A new breed of solar-powered cycle rickshaws in Jaipur is promising to make your ride through the country's tourist spots more eco-friendly and comfortable for the driver. Hop on
It's a crisp, early morning. You have the wind in your hair and the rising sun for company, as you travel the crowded streets of Jaipur. You dodge cows, shops selling Ghevar, Jalebi, Rabdi, ghagras and cloth puppets, taking care to soak in every bit of the chaos. Your camera is out, capturing the colourful scenes of the pink city coming to life. This is 'Incredible India' at its best.
Yet, if you were travelling in a chauffeur-driven car or a tourist bus, the maximum you would see would be blurs of colour whizzing past you. Your best bet to savour a heritage city in its fullest glory would be travelling like they did in the days of yore, on a cycle rickshaw. However, for rickshaw drivers, this is often very physically demanding. And at the end of the day, all they earn is Rs 100-150.
A win-win proposition
It doesn't have to be that way though -- 25 eco-friendly rickshaws designed to ease the ride for the driver have hit the roads of Jaipur and Mandawa, thanks to Mohit Dixit and Sanjay Rathod. The duo launched Solarick Tourism Pvt. Ltd (STPL), a company that makes solar-powered rickshaws, in 2009. These rickshaws are meant especially for the winding roads of heritage cities.
Rathod and Dixit claim they are the first to start solar tourism in India. "We intend to begin our services in Agra and Varanasi soon," Rathod says. Their next goal is to improve the quality of life of the 800 million cycle rickshaw drivers in the country.
STPL is a business model that works for both, rickshaw drivers and tourists, and emerged after the duo conducted a study on the tourism opportunities in old city streets. "We studied the tourist market in Jaipur and the rest of country and found out that tourists may arrive in a swanky Mercedes, but to take a tour of the old city (the topmost activity on most tourists' itinerary) they have to park their Mercs elsewhere," says Rathod.
They discovered that cycle rickshaws were the best and sometimes the only way to get around in the city. However, a lot of tourists were uncomfortable sitting in these rickshaws, as they came with their own set of problems. "The driving conditions are really bad and the job is tiring. Some of the drivers are old, some are weak and a few have multiple health issues. So we came up with an idea to offer better quality services to tourists and drivers," Rathod adds.
The duo started their company in Jaipur with four solar rickshaws that cost Rs 40,000 each, accompanied by a solar panel to charge the rickshaws. "We wanted to generate interest for the product, which is why we targeted the tourism sector," says Rathod. The tourist would have access to a comfortable ride, and reduce his/her carbon footprint while travelling, while the driver would earn more.
They faced several challenges, initially. People were scared to sit in a solar rickshaw and travel agencies and hotels were not ready to accept and promote the concept. But slowly, through word of mouth and marketing at the right places such as the Jaipur Kite Festival, the popularity of these solar rickshaws grew.
Their present business model is a hit with tourists and benefits them as much as it benefits the rickshaw drivers. "Normally, a driver rents a rickshaw for Rs 50 to 60 a day and earns about Rs 100 - Rs 150 as his profit, all of this toiling hard throughout the day. Instead, we give them Rs 5,000 every month and they ride these solar rickshaws with ease," says Rathod. The company makes its profit by offering solar rickshaws to tourists at the rate of Rs 600 to Rs 700 for eight hours.
The solar rickshaw is powered through solar panelling and requires approximately six hours of sunlight. Once charged, it can then run for 45 km at a speed of 20 kmph. The rickshaw can comfortably fit three passengers. Each rickshaw is painted in a different colour, from orange and yellow to red and pink.
Like any other rickshaw, the driver has to pedal the bicycle to get it moving. But instantly upon pedalling it, the motor gets kickstarted and the rest of the peddling work is taken care for. In case of emergencies, the rickshaw can also be charged electrically.
And in case you do not want to shell out extra cash to hire a guide, your rickshaw drivers are happy to point out tourist attractions and other important places in the city.
So the next time you plan a trip to the Golden Triangle (Jaipur-Delhi-Agra) you need not worry about exploiting manual labour or walk for miles in crowded streets. Instead, you can simply opt for the colourful and eco-friendly solar rickshaws.