What has got three tiny wheels, has a two stroke petrol engine with barely enough horsepower to run a toy aeroplane, a handlebar from a 1970s Italian scooter and a flimsy metal cage covered with cheap vinyl? A pile of junk you say? No,.. it is what we South Asians call a trishaw (aka “poor-man’s wheels”, “tuk-tuk” or “three-wheeler”). It is one of the best things to come out of India since Sunil Gavaskar.
When used properly, the “trishaw” can be an excellent and the most efficient mode of transport on busy and congested roads of metropolitan Sri Lanka. And I emphasize the words “when used properly”! ‘Cause most often than not, they are the worst traffic offenders ever.
Ever seen a trishaw trying to overtake a vehicle which is fifteen times more powerful than itself? It ain’t a pretty sight. You can’t help feel for the poor trishaw driver… even a staunch roadhog will stop or slow down his or her car and let the trishaw move ahead before the trishaw’s engine burns out. But once in a while, one would indulge in a little game called “whatever-you-can-do, I-can-do-better”. Let’s admit it; all of us have done this at least once, right?
If there is one thing that trishaw drivers can’t seem to tolerate more than anything, it would have to be idling in traffic. The dude or dudette (come to think of it, I’ve never seen a female trishaw driver) will try to inch away into any available space, not really thinking of a way to come out of it. For some reason it always reminds me of running WinZip on my harddrive.
If you have ever traveled in one of these mobile play-houses you would have come across a whole set of new experiences. Let’s just say it would rival the scariest theme park ride you’ve ever been to, sometime complete with sounds and neon lights too. Still, it will give you a unique experience that would leave a lasting impression. Must be the reason why a certain South African cricketer nearly ended up with more than he bargained for after his trishaw ride through Colombo. Even with all the brickbats we throw at them, on a rainy and dark night, especially when you are late and don’t have your wheels with you, I’m sure you would be glad the step into a trishaw. And don’t forget, not so long ago a trishaw driver did manage to get elected as the mayor of Colombo City. So they must be doing something right.
One little piece of parting advice though; make sure you agree on a fee with the driver before you step into the trishaw.