Three wheeling through India
AS anyone who’s travelled through Asia would well know, hopping in a tuk-tuk (or auto rickshaw) is not for the faint-hearted. As for actually driving one, that is another matter entirely. I recently visited the Puducherry and Tamil Nadu regions of southern India with friends to do exactly that. For seven days, we navigated through monsoonal weather, chaotic traffic and potholed roads filled with wandering cows, all in a tiny bright pink, threewheeled tuk-tuk with a two-stroke engine. We’d have been hard pressed to have found a more authentic way to see the country. From driving through crowded Diwali celebrations in Thanjavur to manually working the windscreen wiper in the torrential rain in Chennai, we felt “at one” with the locals.
For the first time in my adult life, having no windows (or doors, for that matter) had its benefits. It allowed locals driving alongside on motorbikes to lean in and clap me with a high five; or present me with a slightly windblown bunch of flowers. But it also meant we couldn’t escape the belch of diesel fumes from passing buses, countered, in one case, by the heavy scent of jonquils floating from the hair adornment of a sari-clad passenger. Driving at 60km/h would prove painful to a driver of any other vehicle, but in a tuk-tuk, we jostled to see who would get behind the handlebar each morning. We broke down frequently, and on every occasion were swiftly surrounded by interested locals who fixed a snapped gear cord, replaced a spark plug or filled an empty fuel tank within minutes and mostly at no cost.
Admittedly, driving in the cities was the ultimate test with overcrowded buses, pedestrians and motorbikes interweaving in an only-in-India hierarchical order. Conversely, driving on quieter country roads meant time to reflect on our surroundings. Monkeys dotted the roads and winding creeks bubbled alongside. Herds of bleating goats were shepherded from one field to the next, and groups of uniformed schoolchildren wandered home after class. Bananas sold at stands provided our sustenance between curries at kiosks where men in lungis dished out dhal and parotta flat bread on banana leaves.
After a week, honking and weaving through traffic became second nature. It was a thrilling and treasured insight into one of the world’s most colourful cultures. Send your 400-word contribution to Follow the Reader: email@example.com. au. Columnists receive a Travelon Anti-Theft Classic Travel Bag featuring FRID blocking technology, metal mesh lining, detachable cutproof shoulder strap and lockable zippers. $115. More: 1800 331 690; travelonbags.com.