April 23, 2011

How to: Ride a Rickshaw 101

Wow. First full day in India and I already made my way into a manual rickshaw! Rickshaws are small carts, usually for 2-3 passengers and are motorized, manually pedaled like a bicycle or pulled. I didn't realize that some people are clueless about rickshaws so...

This is a picture of a common auto rickshaw in India (and maybe other places, I am not sure)

And this is an almost identical picture to the manual rickshaw I rode this afternoon/evening...

In the interest of lighter suitcases and no worry about blowing up my home electronic appliances, I did not pack my hair dryer, flat iron, alarm clock, etc. You need plug adapters and voltage converters for those things and I heard these appliances would be very inexpensive to buy once I got here. So, seeing as my first day of training is Monday (and it's 2:20am Sunday right now - Happy Easter! He is risen!), I needed to venture out of the hotel compound and find a flat iron. The hotel staff and my local contact said to call a driver for the trip to the market because walking there is a 30-minute endeavor in 90+ degree heat.

The last person we spoke to before leaving hailed a rickshaw - a manual one at that - and who are we to argue, right? 30 rupees for the trip (~$0.75) and we're there! So, we leave and immediately see why this ride is so cheap! If you've been to Mexico and I say that the road conditions and driving are worse than Mexico, you will know how crazy it is. The signs that line the highway speak volumes: "Lane driving is sane driving!" Not that I mind it too much - when in Rome, right?! People give lots of cautionary honks along the way (honking is not an aggressive behavior like at home) but wow! Talk about asking the good Lord for safe travels hahaha!

We arrived at the open-air market and in my mind I determined to not stay too late as I did not want to experience the rickshaw in the dark. Many Indian friends suggested that I not stay out of the hotel past dark so that was in the back of my mind as well. What happened though? We became so intrigued with the shops and just plain observing everything around us that it was past sunset before we asked for a ride back to our hotel.

Galleria open-market in Gurgaon

Let me say a couple of things here before going on: first, "we" includes Fima - my Canadian teammate - and myself, i.e. we both are fair-skinned people that stand out quite well as the tourist type; the roads in the city are DARK at night as street lights are not that common; many of the locals do not speak English very well; NOTHING has a formal street address - every place is only labeled with a city phase (district) number, identifying what part of town it is. So, I can't just say - "hey, take me to 12345 Gurgaon Avenue" - street addresses don't exist.

So we've approached the curb, ready to hail a rickshaw for our supposedly quick trip back to the hotel. Immediately a bidding war takes place between two rickshaw drivers and Fima is reminding them, "we only paid 30 rupees to get here, we are not paying more than that." We climb into one rickshaw just for him to say no, the other guy will take us (not sure why the change of heart after he won the bidding contest). We agree to pay him 40 rupees because we really just want to get back since it's past dark already.

Needless to say, we fell for the ole switcheroo and ended up at an apartment complex whose name is not even close to the name of our hotel. My gullible mind says that this guy just doesn't know what we told him about the hotel while Manish - my Indian co-worker who arrived late this evening - says that the rickshaw driver pretended to not know so that he could turn back around and take us to the right hotel for a higher fee. Please take a moment and attempt to understand this logic.

1) He manually cycled the cart, easily weighing 400 lbs, in the opposite direction of the hotel before turning around. 2) He might have been 5'2" and maybe 100 lbs. 3) He had to ride UP A HILL. 4) It was dark, late, crowded, and the traffic was quite thick. Why do all of this for 20 extra rupees?!

We finally arrived back to our hotel, he demanded 60 rupees with a big smile on his face and while Fima was generous with 50 rupees, I relented (for the sake of ending the argument) and pitched in the last 10. 60 rupees is equavilent to about $1.50 and whether or not he "got lost" intentionally, I don't mind adding in just a few more cents. This guy probably makes $100-150 in a month, let him have it.

You'll be happy to know, the entire experience allowed me to purchase just one pack of gum and some chocolate biscuits (cookies). More than that, I had an experience that even Manish has never had himself! SWEET!

All was relatively safe and I enjoyed it. Eh. Lesson learned, right? And in case you're wondering, I did not purchase a flat iron. I guess "cheap" just means cheaper than a Chi or something. The prices were 1700-2000 rupees, i.e. $40-49!*

Until next time, friends - cheers!

*Update: I found out today that shopping in Gurgaon is a great deal more expensive compared to nearby Delhi. So, in fact, flat irons can be quite cheap, just not in Gurgaon apparently!

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