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)Pics by Kurt Tissera)

It had been quite a while since my last tuk-tuk ride, and I had forgotten the exhilaration that a three-wheeler could induce. On my recent trip to Sri Lanka, I had the opportunity to once again familiarize myself with this mode of transport. Most of them are metered, thankfully, which eliminates the bother of bargaining the fare. The un-metered ones of course have to be negotiated prior to travel.

My kids had never seen before or experienced a tuk-tuk. Pictures in travel magazines or even the Internet couldn’t possibly have prepared them for their first wild and crazy ride (one of many!). It was a trip down memory lane for me, having enjoyed many a bumpy ride in India, but as I mentioned earlier, it had been a while.

In our quest to explore the city, we flagged one down. Our driver possessed some next level multi-tasking skills. He nonchalantly wove through congested traffic and swerved on to the path of oncoming vehicles, deftly negotiating a left turn while narrowly missing a local bus.

All this astounding dexterity without pausing for a breath as he narrated to us his life story!

‘Booruva!’ he suddenly yelled out and gestured to a hapless man, nearly running him down. We quickly learned that pedestrians had no right of way, not even at a marked crossing.

This was real time survival of the fittest at its best, and certainly not for the faint-hearted. We adapted fast, to the sounds of the city and the manic tooting of horns.

Wide-eyed and petrified beyond belief, we arrived at our destination safely. Toronto’s systematic driving and lane discipline was now a distant memory. Rules were meant to be broken, and the tuk-tuk apparently had its very own set of rules.

Tuk (3)Mountain trekking
Next up was visiting friends in Monaragala, a district in the Uva Province. A beautiful and bustling tourist destination;it is nestled at the foot of Peacock Rock (Raxawa Mountain), a round-topped forest-covered beauty with impressive sides that loom dramatically over the countryside.

Mountain trekking is a must-do activity in the region and Kevin, my brother-in-law, was our guide for that event. ‘We’re going to tuk-tuk half way up the mountain and then we proceed on foot,’ he said.

The man is surely insane, I thought to myself as I had never heard of a three-wheeler ply on mountain roads. Was I ever wrong! What started out as a regular bumpy ride quickly turned into a heart-stopping, seat-gripping, white-knuckle experience as our driver ripped along and lurched around winding curves and sheer  drops.

That a tall mountain would have multiple hair-pin bends is a no-brainer, but we were on a rocky- dirty road that had no guardrails and barely wide enough for one tuk-tuk let alone two! And two and more there were because what went up that mountain would also come down. We wobbled perilously close to the edge of drops so sheer, that I literally saw my life flash in front of my eyes!

Tuk (4)Plunge down
Just perfect for someone that suffers with acrophobia, I silently despaired. Mulling on random thoughts in a desperate bid to distract myself, I wondered why Bajaj, the Indian company that manufactured the tuk-tuk hadn’t thought of equipping it with a parachute under its base – just in case of an unexpected plunge down the valley. After all, this appeared to be a well-travelled tuk-tuk route.

Resigned to my fate, I travelled the rest of the bends with my eyes tightly closed, swallowing squeals of terror. I alternated between mumbling aloud every prayer that I knew – ones familiar and those forgotten (but suddenly remembered) and plotting ways of exacting just revenge on Kevin for this harrowing experience. We finally arrived at the mid-way drop off point and alighted on knees that by now had turned to jelly. “Kohomade, sir?” asked our driver. “Oh, it’s nothing – just the fresh mountain air,” replied our fearless camp leader.

Tuk (2)Passed out in fright
With a cheerful promise to return in the evening to pick us up, our driver wobbled precariously down the mountain. Left awe-struck by his skills, we instantly elevated him to super-hero status.

The view was incredibly breathtaking and all my angst instantly vanished in the descending mist of the mountain.

An affordable and economical mode of transport, we quickly adapted to the tuk-tuk for the rest of our stay. We returned to Toronto with the highest level of respect for the tuk-tuks and their drivers.

I can now enjoy a quiet chuckle at our driver’s bemusement as I remember him peeking in his rear view mirror and noticing that we had nearly passed out in fright on those turns!
Lest our memories fade, we purchased a mini-model of the tuk-tuk from a souvenir store that now occupies pride of place at home. It is beyond doubt, the most underrated and versatile vehicle that offers both thrills and chills as we experienced only too well.