Thursday 2 August 2012

Tuk Tuks : The Kings of the Road!

By far my most favourite mode of transport in Bombay (and far and above our car and driver) is the Tuk Tuk. Mr Jules calls them Dodgems but I think of them as Shopping Trolleys With Engines - never quite going in the direction you want them to.

A Mumbai Auto-Rickshaw
Tuk Tuks - or Auto-Rickshaw as they are more properly named (and also known as tempo, trishaw, auto, rickshaw, autorick, bajaj, rick, tricycle, mototaxi, baby taxi or lapa in different areas around the world), provide cheap and efficient transportation to millions of ordinary people in Mumbai. There are around 250,000 of them in the city with the newer models running on CNG (bottles of gas!), making them environmentally friendly. Many major nationalized banks in India offer loans to self-employed individuals seeking to make a living from driving an Auto-Rickshaw.  In Mumbai, the auto-ricks are not actually allowed within the old city limits (basically south of the sea-link) so it is us lucky suburbanites that get to use them.

Officially, you can get three people in the back of a rickshaw (or two Brits/one American/eight Indians and a goat) and I have seen six-seater rickshaws in other parts of Maharashtra that act as shared taxis between villages. Normally their fare rates are controlled by the government with traffic meters and official rate cards (which Indian style, can not be deciphered by the most literate of persons) but if you have white skin, drivers will try to charge about three times the normal rate.  Although they can't catch Mr Jules and I out now, we know that a ten minute ride between here and Linking Road should cost about 13 rupees (15 pence).  We don't carp too much if they try to con us out of the equivalent of 50 pence - but it annoys the locals as they will accuse us expats of driving up prices.  I guess they have a point.

All rickshaw drivers wear the same uniform - light brown shirt and trousers and they generally drive with no shoes on.  And for some wierd reason that I am yet to fathom, a lot of them drive with one leg tucked up under the other leg so that their bare feet are facing vehicles that come up along side (which I HATE seeing due to my foot phobia!). Usually the drivers do not understand English - 'left!' always seems to mean right and 'right!' always seems to mean left (but perhaps it earns them a few more rupees...?)

The horrible foot thing!

The experience of riding in a 'rick' is second to none.  The roads of Mumbai are not the best maintained and as most people know, the traffic is mental (by which I mean life threatening).  You really are taking your life into your own hands when you get into one of these careering three wheelers - a dodgem ride is tame by comparison! You've got two open sides with a miniscule bar on only one of the sides to hold you in, a flimsy roof and a tiny moped engine.  The driver, Brands Hatch Style, will weave you in and out of every nook and cranny of the traffic, speeding over bumps, (as with swimming, do not ride in a tuk tuk straight after eating), dodging buffalo, skimming over potholes, bumping into pedestrians, turning corners without looking, and crossing over junctions when there is a ten tonne vehicle heading towards you.  At traffic lights (of which there are few), there is usually a 'face-off' between rickshaws - you might see about ten of them, each one nudging ahead of the other until they're all in the middle of the road with a large stream of traffic coming towards them. 

There is no regard for anything else on the road and no regard for human life.  But funnily enough you get where you want to be really quickly and all in one piece.  Love it, give that man a huge tip! 

Some more tuk-tuk images:

Just a few flimsy taped wires connecting the engine to the steering wheel
 - think this one could do with an overhaul!

A queue of ricks in Margao, Goa - slightly different models to the ones in Mumbai
- they have flashy built sides with windows!

View from inside - surrounded by revving ricks.

This rick is acting as the local breadvan, delivering to our cornershop.

"Only 3 passengers"....or only 100 loaves of bread.

Tuk Tuks aren't just for transporting people, I've seen all manner of things being carted about including gas canisters and mattresses.  This little food van has definitely seen better days.
This driver was actually taking a cap-nap at the traffic lights.....

After a day of stressing himself and his passengers out, this
driver is taking a well earned break.
An unusually spacious road - these auto-ricks are virtually waltzing!

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