It is Indian and it is eco friendly. It is travelling across 10 countries, covering 10,000 kms with 0 emission. The expedition undertaken by Naveen Rabelli riding his solar powered auto rickshaw is on a mission is to connect with people who are working towards sustainable alternatives and to showcase a made in India green solution.
Naveen’s story is one that makes you feel proud to be an Indian. He is an engineer who went to Australia to do MS, worked there for a few years, when he got restless and looked for bigger challenges. He quit his job and backpacked across New Zealand and SE Asia. Back to India he worked with Reva in Bangalore when he was inspired to undertake this solar project and expedition from India to UK. With no background in automotive engineering, he took three and a half years to remodel a Piaggio Ape into a solar driven model.
Naveen started off his journey in Bangalore and rode up to Mumbai where he put his auto on a boat to Bandar Abbas in Iran. From here he made his way through breathtaking landscape to Turkey.
When contacted on email Naveen took time off at Taksim Square in Turkey to answer these questions exclusively for Sujata C @ Solorider. He has covered 9200 kms in his expedition at the time of writing this article. He will be part of the world’s largest electric vehicle rally WAVE in Germany in June.
Read the complete interview:
You are a seasoned traveler, have explored New Zealand and SE Asia. Now you are on this long expedition from Bengaluru to London, to raise awareness about solar energy. What inspired this expedition?
I have done trekking in New Zealand – done 4/10 days treks in wild. It was challenging because I hadn’t done such things before, like organising your food, things you can carry and looking at maps, weather etc. Every night we had to reach a hut, which had basic amenities, so that way it was safe. And NZ wild doesn’t have any wildlife to be fearful of. Weather and not looking at maps may be the only thing that can get you in trouble.
I had lot of friends from Argentina, and one of them, when he came to India had this wild idea of a tuk tuk as the next vehicle for his journey. I took it up seriously as I felt it was Indian icon, where I can make a moving home and not cause pollution. Very little is being done to make it green.
Why auto? How long did it take for you to remodel the auto?
As I said earlier it was such a perfect vehicle for my next half of journey. My journey from Australia to India via NZ and Southeast Asia was not satisfying. I felt sad that for my travel I was being the cause for pollution. It took me around 3.5 years, there were lot of things I had to do, like raise funds, market my project, do experiments, find the right guys to do some of its parts.
How much distance are you covering every day?
Anywhere between 0-180km; depending on weather sometimes I can only do up to 40km. Coming to Turkey from the Iranian border, it was very rough weather. -2 deg C at nights, raining, roads were slippery, hailstones. I had not seen sun for 18 days…on such days, take it easy, don’t stress and go as much as I can.
How much are you spending travelling this way?
Costs of any travel is includes a) transport b) accommodation c) food e) touristy stuff. And the best part of my travel is if I have to keep my cost down to 5$ a day or less, I don’t lay for fuel and also sleep in my tuk tuk, tent( if someone else is with me) or people’s houses when they invite me/ couch surfing. In last three months I spent 5 days in total in hotels due to health.
How did you fund your project, any sponsorship for the expedition?
My main sponsors are a) Telangana tourism b) CPC USA c) Kalapuraparmbil d) Avast technologies e) Crowdfunders and my partners are a) Lumos Bags India b) Acer India c) gosunstov USA.
What is the best part about solo travel?
It’s easy to meet people when you are alone and people welcome you more. At least that’s what I felt. You have a lot of time to explore yourself, understand yourself better. You will try to be self sufficient and independent.
Is it tiresome at times to travel alone?
Yea, it can be tiring. But it’s a matter of time you figure out how to effectively and efficiently travel by not tiring yourself. It’s different for different people, how one manages themselves. What works for me, is I take step by step. If I have to cover 1000 km, I divide it and enjoy every 50 km. So in matter of time you will not only reach 1000 but also enjoy every km or every moment.
Urban life has a culture of fear with TV spewing out negative story after negative story. What are your observations of human behavior as a traveler, when you move from the urban to the rural scene or from country to country?
A traveler especially with positivity, I only see good things around, I only meet at least 90% of the times good people. But it’s easy as a traveler as I don’t stay at one place for long time to know (the other side). That’s also a big drawback of such travels; everything looks amazing, while reality can be different. Of course my opinion is biased because I have traveled to good countries or where there is not much of political crisis. It is also true that urban media, gives lot of stories which are affecting our lives negatively. Perfect example is Iran, before I came all my friends said be careful, it’s only because of the media stories they heard. While in fact, Iran was the safest place. In fact, lot of Western female travelers do solo travel. It can’t be possible if it was unsafe.
How have your travels changed you as a person?
My family and friends can answer that better. But what I think is I became more humble and accepting person than before…more confident and less arrogant. Most importantly for me is belief in goodness of people keeps just growing and grows every day.
What has been your biggest frustration while planning your trip?
a) Making a reliable vehicle b) bureaucracy about vehicle passing c) funds for making of vehicle, permissions, visas, spares!! It was very frustrating.
What are the musts in a traveler’s survival kit?
Musts are pair of winter clothes, basic meds, sleeping bag, basic tent (depending on how you are travelling) knowledge about where you are going. Most importantly, less luggage is what you need. The less you carry, it feels so much better, and also slowly you realize half the things you would have thought of carrying were not needed, as you always try to find alternatives if needed.
Safety must certainly be an issue. What is your trick to blending into different countries?
Be genuinely interested in other cultures, be humble learn their culture, learn some words enough to make sentences, learn about the famous people and when you attempt to speak in local language, and make some jokes about yourself or some universal jokes. It will break the ice and once that’s done you have basically put foot in their door. When you show your making an attempt at their language, you won’t be excluded. They will start treating you as one of them. They will care for you. But what comes first is be genuine!!
I tried to answer my best sitting in Taksim square Istanbul, while waiting for a friend. It’s just amazing to see how people were terrorised two months ago or less by a bomb here now you see people on streets playing music, doing their life as normal. Similarly, in Hyderabad when we had bomb blasts, in a matter of few days we went back to our daily routine. Life goes on, as they say.
Those who are interested in following Naveen’s hugely inspirational journey and supporting him in his cause can follow this link https://www.facebook.com/ProjectTejas/ or the website http://www.solartuktuk.com/