Before we knew it, we were registered with The Adventurist, the organization putting on the race, and Frank Water, a project that we were fundraising for which would bring clean drinking water to India. At the basic level, we were to be given a rickshaw at the starting line and told where the finish would be. The 3,000km in between, whether it was accommodations and food, engine problems and encounters with the police, or anything else we could fathom, would be completely up to us. We assembled two teams; Grabby and Pat added Nick and Eric (both friends of Pats) and called themselves “Shaw to Curry Favor” (STCF), and I teamed up with Mike and Justin and dubbed ourselves “Triple Threat” (TT).
Four of us arrived at the Delhi Airport in India. Since we had a few days to kill before the race started, we decided to do some touristy things. At this point it was just Grabby, Mike, Justin and myself. We had a driver reserved that picked us up from the airport and took us to our hostel. As one could imagine the country seemed like complete chaos as soon as we arrived. Sensory overload was instant with all of the sounds, smells, and sights zipping past us. Upon arriving at the hostel the first thing we had to do was check to make sure our trains for the next few days were still good to go. They weren’t. We hadn’t made it onto any of the train lists so we had to cancel our reservation. The great staff at the hostel decided to help us out and give us a taxi and a driver for the 900km we had to go. Because of the mishap with the trains, our stay in Delhi was cut very short, and so, in order to at least see some of the city, our hostel arranged for a driver that would take us around town that evening. We went to a few temples and monuments where he snapped some photos of us before taking us to this excellent India restaurant called RDX for dinner. We had to call it a night at this point because the next day was an early one.
At the crack of dawn our cabbie picked us up (late of course – as everything seems to be in India) and we started our trek to Agra in order to see the Taj Mahal. After hours of long drives through the desert, many pit stops for road side food, and beggars with monkeys that wanted photos for which they charged through the roof, we arrived in Agra and spent an hour driving around as our cabbie tried to find the hostel we reserved. It was a nice hostel but hidden away, under construction, and freezing cold. The caretakers slept on the floor behind the reception desk. This is actually something we noticed a lot of in India. It seems that many people sleep at their place of employment. So many times we’d pull up to fuel stations and restaurants early in the morning just to wake the staff so that they could begin their workday.
We arrived at our hostel and our cabbie disappeared, so we decided to go for a walk. We found a Pizza Hut and of course went in to order some pizza and copious amounts of beer. The entire staff, about 12 of them, stood around our table and watched these white guys devour enormous pizzas and lots of beer, only serving the other customers when necessary. They took photos and entertained us, and one of the staff members actually asked to take a photo with Grabby and his shirt off – They were impressed with his physique. After this gong-show, we grabbed a cup of coffee and stumbled back to our freezing hostel because the next day was going to be incredibly long as well.
In the morning we visited the Taj Mahal. This was an interesting experience because it is such a legendary place and our tour guide had so much useful information, but we couldn’t see anything. The grounds were rifled with fog and the typical “perspective photo” that every tourist takes at the Taj was just four guys standing against a foggy wall. Ha! Going into the Taj Mahal was fascinating as we saw all of the huge marble slabs that were transported there by elephant and the embedded gemstones that glow in the moonlight. But as everything so far in our trip we had to wrap things up and start moving on. We had 14 hours of driving ahead of us that day. Bikaner was our next destination.
We soon realized that until now our friend Justin was being ignored everywhere we went. We deduced that because he was brown (somewhere in his family lineage he is of Indian descent), most Indians didn’t think he was a tourist but instead our driver. They wouldn’t take his order, speak to him, or even give him a menu. In addition, we noticed that our driver was never around. He didn’t eat with us nor did he sleep with us. He always had some local version offered to him. In order to figure out this discrepancy we decided to make friends with him and found out that we had one wild driver. Now that he had friends, he decided to start driving like he usually does: with traffic, against traffic, through red lights and on sidewalks. Upon arriving in Bikaner our driver crashed into a few guys riding a moped, spoke with them, and just brushed it off and moved on. When we arrived at our hotel we had some dinner in the lobby bar while watching a musician play a sitar. Next thing we know our driver stumbles in with a bottle of whiskey and a package of cigarettes ready to party. There was obviously trekking in india no partying going to happen, so we took him back to his trunk, where he seemed to have set up camp, and talked him out of a series of immanent bad decisions.
The following morning we began the last leg of our drive to Jaisalmer but not before having to pull aside in the freezing cold morning desert to fix a flat tire. We checked into our beautiful desert rooms and met up with the other guys of our seven-person rickshaw brigade and started to explore Jaisalmer. Jaisalmer is a gorgeous city built inside and around an old desert fortress. With narrow walkways and vast culture enveloping the atmosphere, it is the perfect place to start our race. We walked out to the starting line and obtained our rickshaw. We had designed it with our faces all over the front and the back. To our shock, not only did we obtain the best of the hired artists to paint it but it was also the most difficult one there. It caused the artists to draw straws for painting it. This was the day for pimping our rides. Along with 70+ other rickshaws, we had it pained, installed disco lights, novelty horns, stereo systems and even some decorations and tassels for the inside and out. The evening finished off with a party at the palace.
The next day was followed up with some more pimping and a cricket match. Mike, Justin and myself went into town and found a local cab driver that took us deep into the causeways of the fortress to find a shop where we could buy some authentic Indian clothes for that evenings new years festivity. We bought identical pants, shirts and turbans – and boy was it ever a hit. We met up with STCF for an amazing camel ride into the desert to see the sunset and interact with the nomadic desert people, who, regardless of how poor they seemed, all had fully functioning cell phones. That evening we celebrated New Years Eve at the palace where the music was loud (and terrible), the fireworks were loud and colourful, and the alcohol was plentiful and served by staff that didn’t know we were bringing bottles back to our tables. It was a great night that prepared us for the beginning of the race the next day.