On the eve of our departure, I wanted to write a little something about the rickshaw — the three-wheeled Indian taxi that you steer like a motorbike.
We took rickshaws all the time, and preferred them over regular taxi cars because they were always cheaper. However, for any rides longer than 40-45 minutes, or if the road is particularly rough or dusty, you might want a car.
Rickshaws are open-air, which helps you feel connected with what's going on in the street as you drive through. In a car with the windows rolled up, it can be easy to look at India as if it were an exhibit in a museum, and you are one step removed from it. But in a rickshaw, you are there with everyone in the street. You can smell the street food, the exhaust, and the cows inevitably blocking the road.
Rickshaw drivers act more like motorbikes than they do cars; they dart in between other vehicles and pedestrians, careen around corners, and speed you to your destination as if you are late for a flight with the characteristic putt-putt of the engine blaring along behind you.
I also like the personality rickshaw drivers insert into the car-for-hire trade. Regular taxi car drivers may have a single Virgin Mary on their dashboard, or a rosary hanging from the rearview mirror, but rickshaw drivers don't mess with that. They decorate their rickshaws like Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade floats. Tassles, colorful banners across the top of the windshield praising Krishna, bells, window paint, huge peel-and-stick representations of Jesus on the cross — some are quite extravagant.
And I like that about rickshaw drivers. They know they're going to be in this vehicle for the better part of the day, and it's their livelihood. They assert themselves through it.
Some drivers are chatty; some are all business. Some drive alongside you as you walk on the side of the road and goad you into giving them a fare.
For me, the rickshaw has been a big part of the India experience, and I like it!