A motorised rickshaw may not be the fastest way to travel nearly 2,000km through India and Nepal, and certainly not the most comfortable - but it might be the most adventurous. Five men from Abu Dhabi will compete next month in the Rickshaw Run, a two-week charity race that promises to be "quite chaotic" in a pair of unreliable, three-wheeled rickshaws.
Last year a team from Dubai won the event, beating dozens of other contestants on a trek from Kathmandu to Pondicherry. Now the Abu Dhabi team of British and Australian expatriates will try to keep bragging rights within the country. The race, held twice a year since 2006, always has a different course, setting off from the previous finish. The event earlier this year ended in Goa, so the next one, starting on September 12, will begin there and end in Pokhara, Nepal.
George Foulsham, 33, an environmental scientist, said his team was currently charting its route, taking advice from Indian friends in the UAE. They have been warned some areas are too dangerous to traverse. "You can go along the coast through Mumbai," he said. "The direct route is to go right through the middle. That involves much smaller roads, one-lane roads, cows, donkeys, bicycles and big troubles. It's going to be quite chaotic."
The rickshaws, powered by 150cc engines, are described by the race organisers as "tin cans" and are notorious for frequent breakdowns. Mr Foulsham expects to have to make dozens of on-the spot repairs. "I've got to work out the mechanics of it," he said. "Rickshaws also take fuel and oil mixed together. You have to mix it before you put it in. That will be a challenge, just fuelling up along the way."
Taking their cue from last year's winning Dubai team, the Abu Dhabi group will make the trip in two rickshaws, so if one group breaks down, the other will be able to drive around looking for parts and help. "Our plan is to work in a convoy," Mr Foulsham said. He will drive one rickshaw and Graeme Mullin, 27, a trade and investment adviser with the British Embassy, will drive the other. When the race is delayed by technical failures, Mr Mullin expects other pastimes to keep the competition alive. "We're taking cricket bats, a football and a frisby. We think we'll break down a lot," he said. "It's all about playing cricket. There is no real racing, the whole aspect is really to make it to the end."
All of the team members are looking for an adventure. "I love this sort of thing. I've done all sorts of crazy adventures," Mr Foulsham said. "I've gone trekking in Nepal and I've hired a driver and gone around India. I absolutely loved that. It's an amazing place, the colours, and the people are all very embracing." For Matthew Crabbe, a 31-year-old environmental scientist, the opportunity to travel and experience a new culture in such a unusual way is worth the inevitable frustrations involved with driving a tin can over a long distance.
"Going to India will increase my awareness and I say it as a message that increases people's awareness of humanity." The team hope to raise Dh6,000 (US$1,630) for the Frank Water Project, a charity that helps developing countries create sustainable water projects, and Maiti Nepal, which combats human trafficking. firstname.lastname@example.org * With additional reporting by Mahmoud Habboush