It all started with a round of scotch…a couple of years ago. We raised a glass of scotch and agreed to participate in a crazy adventure known as the Autorickshaw Challenge – we didn’t have too many details, but it sounded cool and we figured it would be a fun adventure!
Riding a three wheeled contraption through parts of India? Let’s blame it on the scotch. We picked the Classic Run – Chennai to Kanyakumari (Poovar), but we weren’t sure which year we would do it! 2010? 2011? 2012? We gave 2010 a pass, so that we had additional time to plan and guess 2011 was the year.
Planning phase: May/June through December 2011
Visas, vaccinations, trip logistics, blah blah blah….check
In addition to having fun, how about we give back to the community as part of this ride as well? Brilliant idea, but how do go about doing it?
We came up with the idea of raising funds for two charities so that we can buy two new autorickshaws for them and donate it to them after the ride? Great idea! Next up – which charity? And how do we make this work?
A bunch of charities came to mind, and we sent out random emails to gather their interest in partnering with us. Not a lot of luck in terms of positive responses. Finally it clicked – Udavum Karangal and Rotary Club of Ashok Nagar responded favorably. During one of my trips to India in October, I stopped by both the offices of Udavum Karangal and met with Mr. Vidyaakar. A very pleasant and welcoming person, he was very interested in moving forward with our idea. He felt they could use the rickshaw on a daily basis and that it would fill one of their needs. First partnership….check!
Thanks for my dad’s efforts, Rotary Club of Ashok Nagar was also quite keen on joining hands with us. A rickshaw would help the club’s activities – the school work and possibly even with the polio campaigns. Second partnership…check!
How much is an autorickshaw anyways? Well, that was the next stop – my dad and I stopped by the dealership and enquired about prices, delivery times and booking processes. I guess there is a lot of demand for these three-wheeled contraptions…they cost you Rupees 150,000 (approx. $3000) and take 3-4 weeks to be delivered. That meant we had to make the bookings by mid-November, so we could take possession of them by mid-December. Big decision – do we commit to raising the $3000 each for the charities?
November team huddles
Team Seattle was convinced that we should commit to raising funds for the charities. Minor details remained – how? What kind of a fundraiser? Can we do it on time?
Meanwhile, everyone was making progress on buying their air-tickets (except Lea of course). What do we call our teams? Blink and we’ll be Gone Dhi? Tuk and Roll? We needed two names since we had two entries in the challenge. We have a winner – To Tuk n Roll and Tuk and Roll Too.
What about the fundraising? We decided to do it in three parts – online through a website like Just Give, a fundraiser dinner and use our trivia team’s support. Thanks to Jeremy, we had a Just Give website set up and we reached out to friends and family with a fundraiser email. Udayan took the lead on the fundraiser dinner – Mohammed (Bengal Tiger) responded extremely favorably, and sounded like we had an eager partner in helping us host this fundraiser.
Sponsorships – while we are at it, can we also try and secure some sponsorship from some corporate entities for our insane adventure? Why not?
Where do we start? Divide and conquer. Everyone started reaching out to their contacts and cast a wide net to see if there was any potential interest. Will anyone bite? Guess we were lucky – Jeremy and Kelly secured a commitment from Zimmer; Trudy secured a commitment from her sister’s Jeep club in WA. We were extremely encouraged by this. I contacted a dozen or so companies and organizations (cold calls one could say) – one negative response and eleven emails lost in cyberspace!
Thanks to friends and family!
Our team is extremely grateful to all our friends and family who stepped up to contribute towards both the charities and our cause. Within a matter of one month, we had exceeded our goal of raising at least $4000 each for the charities. In fact, we ended up raising nearly $6000 for Udavum Karangal. A BIG THANK YOU to everyone for helping us make this happen.
Due to a work trip I couldn’t be present in Seattle on the day of the fundraiser. The entire team worked hard to plan this event – flyers, tickets, raffles, prizes, food, beer and most importantly coordinating with Mohammed.
It sounded like I missed a fun night!
Progress on purchasing the rickshaws
My dad had made the deposit by mid-November, and our rickshaw orders were placed. We wait patiently to hear back from the dealership…
Update as of December 1, 2011
Team Tuk n Roll’s travel plans were all confirmed (including Lea’s). Yay! Additional sponsorships secured from Kingfisher and Chennai Super Kings! Thanks to Ramnika’s efforts and connections, we secured a commitment from Kingfisher – the king of good times! My dad helped out again, and was able to help us out with the Chennai Super Kings outreach. Was I delighted to hear that they were committing to supporting our team’s efforts as well? Fundraising goals met for our two charities. What’s left? Arrive in India and have fun J
I landed in India (Kolkata) on December 13th, 2011 for a work meeting, and officially my vacation started on the 16th of December. Vacation…well sort of. We still needed to get the rickshaws from the dealership, have them registered, get the sponsor’s designs and have the rickshaws painted per the sponsor’s design and have them ready for the training on 29th of December. All of this needed to happen in 13 days! In India…things take time to happen, but they will happen if you play it right.
Thanks for Kelly and her brother (who designed it), we got some snazzy shirts made for the team. Lea is happy that they are in U of Oregon colors. We look official!
A dynamic team of Mr. Chocka and Ms. Bala met me for coffee the week I landed in Chennai. Think OPN is the creative agency for CSK. Thanks to their input on the design and artwork for the rickshaw, we were able to get a detailed design and artwork ready for the CSK rickshaw. They arranged for CSK jerseys for our team members and fan jerseys for the girls as well.
Team Tuk n Roll trickles in to Chennai
Lea landed on the 25th. Dave, Trudy and Udayan touched down on the 28th. Kelly and Jeremy arrived by train on the 29th morning.
Our flat in Chennai was chosen as the team pad in Chennai. My parents had gotten the place ready for us, and with Lea’s help we got the guest bedrooms set up as well. My mom had even arranged for a person to come by every afternoon to cook us some delicious rotis, sabzi and daal. All systems were a GO!
Udayan had a consulate appointment on the 28th morning, so my dad, Dave and I dropped him off on our way to Udavum Karangal (to finalize our site visit, pick up autorickshaw documents and lease agreement). Following our brief meeting with Mr. Vidyaakar, we made another hike out to Thirumullaivoyal to check on the status of the rickshaw painting. We had one day before training, so we figured the rickshaws would be almost ready….guess we were in for a surprise. After a long journey (nearly 1 hr from Udavum Karangal) we reached Chennai Garage to find out that not only were they not ready yet, BOTH the rickshaws were painted in the same Yellow color (guess it is cheaper to buy one color and use it for both?). In spite of repeated calls, emails, queries regarding the design….this is what we have 24 hrs before the training. The light yellow works for the Kingfisher auto, but the Chennai Super Kings color was completely off.
The evening party at the club was a welcome treat! We cooled off with some Kingfishers, good company and delicious food at the Alumni Club.
29th of December – the practice riot!
An early start to the day – for some reason, I always enjoy going to the train station (Madras Central). Perhaps it is the fond memories of leaving on a vacation as a kid; perhaps it is the ability to see and hear the crowds either looking forward to their trip or waiting for their family/friends. This time around, we headed out to pick up Kelly and Jeremy who arrived by the Hyderabad Express at around 7 am. Raju(my brother’s father in law) was kind enough to drive Kelly and Jeremy home, while my dad and I set out on the mission to make sure the Chennai Super Kings rickshaw was painted the right color. How hard is it to get the color right? Well…in this case it took several tries! Thanks to Mr. Rengarajan, we seemed to have winner, and hopefully have the CSK rickshaw completed by the 30th evening. This meant we were going to have just one rickshaw for the practice day. One is better than none, right?
It was pouring cats and dogs, but we set out to the training facility to test our driving skills. You have to see some videos to really appreciate the crazy weather under which we were “practicing”. We took turns to ride the Kingfisher rickshaw. If you see the pictures or the videos, it might not look like the Kingfisher rickshaw. It was still lacking the stickers and artwork, but we were glad we had a rickshaw to practice. Practice makes perfect….yes, but the motivation to stand outside in a Chennai cyclone and take turns to drive the rickshaw was fast disappearing. Thankfully, the rain gods took pity on us and took some breaks. All in all…we were completely soaked, cold, and couldn’t wait to be indoors, but there was one thing that kept us going…we better get comfortable riding this contraption otherwise the next 7 days were going to be extremely tough!
We were impressed with the teams who drove back (in the pouring rain) from the practice facility to the event hotel!
The organizers had planned for a kick-off party at a new club that evening, and in spite of the rains and strong winds, we had an excellent turn out. We got a chance to meet some of the other teams, and enjoy some cold, refreshing Kingfishers! Tomorrow is going to be a long day, but we are all excited about the visit to Udavum Karangal’s facility in Thiruverkadu.
30th of December – visit to Udavum Karangal and the press meet!
An early morning start in order to make it to Udavum Karangal and back in time for the press meet. The visit to Mr. Vidyaakar’s Udavum Karangal facility was definitely one of the highlights of the trip! We had picked up some pens, pencils, erasers, etc. for the kids the night before and made an emergency stop at a roadside shop on our way to Shanthivanam to pick up chocolates. Glad we did! We were greeted by a lot of cheerful kids…and we were glad we didn’t disappoint them with just pencils and pens.
Surprisingly…we were one of the first teams to arrive! Started chatting with some of the press folks from The Hindu, Ananda Vikatan, etc. and shared our thoughts on why we are doing this? Our fundraising activities, etc. It turned out the adventure that the girls were embarking on (road trip across Pondicherry, Karnataka and Kerala) sounded more interesting to The Hindu reporter!
Later in the evening we stopped by the event hotel to check on the status of the rickshaws – still no sign of the Chennai Super Kings rickshaw! It was almost 7:30 pm, and we hadn’t seen the second rickshaw (flag off was around 8 AM on the 31st), so the vendors were definitely pushing the limits. As we were about to leave the hotel, we heard that the rickshaw had arrived at the hotel – excited? Yes. Anxious to see what it looked like – of course! Thankfully, the yellow was the right shade (Thank god!) and they had gotten ALMOST everything right. As a back-up measure, my dad and I had contacted one of his friends and arranged for a second set of design stickers made in the evening (say last minute, this sure was a last minute effort). Looked like we didn’t have a need for them, but we were glad we had a back-up plan which could kick in, if needed.
Off to Trudy’s birthday dinner with a peace of mind that BOTH our rickshaws would be ready for the flag off tomorrow (31st December).
Flag off on December 31st
The day had arrived…were we ready? Guess we will find out! Dave’s posts capture our adventures through the 7-8 days. 2011 was coming to an end on an adventurous note 🙂
Reflections on my month long visit in India – these are just observations, and not meant to be criticisms or a vent fest
The bird and the cow
As we rode through nearly 2500 km (Chennai to Poovar and back to Chennai), one thing that struck me was the symbiotic relationship between cows and birds, but it was always one bird on the back of a cow – guess there are some unwritten rules that birds share!
The Indian newspaper
Recycling at its best! Your paper doesn’t belong to you…even better, you don’t have to buy one at the newsstand – just take a seat next to a person who is reading one!
Lanes of traffic
This worked to our advantage as well during the rickshaw ride. Lanes are an imaginary concept – get creative! “Might is right” in most cases.
Purchasing an autorickshaw
If you can avoid it, please DO. Even if you do, please do not buy it from Khivraj Motors in Chennai! The customer is never right, and they are doing you a huge favor by selling you a private autorickshaw. Guess this is a good reality check on the supply/demand concept.
Lufthansa and “good service” don’t go hand in hand
What is up with Lufthansa and service? Well this is a vent post. Why is it hard for Lufthansa crews to provide good service? Is it hard to smile when you bring out the meals? If I could shake away my allegiance to Star Alliance, I wouldn’t have to answer this question every time I fly this airline. Guess a nice scotch could help me calm down? Wait…perhaps I shouldn’t do it, since this all started with a glass of scotch!
Till the next adventure…so long.
p.s. India is a fascinating country (yes, I am biased), and tough to cover in a few weeks or a month. A tuk tuk (autorickshaw) slows down your progress (in terms of time), but try it out – you will cover more ground than you think you would driving a three wheeler at 30 kilometers an hour!