Travel blogger Rutavi Mehta was the only Indian to participate in Rickshaw Run, one of the most dangerous races in the world
When you have adventure running through your veins, heeding to a doctor’s advice may not seem easy. That is why with a concussion injury, stitches on her head and bruises on her hands and legs, Rutavi Mehta decided to get back on the treacherous roads of Shillong despite doctors advicing rest. There was no way she would let her team down when they were so close to the finish line. And finish they did. On April 18, her team ‘Teen Romanchak Yaar’ was among the 60 out of 85 teams to finish the Rickshaw Run. With it, Mehta became the first Indian to participate and finish the race known as the most dangerous in the world.
Such incredible journeys are not unusual for Mumbai born Mehta who started travelling since the age of 15. She has travelled to most corners of the country and the world, often alone. One of the first travel bloggers in the country, she is now a travel consultant and runs a company, Photokatha, and conducts rural experiences with like-minded travellers.
She couldn't resist herself when she heard her friends Derek and Ryan, travel bloggers from the United states, were joining the race. Raising 2,500 pounds for participation wasn’t easy, but the trio decided to find sponsors for the team. With Flight Shop, Decathlon and Zostel lending them support, their team, ‘Teen Romanchak Yaar’ meaning three adventurous friends, were finally set for the race.
It is a race not meant for the faint-hearted. Organised by UK based Adventurists group, the race has participation from all over the world. The money they earn is donated to charities working for communities in India. This year the race spanned from Jaisalmer in Rajastan to Shillong in Meghalaya. Participants are given nothing but a three-wheeled rickshaw (which Mehta said didn’t work well) with five litres of diesel and 12 days to finish the 3,000km race. There are no support teams, no navigation support or medical help. If the rickshaw breaks down, it has to be repaired or you lose the deposit. Each member of the team had to ride the rickshaw for at least 100km every day. Naturally, beaten by the roads or other vehicles, almost 10 per cent of the teams do not make it to the finish line.
The Rickshaw Run is not about who takes home the gold, but rather just in finishing with all your limbs intact. There is no prize for the team that comes in first other than bragging rights and the personal satisfaction that comes with knowing they can now leave this world confident in the knowledge that they have undertaken and survived one of the most wild and adventurous races ever to take place.
Mehta’s team also almost did not make it till the end. Their team had an accident just 150km before Guwahati. The day was the local new year’s day and celebrations crowded the roads. While her team mate was driving the rickshaw, another rickshaw came in from the wrong side. In an attempt to avoid a collision, her team mate tilted the rickshaw on one side. Mehta fell first and the rickshaw fell on her. She was rushed to the local government hospital. Mehta, however, didn't lose heart to her injuries. Next day she joined the team, sitting in the same broken rickshaw and completed the race covering 3,026km through six states and 17 cities.
It was a feat Mehta remembers fondly. She had planned the route with the help of her biking friends but riding a rickshaw at 55 km/hr was not easy when they had to cover 300km every day. “The state highways in most places were in a poor state and there were potholes of the size of kid’s pools. Since it was a rickshaw, it was even bumpier,” she says.
Poor roads were least of their worries. In Uttar Pradesh, they encountered a group of gun-wielding Maoists intrigued by the foreigners they saw in the middle of the jungle. “Those men with guns asked me if I was their guide, being the only Indian with all the foreigners. When I said I am their friend, they were surprised. They wanted us to hold their guns and take photos with them. I asked everyone to just do as they say. They were friendly and even invited us home for lunch,” she says. Other encounters with locals were not as nerve racking though. “Villagers thought I am a celebrity since I travel with all the foreigners and wanted to click photos with me.”
Mehta believes women can take on incredible journeys and travel safely through India. She has done more than her bit to prove her belief right.
Rutavi Mehta’s tips for travellers
1) People overthink about travel. Do not think too much and discover India. Do not count destinations, but make memories.
2) Travel light. Instead of six bags for a week-long journey, take one.
3) You don’t need money to travel. Find work where you are going, or hitchhike.
4) For women, be aware of the surroundings. Most places are safe. If you know that the region is not safe at night, reach your hotel before dark.
5) Ask locals before booking a hotel and read reviews on travel websites.
6) Collaborate with other travellers for a unique experience.