All the teams were at least a little reluctant to leave the comforts of the Kanyakumari Sparsha hotel, as it was certainly one of the most luxurious and opulent locations we’ve stopped in along the way- but it was back on the road for the heroes of the Malabar Rampage. With a 8am briefing and a flag-off a half hour later it was an early start to the day, but we would all need it to tackle the 189km route that day. Our destination is actually only 110km away, but today is the start of those infamous Challenges integral to any of the Rickshaw Challenge Series. These point-to-point and navigation challenges are non-compulsory, but will all add points towards making someone the King of the Rickshaws. The tactical decision that needs to be made by the teams is how many and which of the locations will they visit to gather points, as there is a strict flag-down at the end location which if missed will negate all points collected that day! The teams will have to be master navigators and shrewd tacticians today, despite the unbelievable heat, already appreciable by 7am.
Fortunately enough it’s a Tamil holiday today, and the roads are all but free and clear. This is just as well as some of the stretches covered today are notorious throughout the country for being fast, unforgiving, and magnates for road-rage. Instead, our intrepid teams cruised and buzzed along them unmolested and enjoying the sights.
Angry highways notwithstanding, today is all about the real start of going off the beaten track, and really engaging in the spirit of adventure and discovery at the heart of the Malabar Rampage. Teams will now have to expect the unexpected at every turn, which was nicely illustrated by those who headed for one of the point-scoring locations expecting an easy in and out only to discover the whole area in the throes of a massive local festival. The entire town was in total celebratory chaos and complete gridlock, with no one getting in or out in anything less than two hours. This was a complete time killer in terms of points, but at the same time exactly the sort of fantastic unexpected gem that this rally loves.
Kerala and Tamil Nadu are famed for their waterfalls, and this area in particular. Unfortunately the Rampage found it in a grip of a particularly fierce drought and the most spectacular of the falls were diminished to say the least. Less than a week ago we were all driving through torrential monsoon rains, hanging out the side of the tuk-tuks and soaking up the downpour like crazy people – but inside this microclimate the countryside looks positively crispy in places due to lack of rain!
One of the highlights of the day was being passed by local tuk-tuk users who showed us how the locals squeeze every last drop of efficiency out of the humble seven horsepower. Safely and comfortably traveling in teams of two or three, our teams today passed locals traveling with easily over a dozen passengers in a single rickshaw. Afterwards the little vehicles suddenly seemed positively spacious by comparison.
The organisers invaluable insider knowledge recommended a fantastic spot along the way – the Rahmath Restaurant, better known locally simply as the Border Shop. A restaurant that caters for passing truckers and haulage drivers doesn’t sound like a culinary gem, but it is home to some of the most mind blowing, excellent Indian cuisine available anywhere. In the words of one of the rally’s staff (and repeat customer) ‘they would not trade going there for any 5 star restaurants in the world’. A few brave members joined the staff for what was promised to be the real-deal in local cooking in a place that looked like a well-used school canteen. The place was typically packed, but the ever jovial proprietor walked amongst the tables, chatting to locals, remembering the rally staff from two years ago, entertaining people, giving advice and dares as how to eat the food, and displaying a magical ability to conjure up an entire tray heaped with sublime food to drop in front of new customers, or even ones who had only just finished the first tray!
Our evening destination was the Kuttalam Hotel, the swimming pool for which had proven a strong motivating force for the hot teams in the last miles. Upon reaching it and seeing the pool, we all quickly came to the decision that ‘duck pond’ was a better description than ‘swimming pool’, complete with weeds and mysterious green water. Betting went as high as £20 for whoever would actually jump in – there were no takers. Despite the lack of a pool that anyone was prepared to jump into, the evenings seem to be less fearsomely hot as they were before, and it was the first time that everyone was comfortable just sitting outside away from the refuge of the all-important air-conditioning, making it a beautiful evening for everyone.