I grew up in New Delhi. One of the oldest memories I have of this beautiful city is that of traveling by an auto Rickshaw. These are unique three-wheeled vehicles with a scooter style front and a two seater (or six seater, if you are a local) in the back. While these are not unique to New Delhi or to even India for that matter, the way you deal with them in Delhi is unique.
First, unless you are traveling a good distance (not recommended at all. Get a taxi), you have to probably ask multiple auto-rickshaw-wallahs (the drivers) before you find one who will agree to take you. They are always concerned about going to a location they cannot find a passenger back from. So keep asking. They usually hang out in auto-rickshaw stands, so you don’t have to stand bye the side of a road hailing them.
Second, get ready to negotiate. All auto-rickshaws in Delhi have meters, but they are rarely used. Ask the auto-rickshaw-wallah how much he will charge before you sit in the vehicle. No matter what number he says, offer to pay half and negotiate to a number in between. If you know up front what the going rate for your trip should be, you can play hardball. Otherwise, you are on your own. If you don’t look and talk like an Indian, they are going to attempt to take you to the cleaners any way, so negotiate hard. Say that you came from your destination earlier in the day and paid half of what they are asking for.
Third, get in, hold on tight and enjoy the ride. Pretend you are not in the vehicle. Treat it like you are in a virtual reality video ride and you will not have your heart in your mouth as they weave thru traffic. On a short ride I took in one yesterday, we were weaving thru cars flying by at twice the auto-rickshaws maximum speed on a major road in Delhi for quite a while! They are professionals. Let them do their job.
Fourth, be ready to sit for a while. These auto-rickshaws have hardly any pick-up and a very low top speed. Most are not well maintained and are old, so they drive worse than the low performance machines they are. It may take way longer than you expect to get where you want to get to.
Fifth, be prepared for the elements and other environmental intrusions. Auto-rickshaws are open air vehicles. Also they are very low compared to buses and trucks. So, rain, heat, exhaust smoke, dust (especially an issue in Delhi), smog, all may be making their presence felt inside the auto-rickshaw. Be prepared.
Sixth, it will be a bumpy, bouncy ride. What auto-rickshaws have cannot be really called shock absorbers. The roads of Delhi, especially the side streets (the main roads are great), don’t help any either. Your butt may be sore for a couple of days.
Seventh, have exact change. The auto-rickshaw-wallahs don’t carry much cash. They will want to be paid in exact change. Carry cash, in small bills. Asking to pay by credit card may get you laughed off the road…
Enjoy the ride. I love it!
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