Rickshaw-ing around town

Getting around Mumbai is not the easiest thing in the world. The traffic is literally insane, and flagging a taxi down is no easy task. There are plenty of buses, but I wasn’t really there long enough to brave that system. Walking? Forget it. There’s absolutely nowhere to do so. Even when there are sidewalks, they basically just serve as an extra lane of traffic. (The most optimistic thing I’ve ever done in my entire life was pack my running shoes on this trip, thinking I might be able to squeeze in an early-morning jog one day before it got too hot. Ha! Big mistake. The best I’d have been able to do would have been the 10-meter driveway to my hotel.)

And all this explains why my favorite way of traveling in India is definitely the rickshaw.

These motorized three-wheelers with the comical, high-pitched horns might not look or sound like much, but they are an absolute secret weapon to getting through traffic. Maneuverable and speedy, they can turn on a dime! Plus, they’re open-air, and while that’s maybe not quite as comfortable as an air-conditioned car in the Indian summer, the breeze feels so great as you whizz from one place to the next.

I’ve taken similar tuk-tuks before in other countries, but it’s been a few years, and I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere where they’re quite so integrated with normal traffic vehicles. These babies are everywhere!

And the drivers are fearless. They just barrel straight into oncoming traffic, weaving through vehicles four times their size, cutting off multiple lanes of cars, buses, and trucks to make a turn, U-turning without slowing down, etc.

The only challenge is getting them to take you in the first place: sometimes I’d be turned down because I wasn’t going far enough and they wanted a bigger fare. Or sometimes I was going too far, and they just didn’t want to.

Occasionally, the promise of a tip could help, because these rides are dirt cheap, by Western standards. A 20-minute ride to another part of town might run you 40 rupees, or about $0.50. Once, I didn’t have any small change, and as I pulled a bill out of my wallet, my friend Ritesh protested, “You can’t give him a 400% tip!” “But it’s only 2 dollars!” I exclaimed, failing dramatically at Indian Negotiation 101. Ritesh gave me the girlfriend, PLEASE look that’s pretty much universal no matter what country you’re in.

Ok, so I’m not a practiced rickshaw-er yet.

But boy are they fun.


 P.S. I’ve literally just had a mind-blowing thought: There are so many people with the last name Shah in India—wouldn’t it be amazing if one of them were actually named Rick?!?!?!

Imagine being at an airport: “Paging Rick Shah.”

I love it.