BENGALURU: Auto rides, cows, colour... This is the expectation that most foreigners carry while visiting India, and it wasn’t different for this group of Australians either. Chris Penhalluriak, Shirley Chen, Valentine Couleau, Hesham Syed, Cheten Mistry and Nomeeta Mistry decided to rent an autorickshaw to get a first-hand experience of the country.
Armed with international driving licences, the six friends landed in Delhi from Melbourne on January 2, and took a train to Jaisalmer. They packed themselves and their luggage into two autos to undertake a 3,000 km journey through Jodhpur, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Palolem beach, Mangaluru, Kodagu, Guruvayur and Kochi, over 14 days.
Despite being warned of hurdles, they were ready for the adventure. “Twenty metres after we took off, our auto broke down. We were mentally prepared for breakdowns but didn’t expect one so early in the journey. Sometimes the brake failed, and without a fuel indicator, we really had to be prepared for the auto to stop any minute,” says Nomeeta, a charted accountant, who, along with her husband Cheten (a doctor), both 27 years old, has been backpacking across various countries, including South America and Africa.
But help was always at hand, with passers-by ever ready to pitch in. “When the auto broke down, people around made a couple of calls and within no time, a mechanic was around. We could never imagine this in Australia,” Nomeeta says, while Cheten points out that while many of them charged “nominal” amounts, others didn’t even ask for anything. “From the north to the south, there was a change in language and cuisine, but something that remained constant was people’s hospitality,” says Cheten, who had last visited India as a child.
While riding through villages gave them a glimpse of farmlands, cities presented a contrasting image – of chock-a-block traffic. “We had to veer through jams, and be careful about vehicles coming from different directions. The two in the backseat would peek out and use hand signals to manoeuvre. We had to be careful of sharp turns, which might have led to the overturning of the auto,” Cheten says, adding, “Some others had taken similar rides and found themselves involved in crashes and with broken bones. But we were still struck by this sense of wonder which made us go for it.” In Mumbai, they found themselves face-to-face with traffic cops, after using a road on which autos are banned. “But we were let off with a warning,” they say.
Now, having raised 3,000 Australian dollars for an NGO working on mental health issues, they feel this ride was worth all the concern, uncertainty and adventure it brought with it.