Many people dream of visiting India to see the Taj Mahal, roam the bustling cities of Bombay and Mumbai, try out the spicy curries, get lost in the colorful markets, and experience the spiritual side of this country bursting with 1.3 billion people. I had the opportunity to do just that upon my first visit to India in 2007. However on my 2nd visit I wanted to go deeper into the culture and landscape, and there’s no better way to do that than todrive in India. Not just drive, but drive yourself – in your own auto rickshaw. Am I crazy? Yes, a little. But when you’ve traveled all over the world for 8 years to all continents, you start to look for things that are different, more immersive, and adventurous.
In addition to trying to find new ways to travel and experience cultures, I knew I wanted to try to give back to this world that I’m fortunate enough to travel through. Eight years of traveling also means I’ve seen a lot of good and bad in this world. One constant struggle I’ve witnessed the whole world over is water cleanliness. Unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation cause 80% of diseases and kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. Ninety percent of the 30,000 deaths that occur every week from unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions are in children under five years old. The WHO reports that over 3.6% of the global disease burden can be prevented simply by improving water supply, sanitation, and hygiene. Learn more water facts here.
With the help of my fellow adventurer and friend, Charlie Grosso, we were able to marry this need for crazy adventure and desire to improve the hygienic conditions of water by doing the Rickshaw Run in 2014. This was going to be one gigantic challenge on many different levels.
Early on Charlie and I decided to set a stretch goal for ourselves – we wanted to raise $15,000 for charity: water which in turn would bring clean water solutions to 500 people – basically an entire village! charity: water is a non-profit organization bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing countries. They use 100% of public donations to directly fund sustainable water solutions in areas of greatest need. There are no hidden costs – everything goes to the projects run by charity: water around the world.
Neither one of us had ever raised that kind of money for a project before, but we were up for the challenge. We brought together Charli
e’s art background and my travel connections to run a fundraising art and travel gear auction in NYC to initially raise money. Next, we reached out to friends to donate, we ran online raffles, and we gave up our birthdays. Finally in order to push us to achieve the $15,000 goal, I went personally to ask for assistance from companies who I loved and had worked with in the past - hello Adventure Life! Adventure Life was one of our biggest contributors towards our goal and for that I love them even more. It means a lot to me to know that I’m working with good companies who truly care about the world in which they do business – not because they feel like they have to, but because they want to.
Along the way we saw locals walking to pick up clean water every day:
A 12-day, 2,000 mile race for charity in an auto rickshaw across India with absolutely no support besides a starting and ending point – yes, this is what we signed up for. And no, neither of us had any idea how to drive an auto rickshaw, but we are fast learners! (Learn more about what an auto rickshaw is) After a few tough beginning days of stalled engines, not finding reverse, mixing petrol and oil, and never having the strength to be able to pull the crank to start it, we started to get the hang of driving the rickshaw. However the next challenge was how to actually drive in India! I’m a firm believer that there’s no real way to learn to drive in India except by just throwing yourself into the deep end and turning the throttle. The great thing about 3rd world driving is that there really are no rules (except don’t hit a cow in India!), so in essence we really weren’t breaking any rules. Honestly, it didn’t even really matter what side of the street you drove on!
Rickshaws are meant to be short haul transportation; they are not to be used for epic thousand mile journeys. So, when pushing a machine to its limit, there’s bound to be mechanical issues. Each day on the road brought a new mechanical breakdown and of course neither Charlie nor I had any mechanical knowledge. We were reliant on the good people of India to help us sort out our mechanical issues daily and they never disappointed us. The beauty of driving through a country independently is that it forces you to rely on the locals for assistance. We never had to wait longer than 10 minutes before someone stopped to help us and soon there would be a whole crowd surrounding us trying to fix our rickshaw!
The quest itself began in the town of Cochin, in the southwest of India, and finished some 2,000 miles away in Shillong, in the far northeast corner of the country. Which way do we go? The answer was easy – whatever way we wanted. There was no set route, instead each day we would look at the map and choose a route for that day and try to get as far as we could before the sun went down. Because there was no set route, that meant there was no real support either, we were reliant on ourselves and the good people of India along the way to keep us going in the right direction, fed, and rested.
I’m happy to say that we made it to the finish line in one piece. We smelled of petrol, were a number of pounds lighter in weight, were in great need of sleep, had lost some decibels of hearing, and I had a nasty case of pollution induced bronchitis – but we made it! In fact, we were the first all female team to cross the finish line. But even more impressive than surviving this insane race through India, our biggest challenge was also met, we exceeded our goal and raised $16,000 for charity:water thanks our friends, colleagues, and organizations like Adventure Life who believed in our fundraising goal. And for that, we are eternally grateful.
Another great thing about charity: water is that you can see where the funds collected went. Last month I received an update from charity: water notifying us that our donations went to their recent project in Ethiopia. Want to see where Adventure Life’s donation was put to work and meet the people they helped? Then take a Journey to Ethiopia here.
Bio: Sherry Ott is a long term traveler, blogger, and photographer with one goal in mind - to make you wish you were somewhere else. She seeks out unique travel experiences and writes about her around the world adventures on www.Ottsworld.com. She’s also a co-founder of Meet, Plan, Go! a website and travel events teaching you how you can take your very own traveling career break or sabbatical.