Faster than a speeding…well, not bullet, that’s for sure. Faster than a speeding walker might be more accurate. And definitely louder! The auto rickshaws of Chennai have always been a source of much enjoyment for us. In some places they have the name ‘tuc tuc’, but in Chennai ‘auto’ serves as an adequate description.
I have always loved the roads in Chennai. It was one of my first experiences there – being driven through the city at 5 in the morning – the heat, the smell, the noise welcoming me to India for the first time. And autos played no small part in that introduction. They produce a variety of sounds, from the creaking, only just alive, wasplike fart of old models with small engines to the powerful hum of a souped up, ‘pimp my auto’, dream of a vehicle. Then there are the horns. I still can’t decide whether I prefer an old school horn as pictured, or the utterly unsuitable, but quite incredible fog horn often heard.
As if the autos themselves were not enough, the drivers make the experience of catching an auto utterly…well, thrilling. In the true sense of the word. I have experienced, more than once, a moment of terror as the auto driver realised they were going the wrong way and simply turned around. In the same lane. Into busy oncoming traffic. As you can tell, we survived every one of these experiences. Not only that, but we got a great set of anecdotes out of it!
If you catch an auto from a busy shopping area you are likely to be ripped off. The drivers are more than happy to charge up to 4 times the reasonable cost in this circumstance – and what can one do about it? You could walk…or you could accept a reduce rate offer in exchange for being dropped off at a couple of VERY EXPENSIVE shops en route. You don’t have to buy anything. You just have to go in. Apparently the driver gets commission for the customers he brings to the shop. He will often claim the incentive is a shirt – but I doubt this is the truth!
One of our fundraising dreams was to travel back from India via auto. That’s approximately 5000 miles. With an average top speed of 30mph, with no stopping AT ALL, it would take 7 days. With NO STOPPING. So, factor in sleep a varying speed and you know, stopping for food etc… and I reckon it would take somewhere near to 3 or 4 weeks. Now, I don’t have another spare month (what with going to Chennai for the whole month of August!), but there is a bunch of people who are attempting something very similar.
Check out their website at www.slowtraintoindia.co.uk for details of their expedition, we’ll certainly be following them on twitter too @slowtraintoindi and also on facebook: slowtrainto India. Very jealous!