A Rickshaw Race Through India to Save Lives

By Danny Gottlieb | May 21, 2013

Team Sitar Wars (Danny Gottleib, Lindsey Wanner, and Steve Stenholt) about to take a refreshing dip in the Bay of Bengal during their Rickshaw Race across India to raise money for EGPAF

Sitar Wars

On April 6, the Sitar Wars rickshaw team began a 2,400-mile, two-week race across the entire Indian subcontinent to raise money for EGPAF. Their journey took them from beaches to hostels, from engine failures to the Bay of Bengal. Read more from team member Danny about their incredible journey.

Getting There

The only real planning my teammates and I did before arriving in India was to book our hotel for the week we would spend in Fort Kochi before starting the rickshaw race. Other than that, we lent very little consideration to what would happen after we crossed the starting line. We didn’t even talk about our route until breakfast on the morning of Launch Day. Our lack of preparation was how the vast majority of the teams were approaching things, so we felt right at home. We also learned within the first five minutes of the Run that trying to prepare for it is foolish, because absolutely nothing goes as planned.

The Rickshaw Run

The first day was exhilarating to say the least. All the teams gathered to pack up their rickshaws and hear some speeches from local officials, and then a checkered flag waved and we were off—destination unknown! My team was immediately separated from the group and left to find our way to finish line on our own. Luckily we ran into other teams at various points along the way and it was always a welcome surprise to see some familiar faces.

A few days into our journey, the teams planned to meet up in the coastal city of Vishakhapatnam to take a break and hear tales from some of the other teams. While others seemed to have no trouble finding the hotel where we agreed to meet, my team faced a few challenges. We pushed along the coast looking for the other teams for several hours, until an unfortunately placed hill caused our engine to fail. Left with no choice, we pushed the rickshaw for at least 5 kilometers, drenched in sweat and trying not to picture all our friends at the hotel clinking beers and toasting to a successful day. Finally, we abandoned our rickshaw near a closed mechanic shop and hired a functioning one to take us to the hotel.

We ended a frustrating day with friends, food and a comfy bed. Our rickshaw was repaired the next afternoon and we were back on the road by evening.

“Beach! Beach!”

One of my favorite moments was when decided to take a detour about halfway through the race. We had been traveling on National Highway 5 for days. It was immaculately paved, with a median that kept oncoming traffic at a safe distance from the rickshaw. Where is the fun in that?! So, armed with only our compass and map, we veered onto a back road to spice up our route.

Almost immediately, our bodies went numb from the relentless potholes and our speed slowed drastically as we weaved through confusing village roads, squeezing past tractors and oxcarts stacked with hay bales. We knew we were taking a lot of time out of our very tight driving schedule, but we didn’t care; this was exactly what we wanted.
Our adventure-seeking was rewarded when two boys pulled up on a motorcycle next to our rickshaw. This is actually a fairly common occurrence – people tend to pull up next to you and drive straight into oncoming traffic while taking cell phone photos and shouting questions. After answering the typical questions like where we from and how we got to India, they yelled, “Beach? Beach?” We all glanced at each other, having just turned down a beach invitation the day before in an attempt to stay on schedule. But today felt different, so I leaned back to the boys and shouted, “Yes! Where?” They gave us a head wobble, pointed straight, and pulled in front of us.

We drove behind the boys for 20 minutes, finally pulling onto a long, thin, sandy road. Suddenly, the palm trees cleared and we found ourselves parked at the edge of a pristine beach. The sand was white and clean, the sea was a sparkling shade of teal, and even though the day was sunny and perfect, we were the only people on the beach. As our two new friends grinned proudly, we dove headfirst into the Bay of Bengal. By this point, we knew to take these rare moments of perfection as the treasures they were, and the memory of that morning was enough to steady our emotions throughout our rickshaw’s next couple breakdowns and right to the finish line.

Stay tuned to the EGPAF blog for the exciting conclusion to the Sitar Wars rickshaw team’s adventures. We will share the final post on Thursday.

To donate to Sitar Wars, click here.