Wednesday, July 8, 2009

# 10 Tuk Tuks

Motoring through crowded streets in auto rickshaws (aka tuk tuks), is my favorite mode of transportation in India. They are loud. They are subject to the wind and rain. They miraculously come within millimeters of pedestrians, cows, scooters, bikes, and other auto rickshaws. And they are fun as hell.

The three-wheeled vehicles are covered but door-less. With a two-stroke engine and handlebar controls, it's similar to a ride at Disneyland, albeit without the circular track to nowhere. Unlike a sanitized, elevated ride in an air-conditioned four-wheel drive tourist vehicle, tuk tuks are the best mode of transport for a close-up look at daily life. You'll whiz past vegetable markets and get a whiff of ripe bananas, hear locals haggle over goods, and get a birds eye view of monkey shenanigans on the roadside.

Tuk tuks are inexpensive rides compared to taxis or hired cars and quite comfortable forms of transportation for two or three people. However, it's not uncommon to see riders crammed within the small confines of the cab, limbs akimbo and protruding from the vehicle.

Some tuk tuk drivers show pride of ownership. They cover the seats with fancy fabrics or colored Naugahyde, embellish them with stitched-in heart shapes, trim them in fringe and tassels, and decorate them with deities.

Auto rickshaws are used throughout India but rules vary regarding fares. In some areas the meters are working, running and required. In others, meters are often "broken", so you must use your bargaining skills.

If you're on an organized tour, don't deprive yourself of this experience. If you're on business consider hiring a tuk tuk driver for the day. Just negotiate in advance.

Tuk Tuk Tips
  • Ask the hotel where you're staying what a ride should cost from point A to B. If you're already out flagging down a tuk tuk,, think half of the quoted price and go from there. Always establish a price in advance.
  • Don't assume a driver knows where your destination is. The driver may be from a different state or village and driving his auto rickshaw in an adopted city. I once tried going to an early morning yoga class with map and address in hand only to be dropped off in the middle of, well, I don't know where it was. It took two more tuk tuk rides before I found the yoga class.
  • Bring a map and point out your destination if the driver is unfamiliar with its location.
  • Use common sense. A fellow traveler was adamant about paying a fair, non-tourist price. The driver asked for 80 rupees. She insisted the quoted fare (approximately $1.75) was too much. Perhaps. Well, probably. But there were no other tuk tuks in sight on this long stretch of road. The driver spoke good English and clearly knew the location of our chosen destination. That, in my book, was worth the extra 50 cents he was charging.
  • I sometimes walk to where the tuk tuk drivers congregate. I look for drivers whose vehicles are neat and clean and speak English since my Hindi is limited. It's more efficient for both of us.
  • If a driver insists on taking you to a friend's, uncle or cousin's shop, insist on getting to your desired destination. Chances are, they are taking you to a shop where prices will be high due to their commission.
  • Drivers work hard and work long hours. Tips are appreciated.

    For the Adventurous
    You don't have to take a back seat in these crazy little motorized contraptions. Consider driving your own tuk tuk for the Rickshaw Challenge. This "amazing race for the clinically insane" has an outlined route that traverses across several microclimates, and through suburban, country, and city roads. July 31 through August 13, 2009.


  1. Hi Kathy,
    Chanced upon your very interesting blog. I might add, ricks or autorickshaws can make the rides in Six Flags seem tame :). Board one in Hyderabad if you want proof!
    Have you been to the Nahargardh fort in Jaipur yet? The view of the city in the morning haze is amazing! Lived in Jaipur for 4 years (while studying at the N.I.T) and love that city.

  2. Hi Kathy,
    I loved your blog. Just came back from India, and one of the cities we have visited was Jaipur. We had the same experience, as you had, but sometimes a bit worse. Trying to get to our hotel from the airport by a pre-paid taxi, was quite a journey. First my partner asked the taxi driver if he knows the location of the hotel , where we were heading to. The answer was “yes “, but not to convincing. The ride took us about an hour, with several stops, while the driver temporarily had to suspend the continuous spiting out of the window, since he had to enquire about the rout the get to the hotel.
    And yes, we had the map marked where the hotel was, with all the streets and the name of the hotel as well.
    A few days later on, we went from the same hotel to the same airport, only the driver was different. The drive took less than half an hour.
    After while we tried a tuk tuk and never used anything else . It was Jaipur , where we had the nicest experience. Right at the beginning we met Ali , the perfect tuk tuk driver, and from that time we never hired anyone else. His charges were very reasonable, he is intelligent, speaks a good English and a very pleasant company. If you ever need a good driver in Jaipur, here is his phone number:09929295871