NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A three-wheeled rickshaw hardly seems the vehicle of choice for traveling thousands of kilometers and crossing 14 countries.
Yet the “Flying Rani,” a black-and-yellow auto rickshaw with a 175 cc engine, managed the trip from London to New Delhi, forging up steep slopes and through yawning potholes, with only one minor mishap.
“It has driven 10,200 kilometers and only got one flat tire,” said Sanjay Sharma, 44, a UK-based IT professional, at the end of his epic journey to raise money for cancer patients.
Sharma purchased the Flying Rani in 2008 because he was yearning for a souvenir from India. It became a source of income when he started renting it as a substitute for the traditional horse at Indian weddings in the UK.
“I love my auto,” Sharma said, calling it a great piece of Indian engineering that he fears is sadly underestimated.
While the auto rickshaw is ubiquitous in India as a cheap alternative to taxis, Sharma and his two traveling companions decided to modify theirs, changing the brakes and adding half-doors for safety, a GPS for navigation and luxury seats for comfort. But they left the engine unchanged.
Setting out on July 14 after months of mapping out their route through countries such as France, Bulgaria and Iran, the three quickly became the center of attention, with locals gawking at their unorthodox vehicle at every petrol pump for its novelty.
The trio was well-received everywhere they went, he said.
“People just giving us free drinks and sweets, (saying) ‘oh, you are doing such a nice thing,’” Sharma added.
But he acknowledged that the journey was not without its low spots.
“You are in this tiny, confined space and after a point you are bound to get fed up with each other,” he added.
One friend, the mechanic, left in Turkey and the other in Iran, both due to work commitments, making the drive after that rather lonely. Difficult terrain in Iran and India was another hurdle. Though his quest forced him into a long unpaid leave and left him with a sore bottom, Sharma says he expects to raise nearly 4 million rupees ($81,800) in India — and perhaps be recognized with a world record.
But he does not want to ride in the “Flying Rani” for a while. It will be shipped back to the UK. ($1 = 48.9 Indian Rupees)
Reporting By Diksha Madhok; Editing by Elaine Lies