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Last Updated: Monday, 21 August 2006, 17:58 GMT 18:58 UK
Adventure racing on auto-rickshaw
By LR Jagadheesan
BBC News, Madras

Tamil Devils team
Auto-rickshaws and participants dressed to look the part
Teams from around the world have begun racing across the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu in three-wheeled auto-rickshaws.

The 1,000km (620-mile) race, which kicked off in Madras (Chennai), will end in Kanyakumari, the southern-most tip of India, on 27 August.

Colourfully named teams like Tamil Devils and Curry in a Hurry will get a first-hand experience of Indian roads.

Participants come from as far as the UK, US, Hungary, Armenia and Russia.

The Indian Auto-rickshaw Challenge is strictly fun, without any prize at the end of the race, the organisers say.

'National vehicle'

A total of 16 teams comprising 50 people are in the race. Two of the teams are Indian.

Armageddon team
Organisers say the auto-rickshaw is India's "national vehicle"

Aravind Kumar, the organiser of the challenge, says the race is tailored to give the participants the best the state has to offer.

"Participants will be making their way through monsoon rains, crowds, variable road conditions, and other typically Indian obstacles."

Aravind and his Hungarian friends came up with the idea when they took part in the Budapest-Bamako Rally of 2005, an adventure road race.

The auto-rickshaw, popularly called auto, was chosen for the race as it is India's "national vehicle", says Aravind.

"There are Indians who own many Mercedes cars. There are Indians who do not even have a bicycle. But every Indian would have travelled in an auto at least once in his or her lifetime."

The participants dressed up the autos and donned colourful costumes themselves to match the names of the teams.

'Fun and excitement'

The foreign participants seem to be enjoying it the most, as none of them have either seen or ridden an auto-rickshaw before.

A foreign participant
Many foreign participants have never ridden an auto-rickshaw

"Driving an auto for 1,000km on an unfamiliar road is an adventure. This is an experience that you could not get anywhere else," says Szabo Gal Andras from Hungary.

"You can not sign up with any travel agency for a trip like this."

Catherine Evens from England agrees. She and her six friends are looking for a "laugh, fun and excitement".

Participants paid 1,500 euros ($1,936) to enter the race.

The organisers provided an auto-rickshaw to each team, and will escort them throughout the rally and undertake any repairs on the way.

At the end of the rally, the vehicles will be sold and the proceeds donated to charity.

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