Beauty in the breakdowns: driving 3,000 kilometers through India in a rickshaw

by Kim on January 20, 2013 · 33 comments

We’ve all been somehow sucked into this theory that you go out to the airport, you get on the plane, and you end up at the place you’re supposed to be at and there is nothing that interferes. But if you stay on the ground a lot of things would interfere. And they would be what life is all about.”

-Car Talk, National Public Radio

I have a bucket list. I’ve got 83 things on this list. Big things and I add to it often. I want to hike the Appalachian Trail. I want to buy a campervan and drive it across Australia. I want to do an ironman triathlon. I want to write a book.

Never once in the history of my bucket list have I ever considered adding: “Drive a three-wheeled rickshaw 3,500 kilometers down the sub-continent of India.”

That is why I am glad that life often turns out bigger and more beautiful than what we are able to imagine for ourselves.

Kim in rickshaw

I never dreamed that I would putter through India in a tin box with a two-stroke engine. But you know what? I am so glad I did.


I should have known from the beginning that my rickshaw run team, Namaste Outta My Way, was destined for breakdowns. During our three days of pre-rickshaw run test-driving we sputtered to an unexplainable stop at least once a day. We ran out of petrol. We couldn’t start the damn thing to save our lives. Other teams zipped around the grassy parking lot and through the roads of Jaisalmer like they’d been doing it for years. Our little orange rickshaw barely made it down the street.

But we were optimistic. On start-day my teammates, Hannah and Sarah and I, pulled up to the opening processional full of confidence. We believed that our rickshaw was on our side. We showered her with compliments and adoringly assigned her pet names.

Seventy pimped-out rickshaws pulled away from the start-line and into the city streets, blasting music and honking horns. An Indian band played bagpipes and clashed cymbals in our honor. We cheered. And then, ¼ a mile down the road, our tire popped. This is what we call foreshadowing.

Start of rickshaw run 2013


You know that old line “there’s beauty in the breakdown”? It’s true. In fact, I’ve decided to tell my favorite rickshaw run stories around the theme of breakdowns. Our rickshaw, which we naively named Sunny, broke down every single day. But each time that she did we encountered the most astounding people who helped and cared for us.  Indeed, my most wonderful memories are because of the breakdowns.

That flat tire on day one was promptly changed by a group of about twenty-five over-zealous Indians who flipped our rickshaw on its side, bolted our spare into place, and had us on our way in NASCAR-like fashion before we’d even had a chance to blink.

Flat tire rickshaw run

We drove the rick away from Jaisalmer and onto the dusty desert streets, pointed south. The finish line in the southern state of Kerala twinkled in the distance, a massive goal we weren’t quite sure we’d reach.

Goats and cows walked lazily down the highway. Camels extended their long necks like giraffes to eat leaves from the trees on the side of the road. Weathered men in bright pink turbans turned to stare as we slowly rolled past, clocking in at twenty-five miles an hour.

Camel eating leaves

For two hours Sunny ran like a dream. “Isn’t she pretty?” we cooed to each other. I could feel us relaxing, settling in for the long haul. I stuck my head out of the rickshaw and let the sun warm me. The Indian desert was stunning, all dust and open space, the largest sun I’d ever seen was sinking towards the horizon. This is going to be wild, I thought to myself.

Then, just like that, Sunny broke down.

And that was when the magic started.

India sunset

Click here to read all of my posts from the Rickshaw Run.