The Cycle Rickshaw in India

The cycle rickshaw is a still a common sight in India, even today.

When I visited Goa in 2007 I was struck by the ubiquity of this simple form of transport that can be used for anything between a short hop costing a very small sum of money up to a tour lasting the whole day.


I took a whole-day tour with an extremely pleasant and helpful young man who took me through villages I would never have seen otherwise. He stopped on occasion to talk to people and helped a heavily laden ox cart to cross a bridge by pushing the back of the cart, and I have to admit he was already smelling of alcohol when we started the tour at 10 am but it all added to the fun of my day's outing.

The seat was upholstered but obviously a long, long time ago as it was incredibly uncomfortable especially after several hours bumping along Indian roads. But it's a great way to travel if you want to make photographs as the rickshaw is totally open and my day tour was certainly memorable.

Cycle- and auto-rickshaws are also used to transport goods, sometimes seemingly-impossibly heavy loads. Price is always negotiable although when you arrive at your destination they tend to look at you very, very hopefully - you are a rich tourist after all. In India, most rickshaw pullers live in very cheap accommodation, trying to save money to send back to their families.

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Indian rickshaws used to be just for the elite but today they are used by many people who are not much better off than the rickshaw pullers themselves. At one time they were powered by humans on foot but nowadays most rickshaw owners have bicycles or mopeds to speed things up and make their life a little easier. Cycle rickshaw numbers have been dwindling in India since the government stopped issuing licenses in 1945 but many rickshaw owners operate illegally without a license.

Some people don't like to ride in a rickshaw because they believe it is demeaning to the human being ('the rickshaw boy') who is doing the pulling but if you visit a country where rickshaws are still in use remember that you are adding to the household income and thereby helping their family.

Also there are certain areas in India where motor vehicles are banned so it seems that the eco-friendly cycle rickshaw still has a role to play today.

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