens did Matt get hooked to such a madcap idea? His story, in his own words:
“I grew up in a sleepy little village between Bristol and Bath in the South West of England. Maybe growing up somewhere so tranquil was what fueled my thirst for adventure in the first place. I’m currently a mere 34 years old – though I try not to act it. Before I joined The Adventurists I dabbled in what felt like about a thousand different jobs, ranging from interior design, window cleaning, retail, working backstage in music festivals and even occasionally as an extra on TV and films. I also travelled a fair bit, leaving behind the UK for distant (usually sunnier) climes as soon as I’d saved up enough money to stay away for at least a good six months. I’ve only visited around 50 countries so far though, so I still have a sizeable chunk of the world to get through.
Rickshaw Run has been a major turning point of my life. I was travelling in Brazil back in 2006 when I first heard about it. I took one look at the website and the idea of travelling from the south of India to its far east in a rickshaw seemed too amazing and ridiculous to ignore. I signed up the very moment.
I made my way to India for the inaugural run in January 2007 and the experience was brilliant! It completely surpassed anything I imagined. During our ride from Cochin in Kerala to Darjeeling in West Bengal (participants now ride towards Shillong in Meghalaya), what amazed me the most, and still amazes the participants now, was the friendliness and helpfulness of the people of India as a whole. Don’t get me wrong, I mean, it’s obviously difficult too. Covering 3900 odd kilometers in a rickshaw is definitely no easy feat. It’s a hell of a lot of driving, it’s noisy, it’s dirty, and it can be at times rather nerve-wrecking (to put it mildly – you’ve never known real fear until an Indian bus bears down upon you in the middle of the night). However, the most beautiful of my memories are of those spent with the locals, be it in any city, town or village.
During my Run in 2007, we went first to Munnar, arriving at 2 am and not managing to find a place to stay—finally sleeping in a chocolate factory of all places. We then proceeded to Malalapuram, Orissa, skirted the city of Kolkata and headed up to Darjeeling. It’s simply just a great way to see the country. I discovered different sights, cultures, food, languages…everything. We couldn’t go too fast, and everywhere we went, we stuck out like a sore thumb and attracted a crowd. We certainly got a taste of the real India though. It’s not until you’re completely lost, and broken down in the middle of nowhere with nothing but some hand gestures and a smile to get you through, that you realise what a great experience it is.
I think one of the best experiences for me on the Run was when we were in a tribal area of Orissa. We’d been driving on narrow roads for 2-3 days and we were literally lost, with no real idea of where we were. Then, before we knew it, we came across a huge Mela. We were invited to be a part of a crowd of almost 4000 locals. We were also made guests of honour, asked to sit at the front and judge a singing competition. Much like Indian Idol, I recall.
Once we left, after a fair share of fun of course, we again lost our way in the rural countryside. An hour on the road, we realised we were completely exhausted and needed a place to sleep. We didn’t get the bed we were dreaming of. Instead, an entire village took us in, and we spent the night drinking some strange (and apparently potent) local liquor. Hours were spent in a blur of traditional songs, extreme drumming, shaking hands, and making of new friends. I’d never felt so much hospitality in one place, it was surely a night I’ll never forget.
I believe the best thing that the participants take away from the Rickshaw Run is a better understanding of themselves. Some of these people have never even been out of their home countries before, and to suddenly be in control of a rickshaw on Indian roads is more than an eye-opener, it’s a life-changer. It can be a very humbling experience too. I hope that it teaches people to have a little respect for India. It’s an insane place sometimes, but there’s a kind of method in the madness, and as long as you don’t try to control India and simply go with the flow, you will have the most incredible experience here.”