What’s the Difference between Tuk-tuks and Rickshaws?

Part I: Introduction:

You know it, the rickshaw is THE symbol of India, or to be precise, the symbol of Asia. In Thailand, tuk-tuks run slowly and carefully in the dull and damp pollution but Indian rickshaws rush like little rockets.

But let’s stop at the semantic station! Above all, don’t mix tuk-tuks with rickshaws, nor autorickshaws with bajajs! It would be such a disgrace!

Contrary to all expectations, the word rickshaw comes from the Japanese word « jinrikisha », « jin » for « man », riki » for « power » and « sha » for « car ». The British must have anglicized the spelling of the word, especially Ruyard Kipling who wrote a short story called « The Phantom Rickshaw », a story I found a bit boring but I give you the link all the same…

Thus, rickshaws are what one also call pulled rickshaws which originally replaced the palanquins (or sedan chairs) considered too slow. Rickshaws arrived in the North of India in the late 19th century thanks to Chinese salesmen who used them to carry their goods. Soon, that means of transport became very popular especially in Calcutta where even today a few gentlemen still draw their passengers by the sweat of their brow, despite the ban of pulled-rickshaws for human-right reasons.

The following are less degrading but very tiring too: the cycle rickshaws! You can find them more or less everywhere in India. My cousin and I tried them in Jaipur; the driver had calves as big as my forearms and we felt a bit guilty; this experience was not the best in our trip, apart from the divine beauty of the pink city! Strangely enough, cycle rickshaws have become really successful in American towns such as Los Angeles or New-York.

At last, autorickshaws appeared in the 70s. You can also call them autos or tuk-tuks. However, let’s stop for another little etymological moment.

You can find tuk-tuks in South-East Asia, in Thailand. They have three wheels and an engine. Their ancestor is Vespa. Two theories are in confrontation about the origin of the word tuk-tuk. Some people say that it refers to the thai adjective « thook » which means « cheap » but others reply that « tuk » does not sound the same as « thook » because of the H, consequently, it would be just an onomatopoeia refering to the sound of the vehicle. By the way, the tuk-tuk fares are not so cheap!

On the other side, the autorickshaw is an Indian tuk-tuk. It is the same vehicle but I find that the Indian ones are often more beautiful and more numerous. In cities like Delhi, they are environmentally friendly , they work with CNG (Compressed National Gas; I know that you know it!), and they are yellow and green. Some rickshaws are decorated in good taste and sometimes have a name. Rickshaws are so successful that a little compagny offer pimping on this site. I personnally prefer the picturesque rickshaws which are decorated naively and have a Bollywood picture or a beautiful womanphoto behind the back window.

Finally, for rickshaw addicts, the Rickshaaaaw Chaaaaalenge was born! Some races or routes are organized and people like you and me can drive rickshaws like real rickshaw wallahs and take part in charities! On a blog I started to read, Sharell tells her adventure here.

Now, since it is the exam period, don’t forget to work hard for tomorrow! There is a test!


Categories: India in pictures, Society, Voyages | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “What’s the Difference between Tuk-tuks and Rickshaws?

  1. Nice read!
    I never knew that the word rickshaw had Japanese roots!

  2. Neither did I! The word had always been quite mysterious to me. It looked English but did not mean anything in this language…

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