Fortunately we were able to blag a lift from my parents to Heathrow T5, something we vowed never to do as driving around Heathrow isn’t great. But, on boxing day in low traffic, and to T5, it was really rather simple and easy access. Perfect! So pre-paid our £5 drop off fee, and jumped out and into the terminal.
Our last long hauls were T2/3 and were a nightmare – queues, dingy, and dire. But T5 – wow. Automated check in and document checks (albeit rejected and sent to a manual queue). Automated self service bag check in, and really efficient security. Took us 45mins to get through the front door all the way to departures (!!). Amazing. Train to our gate area was simple and really rather calm. Best terminal we’ve ever used.
Flight boring as ever to Chennai (aka Madras) and an airport pick up to the hotel (albeit a little late) but hassle free. This, and the hotels for the first 10 nights were arranged by the Rickshaw Challenge (aka The Travel Scientists) – so not our choice, but simpler for the tour as the daily briefings, luggage transports and rickshaw maintenance are based from the base hotels.
After a day of recovery we filled in all the hire paperwork, got a data SIM card provided, and met the other fools (aka participants). The challenge provides quite a lot of organisation, day sheets and advice on where to go and what to see enroute (but not which way to go), luggage transport, and provide rickshaw servicing and breakdown cover – a truck follows with full spares. The first day took us to a training ground where we learned to drive these things! Ours had a minor fault that needed fixing, but otherwise drove OK.
Our rickshaw, and our team name, is “Black Sheep” – so our vehicle was painted black, and we had appropriate black sheep clothing. We were going to paint a cartoon sheep but never did. Multiple reasons for the name – one of which is due to our campervan being black, and we usually avoid other campers on a campsite of mainly white vans, so we look like a black sheep….
The rickshaws are simple 2 stroke engines, do 65kph, and are slow, noisy, totally inappropriate for long journeys. They have motorcycle-esque handlebars, throttle on right hand, and clutch/gears on the left hand (vespa style). 4 speed and with reverse. Well, occasionally reverse, its easier to get out and push! And third gear was randomly elusive. The brake is seldom used as the engine braking is good, and its best to keep momentum (!) – but if you need it you have to use right foot, but have to get your foot high up. Very awkward and the brakes aren’t great. Starting is by getting into neutral and wrenching a handbrake-like lever up quickly – and hoping. Mel struggled to start it. They did have Bluetooth amp and speakers and perfect 4G data throughout – fortunately – as without google maps it’d have been a huge navigation nightmare!
As I ride a bike, to me, the mechanicals were fine, so Mel had most of the practice time, but then left me to drive though a vvvvv busy Chennai back to the hotel! Still not totally sure of the rules of the road, but it appears people joining roads have right of way over people on them, and you only look ahead – anything ahead is your problem, anything behind is theirs. Beeping is just them letting you know they are there. Roundabouts seems to be priority to enter too….. No idea about speed limits. Lines/lanes/signs are to be ignored. One way = two way, including motorways. Except if it’s a bus or lorry, they always have priority. Pretty much, its like an arcade game…..
Fuelling is interesting, we were told to use 50ml of 2-stroke oil per litre and mix it with petrol before filling else it clogs the carb. So literally having to get petrol stations (at least daily) to fill up water bottles with petrol was always a challenge! No fuel gauge, so we only ran out twice. Fortunately with petrol filled water bottles we had reserve!
Regardless, all 17 teams made it back to the hotel, stressed, deaf, and knackered – one after repairs after their rear axle fell off….