It was one year ago, when a tall man from the UK showed up in Chennai Garage to inspect the the working condition of the tuk tuks. That time he was contemplating on a plan to arrange a private rally for an organization in the UK. Slowly and steadily, after many mails and the exchange of ideas, a rally was conceived. We had no name for it then and for our organizational convenience we just called it November rally. The hotels, the route and various other details were confirmed and the rally was baptised as FFLV Tuk Tuk Challenge 2016. Till the very last moments there was always a change in teams, in number of participants and so on. Finally when I started from Chennai to conduct this rally, I had to breathe deeply a couple of times to get the anxiety out of me.
It was November 3rd when I landed in Mumbai to conduct the rally. The same day, all the Auto rickshaws reached the parking of Sun n Sand hotel. Overall 5 rickshaws and 15 members was the given calculation. But when I met Ravin on the next day, the tall man from a year ago and the team leader for the whole rally, he still was not sure about the count. He gave me few details and had plenty of questions for me on the process of the rally. Mr. Rupa Ragunathan (he is baptised this name for his association with the charity work) was with him and he is the man who runs the organisation’s schools in Virundavan. Well, we chatted for about an hour and sort of mind prepared ourselves for the event.
Officially the first day happened to be 5th of November.
The pickup time was set for 10 am and I was there in the lobby by 9.30 am. to check out the proceedings. Ravin walked in and said that there is a delay in flight. So by the time the group arrived, it was 1.30 pm already. Jet lag, hunger , fatigue etc., are the challenges which had already bogged them down and I had stepped aside to go with the flow. We had organized practice at 2.30 pm. So it was pretty much landing, straight for food (lunch) and then registration. Briefing was done during the registration and all were pushed to the practice. Again we had committed to a press meet at 5.30 pm and there was hardly 2 hours of practice. The press meet was arranged in a hall in Sun n Sand and there was more than 50 people form press to cover the meet.
At around 6.30 Vivek Oberoi (a famous Bollywood star) walked inside the press conference hall with flash and video and so many noises. It took 15 minutes it everything settled down again. Ravin, had a good command on the event and dealt with it beautifully. First Ravin explained what the programme is about, then he passed the mike to Davide (an award winning hair dresser), then to Rupa and then it was Ravinol (award winning filmmaker) who explained a bit more about them and why they are here.
Finally Mr. Vivek spoke about his association with the organization. Then a question session was there and a photo session with rickshaw. When Mr. Vivek saw the number plate, he immediately asked how the Tamilnadu registration vehicles are there in Mumbai. Ravin, introduced me to him and he spoke in Tamil few words on the registration of the Vehicle and safety. He sounds very much like a Mumbaikar ( – the most law and order concerned people in India).
Finally the day came to a close after dinner. The Sun n Sand food just melted everybody’s taste buds and it was very much appreciated by all.
The Mini Challenge Day is the compensation day to have another briefing and practice. Finally I had time to prepare the teams for the tough things they’ll have to get through. Luckily there were only a couple of people who still had to improve their rickshaw driving skills after this day, otherwise the rest of them did fantastically well and surprised me.
The ride to the mall and coming back, part of the mini challenge, was accomplished by all the teams except the Ravinol team( a team which covers the event as a film crew) did not touch their vehicle and they went inside Mumbai for footage. Rest of the teams came back and were sharing their first experiences on the road.
By the evening, there was an unusual crowd at the beach and it was explained to me, that there is the celebration of a Bihari festival going on. The purpose is to stay in the moonlight and do Pooja (a Hindi prayer ritual). I never realized it will last till the next day.
When I vacated the place where we stayed and we made my way to the Sun n Sand Hotel, we could see the crowd, which was in Juhu beach, coming out. It was just waves of people and navigating through them became really tough. Some of the participants, who were aware of the crowd, shared their concern of getting out. I told them instead of waiting, let’s just navigate out. But to everybody’s surprise, once flagged off from the hotel, there was literally no one on the road.
As the participants were informed that getting out of Mumbai was itself a challenge, the mind game is on. They did rather well, since till about 2 hours after we left, I didn’t get any calls, till the first teams ran out of petrol. All of them immediately were helped by local people and with that were back on track in no time. Later I came to know that a local tuk tuk driver pushed the rally tuk tuk by his feet and it was recorded in funny manner by our challengers.
Then it was pretty much a quiet day till Alibaug. The hotel in Alibaug took care of them and I bid them goodnight and went to my resting place. All the participants are warned about the long drive expecting them the next day and they were informed to be ready to leave on 7.30 am.
Finding the right time is not the rule for FFLV challenge. Literally everyone need to be pulled out and chased for the drive. Either they are tired or everyone is having their own plans. To my surprise the road looked horribly beaten by the monsoon. At around 6.30 I noticed two teams had 60 km to push to the hotel. It was a graceful day and we reached the hotel around 8.30 pm.
The road to Goa was thought to be a relatively easy drive. In mid-point I took time to see if all are doing fine and waited to let all teams pass to the front to have an assessment. There were a couple of breakdowns due to bad fuel and other issues. Otherwise it was a fine run, but still teams had long distance to cover at 6 pm. I had no one to drag along and everyone found their way to hotel except team 2. They were near the hotel but going round and round instead of finding the hotel. Eventually I had to locate them and lead them to the hotel. Many participants took on the streets of Goa that night to feel the place. Even the short stay in Goa made them all happy.
The hotel, which we had booked for the day was not at the place where we thought it to be.Supposedly close to Bhatkal it was 50 km out of town. Eventually the teams had to drive over 280 km and more for the second day apart from the Alibaug to Ratnagiri day.
Eventually the teams did not drive madly from point to point, but they pretty much started enjoying the day. Even though they killed a lot of time and had to drive in the dark. Finally I had the team of Ravin and Ravinol with me to guide them to the hotel. It was around 10.30 pm when we reached it, as we had stopped for dinner in between. There were a couple of breakdowns over the day, were Team 2 broke their yoke road, which they eventually fixed and another team broke the accelerator cable.
There was some left over sweets in a carry bag which had attracted aunts and bit Bhats (member of the film crew). The plan was to convoy to the nearest town Udupi for the Dharshan of the deity. Even on the short day there was a delay due to the currency problem in India. The teams went to Mangalore airport to change the currency but eventually failed and got delayed. It was 7.30 pm when all of the teams had arrived and they breathed easeily, anticipating the rest day. More to come from this life changing event for the participants!