The ubiquitous tuk-tuk makes Asia work. Just a motorised Rickshaw, a driver, a bench seat for 2 passengers and an engine. No doors, no safety belts, no baggage space, no in car entertainments but what a lot of fun.
The warm air blows around you, when stuck in traffic you can strike up a conversation with the people in the tuk tuk alongside you. There are no parking problems, you just get out and leave it. When you need a ride, just phone Manoj.
They are officially called Trishaws but many prefer the onomatopoeic ‘tuk-tuk.’
See the making of a tuk-tuk in this video:
For the top gear techies
- It has a 180cc single cylinder 4-stroke engine. Two strokes are now banned in Sri Lanka but there are still plenty of old ones around.
- There are 4 gears and 3 wheels, the single front wheel being steered by handlebar.
- Fuel consumption is about 100 miles/ gal. In bottom gear it grinds away up the steepest slopes at walking pace.
- The roof is canvas, without a roll bar.
- The open sides can be covered by a tarpaulin when it rains.
There is a long flat run on my way to work. Once my tuk-tuk got up to 40 kmph or about 25 mph. Maybe I have been faster but often the speedo does not work.
Sometimes the tuk-tuk sputters to a halt and the driver reaches back to switch over to the reserve fuel tank. This is disconcerting at first because it means reaching beneath the passenger seat, between your, or your wife’s legs.
Sometimes the driver has a bottle labelled Coca-Cola but containing a spare litre of petrol. Not to be confused with another bottle containing water.
One night, with a friend from UK, we were travelling on an isolated lane when a grinding noise came from the rear axle. We stopped.
It was dark and silent surrounded by the jungle. Then we began to hear the jungle sounds, mostly bullfrogs croaking and cicadas stridulating but then rustlings in the undergrowth, wild boar or porcupine, snakes or mongoose, rats or feral dogs.
No problem, our driver phoned up a couple of his mates, one to take us on our journey and the other to tow him home.
If a tuk-tuk hits anything, the injuries to the driver are medically interesting and usually very serious. An added problem is that the ambulance drivers and many doctors regard drivers as low priority.
Our number two driver, Ajith, was in intensive care for a week and nearly died after hitting the central reservation on the short bit of dual carriage way we have. He nearly died on another occasion when his passenger decided to cut his throat. He is a man of many scars.
The drivers are a mixed bunch. Some are drunkards, many have eyes that light up with $ signs when they see a white person, others are wonderfully helpful and fair.
We found a young man called Manoj, a Tamil and therefore Hindu. He had enough English and a lot of sense. He said we could pay what we liked but the usual rate was x Rupees and he gave us his phone number so we could call him.
Manoj runs a small squadron of tuk-tuks. He is our first call and if he is busy he arranges one of the others. When we are out late, he always calls to see if we have arrangements to get home before he goes off duty.
Tuk-tuks cost about 5 lakh rupees (a lakh is 100,000 or £500). They are bought on lease at a cost of 12000 Rs per month over 5 years and 1 lakh deposit. At the end of 5 years a tuk tuk is pretty much capped-out.
A drivers operating licence costs 6000Rs per annum then there is fuel and maintenance. Petrol costs 165Rs per litre (80p.) Insurance? What’s that? To survive a driver must earn about 1000Rs day (£5).
Taxi meter: “just broke this morning, sir.”
In Colombo taxi meters are compulsory. But nobody said that they had to be in working order. They always “just broke this morning, sir.” They have them in Kandy on some tuk tuks but they are covered up and never used.
I guess we pay over the odds for our rides but the guys always come on time and will go out of their way to help us with the shopping and other things.
To the city costs £1 and to work in Peradeniya and back costs £5 and this includes waiting while we pop into the supermarket or stopping for a photo. It costs £1 to the swimming pool; it is not far horizontally but a long way up the steep hill.
Aspiration of a young tuk-tuk man
Manoj has used his social skills to build up a client base, a valuable base is the school run for several children. His tuk tuk is paid for now and he has had it reconditioned. He has secured a loan with his brother, who works in Saudi Arabia, and bought a van. Now he operates ‘Manoj Tours’ for holiday makers.
He has just left for a 10 day tour with a group of Romanians and recently completed a tour with a French Group. Last year he took us down to Galle for a few days. Most of the hotels provide overnight facilities for drivers, usually very basic but some are half decent.
Five years ago it was not easy for a young Tamil man to establish himself in the world but Manoj has done it and is developing his business.
Today my tuk tuk was moving slowly despite Manoj weaving between buses and lorries. At the front of the hold-up was an elephant being walked along. As we approached, it stopped. Time for a poo and a pee. Instantly there was a new traffic island and a small flood.
Post Series: Dispatches from Sri Lanka, by Mike Sedgwick:
- Dispatches From Sri Lanka
- Kandy Lake vs Chandler’s Ford Lakes
- Self-Employment In Sri Lanka
- Sri Lankan Wedding
- Sri Lankan Food
- There’s Some Corner Of A Foreign Field
- The Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka
- This Is the Record Of John
- Tuk-tuk: My Transport Of Delight
- Life On The Road
- Commonwealth Games In Kandy
- A Temple For A Tooth?
- Dawn Train Down The Mountain To Colombo
- Traditional And Modern Medicine in Sri Lanka
- Ancient Vedda Tribe Becoming Extinct