The Real Indian Experience: Driving a Tuk Tuk
By Samantha Bellinger
“You want a real Indian Experience?”
I momentarily hesitate. Then cautiously say “sure.” My drawn out speech and the skepticism in my voice betrays my wariness of his offer.
My tuk tuk driver pulls over, pats the front seat and invites me to come up front with them. He assures me I’ll be safe. I throw my bag into the back and climb up front. We whisk back into traffic, horn blaring. We weave in and out of cars, motorbikes, and other tuk tuks. I’m tense. It is certainly an experience – like a real life Mario cart game.
He tells me to relax and act like I should be there. Once I finally relax he puts my hands on the handle bars and says “you drive.” I protest.
Me: “I don’t think that is a good idea.”
Him: “It’s OK. You look like Indian Woman in the dark. No problem.”
Mind you I’m a pale white woman dressed in a Kurti and leggings. He is suggesting that because it is dark, people will see my Kurti and assume I am an Indian National. Apparently, he thinks no one will notice my pale skin, which is nearly luminescent in the moonlight.
I give him an incredulous look. He persists.
“Really, it’s Ok. In India licenses don’t matter. If police stop us, you talk to them. Tell them you have no license. It will be OK. No problem.”
I image what that conversation would look like and run through my best impressions of a dumb tourist. Can I really convince a cop I was dumb enough to think that this is even remotely legal?
At this point a wave of reckless adventure washes over me. I think “Why not?! What is the worst that can happen? I die in a tuk tuk accident in the middle of India? At least I’d die doing something I love (traveling, not driving). Plus it’d be a cool death story for my family to tell.”
My racing thoughts come to a close and with a huge grin I agree to drive. He shows me where the accelerator on the handle bars is located & how it works. He lets me take over but keeps his hands on the handle bars and foot on the break, ready to take over in a moment’s notice. It is exactly like driving a 4-wheeler. Not hard at all. I zoom along having the time of my life.
When we come up to stopped traffic or a round-about, I return control to him. On the straight-aways I drive. It goes on like this until we are about to turn onto the road my hotel is on. He has me resume my passenger status and tells me I’m a good tuk tuk driver but I go too slowly.
I’ll take that as a compliment.
*The driver’s name and location has been intentionally left out to protect his identity. I thank him for the “real Indian experience.”
Samantha Bellinger is an adventurous traveler who makes a habit of seeking out unique local experiences while traveling abroad. She hails from Vermont and has traveled all over the world. If you have suggestions of unique experiences she should try, contact her!