India 2016 | Rickshaw Run, Day 1: Jaisalmer to Jodhpur – 4 April

For the most part, Day One of the Rickshaw Run driving yesterday was uneventful. Our goal was to drive from Jaisalmer to Jodhpur, almost 300 km on the map separating the regal fort cities. Then the sun went down.

And all hell broke loose.

At 6:57 PM, we had driven 300 km and had only 28 km to go before reaching the square where Olly, the cameraman for the Advenurists, had set camp at the Pal Haveli. With the equivalent of only twelve miles to go, we were in good spirits. A little over two hours later, we had a greater appreciation to be amongst the land of the living and an even greater one for drivers and pedestrians in India along with a bit of hate as well.

To dispel any drama before we delve into our narrative, we did arrive in Jodhpur safe; now whether we were sound was an entirely different matter altogether. Quite frankly, by the time our feet touched the grounds of the hotel, we were absolutely shattered. Jodhpur is a beautiful city, though at that particular moment, we appreciated none of it. Spending the night at the Pal Havelli, currently I am collecting my thoughts sitting atop its rooftop restaurant at the crack of dawn, with a view of the magnificent Mehrangarh Fort overlooking me and the rest of the Blue City. And as with the other cities we’ve visited, the sound of horns from cars, lorries, and tuk-tuks mix with dogs yapping and people barking. The birds, as always, add to the symphony.

Before the sun went down, I specifically was thinking that, for a first day, save for some minor incidences, it had been quite a good day. DaveRisner had started us in the morning leaving Jaisalmer. I did a stretch on the highway getting us to lunch. Derek took over afterwards for the rest of the journey. At one point when we stopped, we were surrounded by a throng of children and adults who seemed overly aggressive. We did hit a sandstorm twister and that was a bit scary, but again, as I was collecting my thoughts at sundown, we had concluded that we would leave this day unscathed. (Besides, Derek and I had been hit by lightning on the way to the NBA Finals in Indianapolis between the Lakers and the Pacers in 2001. Nothing here to see. Nothing here to worry about.) Note to self – do not tempt the Indian driving gods. They are bitches and they will most certainly get you.

And they did.

They tell you not to drive at night. And by “they” I mean literally everyone. I’m telling you right now – never, ever and I mean never, ever drive at night in India. Leave it to the professionals. It’s literally one of the scariest experiences of my life. We already knew this, but like the mirage in the desert (which now seems eons ago), our destination at 6:57 PM seemed so freakin close. We were only twelve miles away. There are (seemingly) no rules on the road, or if there were any, we weren’t given the manual which would be a funny joke had it not been so life threatening. The roads that exist simply vanished. Google Maps could only get us so far before realizing what was before us was not what was on our phone. Or if the road was still there, the conditions were so dire that you wondered how a vehicle could ever get thru it, let alone the pedestrians that braved their souls every moment pitting themselves against the other combatants for space. In this instance, we were most certainly combatants in a very real arena.

We had music to keep us company – Pearl Jam, Tom Odell, Radiohead, etc. That along with our resolve kept our spirits high, though we were on high alert.

Our biggest goals before starting this trip was that (1) we did not want to hurt anyone, (2) we did not want to get hurt, and (3) we wanted to survive and complete the race. Not completing Goals (1) and (2) were already in serious danger, just on our very first night. On several occasions, we just missed cutting someone walking out onto the street, where in many areas, there were no lights to give you (or them) guidance. And the lights that do dominate the roads come from oncoming traffic that refuse to turn off their high beams. Several buses and lorries pretended we didn’t exist, leaving us to fend for ourselves as they almost ran us off the road. Signs pop up at the last minute for detours, closed roads, etc that actually are no longer current, flat out lie or slightly misdirect you, adding to confusion and stress amidst the darkness. Then there are the animals – cows, goats and dogs dominate the city streets, while both are joined by camels and peacocks on the highways in between – none of whom care that we were whizzing by. Life is at a premium here, though you wouldn’t know it by their driving or their presence on the roads.

“For the ones who had a notion
A notion deep inside
That it ain’t no sin
To be glad you’re alive” – Bruce Springsteen, “Badlands

Derek, later admitting to being petrified on the inside, put up a confident face, “I’ll get us home boys!”

I proudly responded, “You’re ‘pukka’ bro!!”

DaveRisner gave us step-by-step directions until Google Maps failed us in the very end when we dead-ended into a one-way alcove (where we were driving the wrong direction) when all of a sudden, we were surrounded by twentysome teenage kids. One jumped into our rickshaw, sat next to Derek, and against DaveRisner’s wishes, guided us to the hotel – Pal Havelli.

Getting out once parked in the courtyard, I immediately embraced Derek & DaveRisner “My pukka brothers!” and got us a room.

Maybe I’m too old for this?
Eleven more days? WTF?
As the Brits would say, we will simply crack on.

We were glad to be alive.

Day Two to be continued…

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