“Should be fantastic as long as we survive the journey”

Yeah boy, straight up reportage. Work it.

GANGTOK, 13 Sept: The Autumn 2010 Rickshaw Run kicked off in Gangtok on Sunday, with 71 teams from around the world gathering to begin a 3500 km journey to Jaisalmer, Rajasthan armed with little but their wits and what they can carry in a three-wheeled auto-rickshaw.

The Rickshaw Run is a charity event organised by the League of Adventurists International, a British company headquartered in Bristol which runs four other similar events throughout the developing world. The Rickshaw Run was first held this past April and is going to be held three times a year, in the spring, autumn and winter. The first run ended here in Gangtok, and now those same auto-rickshaws are to used by new teams setting out in the opposite direction.

Taking a variety of routes through northern India and Nepal, the teams have two weeks to reach Jaisalmer. The Rickshaw Run is not a race, however, and there is no winner except the group who managed to raise the most for charity, currently a group called Arm Chair Loaf.

Each of the teams must raise at least 1000 British pounds (about Rs. 70,000) for one of two sponsored charities: FRANK Water Projects, which funds clean water facilities, and Maiti Nepal, which works for to project Nepali women and girls from trafficking and domestic abuse. Those teams that raise more can also donate to an additional charity of their choice.

A team from the United States, whose rickshaw was named “Raiders of the Lost Tuk” after the classic Indiana Jones film and the colloquial name for auto-rickshaws in Southeast Asia, raised around US$10,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. One of the team members, Jim Matheson of San Francisco, has type 1 diabetes.

“I’m more excited for this than I would be for my wedding day,” said Brianna Limebrook from Boston, the leader of the “Raiders” team.

The 175 participants met with their vehicles Sunday morning in front of the Tourism Department office at MG Marg, where the Sikkim Police Band performed and tourism officials spoke to a crowd of gathered onlookers.

Many of the teams wore colourful costumes or outrageous uniforms with themes to match their artfully decorated rickshaws. One team of three stood out in the crowd with a set of neon coloured suits: one green, one orange, one pink. Another was making the journey dressed in black-tie tuxedos and sneakers covered in shiny black tape. Despite their bombastic outfits, however, the racers expressed a very down to earth mixture of excitement and nervousness.

“Should be fantastic as long as we survive the journey,” said Sweyn Alsop from England, a member of the tuxedo team. Mr. Alsop added that he wished his tux was a rental.

“Probably the silliest idea we’ve ever had,” said Mark Burton of London.

Even as the event organisers made their final speeches, some of the teams were still scrambling with preparations, like packing last minute snacks and filling their vehicles with petrol.

When the mass of rickshaws finally set off, however, the scene was a bit anticlimactic. The teams were allowed to head down the hill only a few at a time, so as not to disrupt the busy Sunday traffic. As the crowd dispersed, a few stragglers remained, stymied by engine trouble and key mixups.

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