Three men and a tuktuk take on India
The Archituks are three friends from Glenn Howells Architects, Birmingham – Ben Myers and Tom Shenton, both architects, and Rico Cacciatore, Part II. We were looking for an adventure and something a bit different to celebrate when two of the team became architects last June. On a whim, we discovered the Rickshaw Run, a 3,500km expedition across India in a ‘tuktuk’ – a three-wheeled, seven horse-power bag of bolts with no suspension and a tendency to roll over or vibrate itself to bits at every opportunity… not the ideal vehicle for transcontinental expeditions.
We were left at the mercy of the Indian people unfortunate enough to find themselves in our vicinity at our time of need
The route involved crossing the subcontinent from Shillong, in the isolated north-eastern territory of Meghalaya, to Kochi in Kerala at the southern tip of the peninsula, navigating some challenging terrain and taking on officially the world’s most dangerous roads. The three of us (tightly packed in one hired tuktuk) were without any particular expertise in mechanics, orienteering or indeed driving for that matter. The event organiser, The Adventurists, made a point of ensuring there was no prescribed route and no outside assistance at all during the 17 day journey.
As a result, when facing accidental Bangladeshi border crossings, exploding batteries spewing acid, electrical cockpit fires following bodged sound system wiring, serial self-disconnecting exhaust pipes and monsoon downpours, we were left at the mercy of the Indian people unfortunate enough to find themselves in our vicinity at our time of need. Our lasting memory of the trip as a whole will be the warmth and kindness of the people we met in these chance encounters; surprised to see foreigners in these remote parts of their country, truly amazed at our ridiculous choice of recreational activity, and delighted to help us in any way they could.
However, the setting sun at 6pm and the onset of night brought an entirely new and frightening set of challenges to life. We will never again take for granted the headlight or the horn. The single most significant road obstacle we encountered in rural India, the cow, has neither horn nor headlight, and gave us some narrow escapes from certain death.
We will never again take for granted the headlight or the horn
Each night we planned the next day’s distance and, usually en route, decided where to stay. We were up at 4:30 most mornings to make the most of the daylight. Often we made great progress, only to turn on to a very poor quality road that allowed us to go no faster than 10kmph for the next 40km; forcing us to spend 18 hours behind the wheel. Add the dirt and pollution which lies heavy on the lungs; the body vainly trying to get used to chickpea curry for breakfast each day; and the extreme concentration needed to stay alive on the road, and it is a physically draining experience. But a really good one. We made it all the way.
The Adventurists encourage teams to seek charitable donations and try to promote, in some small way, improving the world while trying to experience some unusual parts of it. The organiser’s affiliation with Cool Earth means that half our contribution will go towards the preservation of the rainforest and the protection of its indigenous people. We decided we would also champion Architecture for Humanity. AfH has given us the opportunity to connect our profession with our adventure and show how architecture can help people and provide relief.
If you would like to make a contribution, do so at: www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/thearchituks