This is the personal blog of London photographer, backpacker, traveller Mark Coughlan. The intention of the blog is communicate updates from my personal website and on my photography projects and travels both in the UK and worldwide. When backpacking the obscure places on earth, this blog will be continually updated with images and thoughts from the road. [Read more about me]

Monday, 28 January 2008

New photos: Rag Pickers

All images - Copyright Mark Coughlan
Before heading home to Blighty, I had a quick stop-off in Delhi for a few days to do some volunteer work for the Railway Children.
Meeting with a previous contact and since then a friend, I hooked up with Shekhar, himself a former runaway child who lived at New Delhi Station.

Probably not the best of timings on my behalf, I arrived as Delhi geared up for their annual Indian Independance Day with heightened security throughout Delhi, especially at the train stations. This resulted in a lack of opportunities to see and observe the children at the railway stations as they had all but been kicked out by the police in an effort to spruce up the place.

Spending my time between contact centres throughout Delhi, I spent two part days high above the city at "Highway" dump yard to do a project on "Rag Pickers" which is the latest gallery now on my portfolio.


Thursday, 24 January 2008

New photos: Bahadur Shaheed

All images - Copyright Mark Coughlan
Whilst taking on the challenge of driving a Rickshaw the length of India in the name of charity, adventure and insanity, I also had several editorial projects in India and Nepal.
Some I had been asked to cover and others ones that I wanted to pursue myself.

The first of these was a temple I have read much about was the shrine of Bahadur Shaheed, a Muslim Sufi Saint situated just outside Varanasi, Northern India.

The incredible spectacle occurs only on Thursdays, so impeccable timing was required as we left Cochin on our Rickshaw some 10 days earlier.
I afforded myself a few hours observing and shooting the rauqous atmosphere. Devotees of all ages immerse themselves in uncontrolable trances, some with such vigour and violence that it ends with them fainting.

Hundreds of pilgrims, both Muslim and Hindu converged on the temple with the courtyard and entrance to the actual shrine full to capacity.

A full photo gallery and introduction are now online at

Feedback is as always very much appreciated.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Day Sixteen: We've made it!

Day Sixteen: Wednesday 16th January 2008

Not sure where the other road was, but it became apparent pretty soon after leaving this morning that we were on the mountain road. 9 hours to do 142kms as we climbed to 2500 metres almost entirely in 1st and 2nd gear. Though it was a hard drive, the best day and saved for the last day of the trip with stunning views of the Himalayas and passing idyllic little villages with lots of waving and cheering. What goes up, must come down as we crawled around hair pin bends into Kathmandu.
Arriving at 5pm local time we reached the finish line at Rum Doodles pub parking up next to rickshaws that earlier today had crashed and rolled on the mountain pass with nothing left of the roof!
After 16 days, 4 hours and 45 minutes, travelling a total of 4,493kms through the entire length of India to Nepal, the adventure is over and we made it in one piece! An incredible journey and one of the best things we have ever done, which we would recommend to anyone else that equally has a screw loose.

Personally we would like to thank all our individual sponsors and Polaris Consulting. Every penny raised in doing this challenge will go directly to the Railway Children and Mercy Corps.

We're off to pat ourselves on the back with steak and chips, then onto the end of race party to get hammered, compare bruises and stories from the road.

Day Sixteen: Hetauda to Kathmandu
Total Daily Distance: 142kms
Total so far: 4493kms
Total Distance to go: 0kms

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Day Fifteen: The home straight...

Day Fifteen: Tuesday 15th January 2008

A late start today after "sightseeing" around Janakapur, it was a pretty easy drive as we wanted to make it to Hetauda, only 150kms to leave roughly 200kms for the final day.

Plenty of petrol stations enroute, but none with any petrol is causing a few concerns that we will actually run out of fuel in the middle of nowhere. The auto-rickshaw continues to be a real crowd puller in Nepal as there is no such thing here, so should we break down we really will be up shit creek. Perhaps we should have had that service before we crossed the border. Oh well.

A few teams are in town tonight, a contingent of Spianish teams who we pass and get over taken by throughout the day and the Scottish chaps who we didn't recognise with their clothes on!

Apparently there are two roads to Kathmandu. One 150kms up and over the mountains the other 250kms around the moumtains. No-one is sure where the turn off is, so we'll head out tomorrow and see where we end up, but judging by the noise of the exhaust, we could do with going the flat way round rather than trying to get up a mountain!

Day Fifteen: Janakpur to Hetauda
Total Daily Distance: 149kms
Total so far: 4351kms
Total Distance to go: 149kms

Monday, 14 January 2008

Day Fourteen: In the slammer....

Day Fourteen: Monday 14th January 2008

Trouble at the border - after proceeding through probably the most relaxed border crossing we have ever done, we meet with a couple of other teams who fill us in on the latest drama on the Rickshaw Run.
It seems that one of the teams have spent the previous two nights doing porridge in a slammer at the border. Their crime was hitting a pedestrian full on at top speed. Judging by the state of their rickshaw it must have been an almighty thump. The windscreen was completely smashed and the massive dent to the front bonnet looks like someone gave it a good kicking for a couple of hours. As the day goes on the story is that it was a policeman they hit, though that might be an exaggeration, and that the chap is in neurological hospital.

The road today was in remarkably good condition with little traffic compared to India. Well, that was untill 6pm and the turn off to Janakapur when the 30kms of road (?) was like an earthquake had happened five minutes ago.

Day Fourteen: Siliguri to Janakpur
Total Daily Distance: 331kms
Total so far: 4178kms
Total Distance to go: 322kms

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Day Thirteen: Tea and cakes for two....

Day Thirteen: Sunday 13th January 2008

Trust us eh. After making it through a political demonstration enroute, we arrive in a fog filled, bitter cold Darjeeling with no views of the Himalayas as we can only see 10 yards in front of us.
After a few cups and tea and enough cakes to give Anita belly ache (that'll teach ya fatty) and the customary visits to view Monastaries we headed down again after a brief visit.

Tomorrow we head into Nepal for the final 600kms to Kathmandu. Will the rickshaw make it? Well, judging by the deafening rattling and sqeeking the thing is making which if you had your eyes shut you'd think it was a diesel truck, who knows!

Wish us luck!

Day Thirteen: Siliguri to Darjeeling to Siliguri
Total Daily Distance: 0kms
Total so far: 3818kms
Total Distance to go: 682kms

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Day Twelve: A devasting lost....

Day Twelve: Saturday 12th January 2008

I don't know if it's just because I knew that at the end of today we would reach the border and therefore mentally feel that the home straight was ahead of us, but it was a hellish day today. Tonights final 100kms in the dark was probably the toughest to date. While the roads were bad, they were probably no worse than many we encountered. It just seemed that we hit every pot hole, nearly went into the back of every vehicle that came too close.

Even more devastating news is that among the pot holes tonight the flag and flag pole has gone. Probably injuring a by-stander what with it's size, we noticed the startling news on parking up at the hotel. What was going to be an official flag changing ceremony inbetween the Indian and Nepalese border points is no more. As Anita will tesitfy, I became rather close to that flag and to lose it on the last day....
Oh and we lost one of our (non) melody horn speakers as well.

After 12 days of driving for 12-14 hours a day we have tonight reached a town only 20kms away from the India/Nepal border. Making it in decent time allows both us and the rickshaw a day off tomorrow as we will get a taxi up the 86kms of long and winding road to Darjeeling.

The hotel is proper nice though, but I have rather low standards now.

Day Twelve: Barauni to Siliguri
Total Daily Distance: 380kms
Total so far: 3847kms
Total Distance to go: 653kms

Friday, 11 January 2008

Day Eleven: Elightenment and daisy chains...

Day Eleven: Friday 11th January 2008

Another free morning, to explore and become enlightened as we visit and sit under the tree where Buddha himself found enlightenment and founded Buddhisim as it is today. The site of thousands of monks all praying and meditating, coupled with the usual western looking odd balls was quite an awe-inspiring sight.
A town that boasts the most beggars ever to congregate in one place, we were fully enlightened and at peace and ready to move on.

Shortly out of town and heading North-East towards the border, we stop to watch a school sports day. As is the case in India when anything of slight interest occurs, crowds of locals all pushing and shoving surrounded the races, being kept back (rather forcefully with sticks) by the organisers. The whole thing was like a mosh pit at an Iron Maiden concert. What was only going to be a 10 minute stop off, turned into two hours as we got given lunch and had to stay to watch some terrible singing at some ropy "Cultural show" where we were asked to join the performers on stage and we were presented to the crowd and given a daisy chain of flowers.

We end the day god knows where. All I know is the carpet stinks in the room and if the waiter knocks on the door one more time my enlightenment and peacefulness will soon disappear.

Day Eleven: Bodhgaya to Barauni
Total Daily Distance: 226kms
Total so far: 3467kms
Total Distance to go: 1033kms

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Day Ten: Rubber croissant...

Day Ten: Wednesday 10th January 2008

An early start, but a morning off from driving the rickshaw. We spent the morning at the Bahadur Shaheed temple 12kms from Varanasi, mainly for some editorial photography I have been requested to do. Our rickshaw driver points out with great pride a McDonalds which has made its way here.
After eating (or trying to eat) the most stale, rubber croissant in India we headed off from Varanasi to Bodhgaya, the spiritual home of Buddhism.

A trouble free drive with just a couple of issues. The first tonight when the highway came to a sudden end without any warning, with our rickshaw driving straight into a building site and coming to a stop perched precariously on top of a pile of rubble. The second when the rickshaw came to an abrupt halt at full speed (nearly killing a following motorbike). Restarting the rickshaw it went and did it again. As we are not exactly mechanically minded I came to conclusion it was an air block (we'd just filled up with petrol), so I shook the rickshaw back and forwards for a few minutes. Since then, it hasn't happened again. Anyone got a scooby?

Day Ten: Varanasi to Bodhgaya
Total Daily Distance: 271kms
Total so far: 3241kms
Total Distance to go: 1259kms

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Day Nine: Fed, watered and washed....

Day Nine: Tuesday 9th January 2008

At last! - Hot water, comfortable bed, carpet, no squat toilet, no mosquitos in the room, food that is something other than rice and something....we've arrived in Varanasi!
After somehow ending up on the National Highway towards Kolkatta after a couple of wrong turns in pitch darkness, we do what the Indians do and simply turn around and drive in the wrong direction back down the dual carriage way and continue down the slip road the wrong way with cars and trucks beeping the bejesus out of us. We pitch up at on old stamping ground at 8pm.

You either love or hate Varanasi, for us it's our third visit to what we consider the most fascinatng place in India. We meet an old friend in "Bully" our previous rickshaw driver.

Day Nine: Khatni to Varanasi
Total Daily Distance: 394kms
Total so far: 2970kms
Total Distance to go: 1530kms

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Day Eight: Close shaves....

Day Eight: Monday 8th January 2008

Its a bloody miracle how I've not run someone over so far. Night time driving in India is seriouly not recommended. You just have to see the carnage on the roads in daylight from the night before with lorry, trucks, and dogs splattered across the roads.
At night, Indians like to take a walk down the middle of the equivalent of the M1 motorway. Then you have the cyclists, who have no lights, who you only see with a split second to react. You then have the tractors, and slow moving trailers with no back lights or brake lights that when you are bombing along at 40/50km/ph you only see with a second to spare. Add to this the oncoming traffic who always have their lights on main beam, so you are blinded until the oncoming vehicle passes, while trying not to hit a pedestrian or cyclist.

Way too many close shaves to mention. Seriously, my luck is going to run out some time soon.

Got feasted upon my one mosqutio last night, sooooo itchy.

Day Eight: Mansar to Khatni
Total Daily Distance: 351kms
Total so far: 2576kms
Total Distance to go: 1924kms

Monday, 7 January 2008

Day Seven: Accidents galore...

Day Seven: Monday 7th January 2008

News of another accident start to filter through. A friend on the "Clacton-on-Sea Mystery Tours" team has texted me to say he turned his rickshaw over when doing 60km/ph (must have been downhill). The result is he has no skin on his arm and the team are pretty shaken up. The rickshaw has been repaired and they are back on the road, determined to get to Kathmandu.

Today was just one of those days when we thought someone was tryng to tell us something. On caining in up the National Highway we pass head on collisions between trucks that look like there would be no chance of survivors. We must have passed 3-4 incidents, some happening within an hour of us passing them the usual crowds of on-lookers that India provides.

A day when we knew there would be little hightlights due to driving up the motorway, we stumbled across a massive livestock fair with proper full-on barneys braking out between sellers and buyers.
We end today 100kms north of Nagpur, roughly two thirds of the way up India.

Day Seven: Armul to Mansar
Total Daily Distance: 447kms
Total so far: 2225kms
Total Distance to go: 2275kms

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Day Six: Crash, bang, wallop...

Day Six: Sunday 6th January 2008

After resigning to the fact that we really could come last in this race, the team "Chapati Chasers" pull up alongside us at a petrol station this morning. A welcome relief, and to think they apparently hammered it up to Goa in a 24 hours drive from the start line.

Today and the next two days is all about making up some time so that we can enjoy the Northern part of India, as there really isn't much in the middle in comparsion to the south and north.

After finally getting on the NH7 it was full steam ahead to Hyderabad, when a few wrong turns later, plus nearly two hours, we eventually get passed what was called "a bastard of a place' on numerous occasions. The only good news and slightly diluting my rickshaw rage was the Indian version of Dominos we found just as we were leaving the city.

The day took a rather sour and nasty turn from here on. Some 30kms out of town at some ramshackle of a dirt town where we stopped the team Chapati Chasers passed us again. On following on 10 minutes later we see they've been involved in a nasty accident, turning the rickshaw over three times in swerving to avoid a car that pulled out. Their rickshaw was a wreck and the driver was sent off to a local hospital with a severely cut knee to the bone and rolling in agony. Their Rickshaw Run had come to a rather sudden and abrupt ending as they decided to head home. A few hours later, while he headed off for x-rays we continued on our journey with a bit more caution.

What happened to that team could have so easily happened to us as time and time again, Lorries (worse culprits), cars, tractors, cyclist, motorbikes - you name it, pull on to the road without looking giving you 2- 3 seconds (if that) to brake or swerve to avoid. We've had some very close shaves already on this trip, which give or take a few seconds would have seen similar results to Chapati Chasers.

Day Six: Raichur to Armur
Total Daily Distance: 452kms
Total so far: 1778kms
Total Distance to go: 2722kms

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Day Five: Keeping India moving....

Day Five: Saturday 5th January 2008

Today, Team Shatabdi Express taxi service was born. Doing our bit to keep India moving we have been picking up local villagers enroute and dropping them off at their destination along the way. Unlike some teams who 'pimped' their rickshaw to look like they're sponsored by Monster Munch we decided to 'pimp' our rickshaw so it actually looks like an actual rickshaw. This results in people trying to hail us down all day long with us obliging on most occasions.

We still haven't made it to to Hyderabad, but we are only (he says) 200kms short of it. Mainly due to the 12kms tailback for Lorry gridlock enroute to Hampi. After some how missing the road to Hampi we got there for a quick look around.

Tonights hotel is an all time low. Words cannot describe how bad it was. On the ground floor slap bang next to an outdoor party/concert with a toilet that made you want to barf everytime you went.

Day Five: Hiriyur to Raichur
Total Daily Distance: 420kms
Total so far: 1326kms
Total Distance to go: 3174kms

Day Four: A giant penis....

Day Four: Friday 4th January 2008

Hurrah, we are not last! - Leaving the hotel this morning we see another team rickshaw parked up at a hotel! Now we're probably just second last.

If we were not any further behind we decided to take a visit to Sravanbelagola temple, the most famous of Jain temples, some 100kms north of Mysore. After scaling a mountain to get to the top we see a giant statue of a man with an equally giant penis.
We are heading cross-country toward the highway linking Bangalore and Hyderabad, through some enchanting little villages all harvesting rice fields with fruit and veg markets seemingly the norm on Fridays. We eventually stopped for the night at an Indian version of Travel Lodge on the NH4 at 11pm.

At times we dare not stop for the crowd control issues. It seems that everywhere we go, be it a petrol station, roadside village, local school or for a 'Jimmy Riddle' by the side of the road we manage to create a crowd. As fascinated as they are with us, it seems the CD and MP3 player complete with hit Hindi tunes is the real draw.

Day Four: Mysore to Hiriyur
Total Daily Distance: 351kms
Total so far: 906kms
Total Distance to go: 3594kms

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Day Three: Everything that could go wrong...

Day Thress: Thursday 3rd January 2008

No two days are ever the same, and never has a truer word been said. After a great day on the road yesterday today's day was cut short. We've had a few issues. Here goes:
1. Cracked windscreen (not my fault),
2. Smashed left indicator (my fault), dent to front bonnet (my fault),
3. stolen windscreen wiper,
4. Industrial melody horn no longer making a melody,
5. CD/MP3 player not working anymore.
6. ....and the small matter of the brakes not working anymore (see point 2).

After somehow getting to Mysore without killing ourself and anyone else (see point 6) the rickshaw had a visit to a garage in town. A few hours later and it is as good as new. Only problem is that we are now probably a good day behind every other team because we drove no further than 1pm.

To top it all off, we got pulled over by the Police (not a first for me) and fined 100 rupees for driving the wrong way down a one way street.


Day Three: Sathaymangalam to Mysore
Total Daily Distance: 154kms
Total so far: 555kms
Total Distance to go: 3544kms

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Day Two: Vindication

Day Two: Thursday 2nd January 2008

It seems our decision of taking the route through the mountains of South India was a right one. This mornings drive we were treated to a glorious drive through never ending lush green tea plantations. This would rival the rice hills in Vietnam for some of the most spectacular sights in Asia. Not surprisingly we got seriously way-laid. Forgetting for the most part of today that this is in fact a race, we swanned around like we were on some over 60's coach party to Bournemouth.

Stopping at the living quarters of some of the workers at the Plantations, we were shown proudly round a dozen family houses, including pointing out the toilet, TV and in some really proud instances, a 1970's Hi-Fi system.
We also had two mechanical issues today. Our knowledge knows no bounds. We diagnosed that the reason for the rickshaw coming to a sudden halt twice in 5 kms was due to over heating. So there we were sitting on the side of the road explaining to passer-bys that the engine was too hot when 30 minutes later the engine wouldn't even start. Hence the brain wave - we ran out of petrol.

Pressing on in the afternoon we still didn't make it to Mysore, our intended destination. Instead we rolled into a run down little town at 10pm when the clutch cable broke. But how is this for a bit of luck, at the exact spot where the cable snapped was right in front of a rake of local rickshaw drivers, who within 10 minutes had located a new cable, and fitted it! On starting up the engine we asked if they knew of a Hotel in the town, only for them all to point at the building directly in front of us with a massive "HOTEL" sign! Hurrah!

Day Two: Admali to Sathymangalam
Total Daily Distance: 274kms
Total so far: 401kms
Total Distance to go: 4099kms

Day One - ....and their off!

Day One: Tuesday 1st January 2008

This being India, things never start on time. So it was no great surprise that the race eventually got off at 1pm. Two stalls later and we were off with the other 65 teams.
We have made it some 26kms short of our intended finish point for day one. The mammoth task of completing the 4500kms is starting to hit home a bit. Not helped by our decision to take the mountainous route out of Cochin via the tea plantations, travelling up over 1000 metres on long, winding roads rather than do what probably 80% of the other teams headed up the sensible (flat) West Coast.

So, it's a 6am start for us tomorrow as we hope to make it to a Jain temple in Sravanbelagola, some 100kms north of Mysore by the end of day three.

Day One: Cochin to Adimali
Total Distance: 127kms
Total Distance to go: 4373kms

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Upsetting to locals....


After a mini-shopping spree at the Indian version of Halfords and Sainsburys, not to mention spending hours finding the right lead/adaptor to make the Ipod work, the beast was ready to go. Pumping out the latest Hindi pop hits, and industrial melody horn and painted as requested with a few interesting spellings of some of the names of our indivdual sponsors (it's India!).

Our first driving lesson went remarkably well considering. Its a bastard to start the thing, and equally so stopping it without stalling. With that in mind we caused (in fact we still are) all sorts of chaos at junctions throughout the city. The idea (according to me) is try not to stop or use the brakes and it's fine!

New Year Eve was spent on some posh hotel lawn getting acquainted with all the other Rickshaw Runners, including (no suprises) the gobby Aussies and over the top Americans. However, the night came to a rather abrupt ending when minutes after midnight three chaps from Scotland lead a mass strip off and sprinted to the pool. Being a holy Hindu/Muslin country the hotel manager didn't take kindly to the actions, with the music switched off and our boat home leaving a lot sooner than advertised.

Posted 1st January 2008

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