Rickshaw Riders: Students Plan Drive Across India

Photo: Seniors Brian Wong, left, and Sonny Sabhlok, middle, decided to enter the Rickshaw Run after seeing 
a Web site for the event. They recruited junior Allen Rodriguez, right, to be a part of their
Aditya Rohilla/Photo
Seniors Brian Wong, left, and Sonny Sabhlok, middle, decided to enter the Rickshaw Run after seeing a Web site for the event. They recruited junior Allen Rodriguez, right, to be a part of their "Team Korma Police."

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They can't say they weren't warned.

Three UC Berkeley students will drive across India in an event called the Rickshaw Run this June, despite parental disapproval, warnings from the event's Web site that roads may be "terrible and non-existent" and the knowledge that at least one team has been arrested while competing in a previous race.

Seniors Sonny Sabhlok and Brian Wong and junior Allen Rodriguez, who is an employee of The Daily Californian, will have just over two weeks to travel the 2,400 mile route from Nepal to the south of India in a doorless, three-wheeled autorickshaw roughly the size of a golf cart. They will be the youngest team making the journey to Pondicherry, India.

"We don't expect this to be easy," Wong said.

Sabhlok was the first to hear about the Rickshaw Run after a friend of his met some past participants while in India.

Sabhlok and Wong, both 22, decided to enter after looking at the event's Web site, which Wong described as "a bunch of Youtube videos of rickshaws tipping over." The two seniors adopted the name Team Korma Police, and recruited Rodriguez, 21, to be the third team member.

The team name is a pun on the Radiohead song "Karma Police" and korma, an Indian curry dish.

The event is organized by the British company the Adventurists. To participate, teams must raise at least $2,000 before the race to be donated to charity.

The company offers no support or guidance beyond providing teams with their rickshaws and training them for one day. Teams plan their own route and cover all their own costs.

Of the three, only Sabhlok has been to India before, and none of them has ever driven an autorickshaw. They will not get a chance to practice until they arrive in Nepal, so in the meantime they are focused on raising the rest of the money for charity through raffles and selling "Team Korma Police" T-shirts.

According to event manager Lamorna Trahair, the Rickshaw Run generally raises a total of about $177,000, which goes to two charities in India.

The team's rickshaw is waiting for them in Kathmandu, Nepal where it has already been painted with flaming Cal logos and a Radiohead bear. They will begin the race on June 1 and spend the following 16 days driving six to eight hours a day.

Their route includes stops in the Indian cities of Varanasi, Hyderabad and Calcutta, before finishing in Pondicherry on June 16.

There is no prize for making it to the finish line, just "much pomp and hand shaking" and a celebratory cricket game, according to the event's Web site.

Sabhlok said his knowledge of Indian culture will help the team make it to the end, as will his family connections throughout the country.

The team is stocking up on necessities like Pepto-Bismol, toilet seat covers and insect repellent, Sabhlok said. Almost as important is a boombox to distract them from the lack of air conditioning and occasionally from each other, they said.

"I'm going to burn about 70 CDs," Sabhlok said.

The students said the chance to contribute to charity was appealing when they made their decision to participate, but that they were also drawn by the promise of an adventure as an epilogue to their final semesters at UC Berkeley. Wong and Sabhlok are graduating seniors and Rodriguez will spend next year abroad.

If they hadn't gotten a spot in the Rickshaw Run, Sabhlok says they would have considered river rafting in Uganda or taking a motorcycle across Vietnam.

"We just wanted to do something different," Sabhlok said.


Contact Kate Sturla at [email protected]

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