Page last updated at 18:30 GMT, Monday, 14 September 2009 19:30 UK

S Lanka hosts wacky tuk-tuk race

By Charles Havliand
BBC News, Colombo

Tourists in the Sri Lanka tuk-tuk race reach the finish line in Colombo on 14 September 2009

Two dozen brightly-coloured auto-rickshaws have just completed a nine-day charity rally around the hills and valleys of Sri Lanka.

The Great Sri Lankan Tuk-Tuk Challenge was organised partly to boost tourism after decades of war.

Not all the vehicles appeared entirely reliable, with a number of mechanical problems reported by contestants.

Nonetheless, it was an exuberant finish for racers from countries ranging from New Zealand to Switzerland.

Auto-rickshaws, crammed with contestants, chugged wearily into Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo.

Few had ever before driven one of these vehicles.

Arun Rajagopalan, from Bangalore in India, nearly came off a cliff at the start.

"We swung right, hit a very sharp turn at about 45km per hour, which is pretty fast on an uphill swing.

'Funky transport'

"And the tuk-tuk went over. And we were actually on the side of the road.

"It's just a villager who saw us and yelled for help. We picked up our tuk-tuk, we beat it up in shape, fixed the plugs and we rode again."

Tourists take part in the Sri Lanka tuk-tuk race reach the finish line in Colombo on 14 September 2009
"Taxi!" Some of the tuk-tuks were not entirely roadworthy

It was his first visit to Sri Lanka and he described it as "a wonderful place to be in", and felt it time for tourism to take off on the island.

One of the organisers, Julian Carnall, was from the UK and one from distant Colombia, Juan Paredes.

They call these three-wheelers "one of the funkiest modes of transport invented by man".

But Mr Paredes admitted the vehicles were not all roadworthy.

"Some had some engine problems. Most of them have cable problems, you know, gear reverse clutch and so on. But overall because we had a team of mechanics it was still OK," he said.

The charities helped include the Sri Lankan Red Cross and a group helping an indigenous forest community here, the Veddas.

The government has promoted the tuk-tuk challenge as a plank in its strategy to revive tourism, with the war over.

Bernard Goonetilleke, chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotions Bureau, said the event "showcases an important facet of everyday Sri Lankan living, the tuk-tuk, while discovering so many diverse destinations within the country".

There is not yet a complete sense of normality here, though.

The trishaws were held up for a long time as all the roads around the finishing point were closed off to let a VIP convoy pass - still an everyday occurrence here.

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