Baltic Sea

Adventure calls for tuk-tuk traveler Adam Branford, who was once afraid of the unknown

That was the one thing Adam Branford shouldn’t do: drive at night.

But when he came to the Indian city of Agra, he had no choice.

“That was incredibly scary because all the buses and trucks come at you with their high beams on,” says Adam.

“You just sit completely stunned at their height of light, you can’t see anything.

Jaisalmer after a storm.(Delivered: Adam Branford)

Adam’s decision to travel 3,000 kilometers across the Indian subcontinent in a three-wheeled tuk-tuk – notorious for its unreliability – would not please most people.

Traditionally, it wouldn’t have appealed to him either.

A great brown storm is gathering over a distant city.
A sandstorm approaches Adam Branford and his team.(Delivered: Adam Branford)

“Unknown” is a good way of describing a rickshaw run created by the English adventure group The Adventurists, in which adventurous teams ride rickshaws [tuk-tuks] across India.

“We’ve had two weeks to take Jaisalmer and Rajasthan to Shillong in Meghalaya… They take you to the start and say, ‘See you at the end,'” says Adam.

A man stands on a tuk-tuk on a large bridge with paddocks in the background.
A spontaneous photo stop on the way.(Delivered: Adam Branford)

It’s dangerous and unpredictable, which is exactly what the former teacher and miner was looking for in 2015.

“Australia is pretty sanitized and in a way almost boring, if that’s the right word,” says Adam.

While he was once afraid to travel to places like India, the Mount Gambier airport compliance officer has now fallen in love with the unknown. Glitches, dust storms, dodgy curries and everything.

Even if it took 45 years.

“There’s just something to it. I don’t know,” says Adam.

A high visibility man sits in an airport terminal chair and looks out over the tarmac.
Adam Branford at Mount Gambier Airport, where he works when not travelling.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

See India in a Tuk-Tuk

There’s traveling in a tuk-tuk and there’s driving one. The latter was Adam’s responsibility in his three-man team with two friends.

Bear in mind that the deadly road toll in India is one fatality every four minutes.

At full speed, the 145cc vehicles can travel at 45 kilometers per hour.

“They’re a handbrake start. They have very little power. They leak. They don’t stop well. The driving conditions are very cramped,” says Adam.

A tuk-tuk drives past a jeep on a narrow road.
On the way in India.(Delivered: Adam Branford)

Breakdowns are common.

“You can’t plan your shelter because you don’t know where you’re going to end up because the thing might break,” says Adam.

Luckily they would never have to stop for long.

A man tinkers with a tuk-tuk lying on its side on a dusty road.
A broken engine mount is repaired by a friendly local.(ABC South East SA: Adam Branford)

“When we had enough for the day, we just tried to find a place to stay.

“Some were really crusty $5 a night beds in the shittiest places imaginable. And some were really nice.”

The upside, of course, was what they would see during the day as they meandered through the tea fields of Darjeeling, stopped for lunch at the Taj Mahal and explored the Cremation Ghats in Varanasi.

itchy feet

After two weeks on the road and a month in India, Adam was really ready to come home.

Six months later, he knew he had to go back.

A row of white buildings stacked one on top of the other under a bright blue sky.
Thiskey Gompa, near Leh Ladakh, Jammu Kashmir.(Delivered: Adam Branford)

This time he and Tim, a friend from the first trip, decided to undertake a 1,000km journey through the Himalayas, traveling some of the most remote roads in India.

They arrived a week early to acclimatize to the 5,500-meter altitude of Everest Base Camp. Despite their best efforts, Adam still got altitude sickness.

tuk-tuk, stuck, himalayas
Adam Branford’s tuk-tuk got stuck on Spiti Valley Road in Himachal Pradesh. (Delivered: Adam Branford)

Unlike in India, where they could stop anywhere and get help, in the Himalayas they were on their own.

There was an increased military presence when traveling along the Sino-Tibetan border, requiring them to pass through a number of checkpoints.

“We were very close to where the physical battle between Chinese and Indian soldiers took place a year or two ago,” says Adam.

Don’t get too comfortable

If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, Adam would have sped across the Baltic Sea in a “crappy old car” long ago.

“We have tickets for next year. But what is happening in Europe now, who knows what will happen,” says Adam.

He used the time on the ground to write a book, Cows, Curries and Chaos: An Indian Odyssey on Three Wheels, detailing his ventures and near-death experiences on his first rickshaw ride.

He has also tried to appease his itch by reading many travel books and working out possible trips such as: B. a tuk-tuk tour of Sri Lanka.

Over time, he becomes more and more aware of his time on Earth.

A man in a warning shirt sits on a chair in the airport terminal.
“I feel a bit of an ache to get on a plane and just go and see where I end up.”(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

“You could have big, flashy cars and houses, but when you leave, everything falls behind. I’d rather have memories of adventures.”

“You only get one chance [life]. You might as well have the best move you can.”