India to London: In a solar-powered auto!

India to London: In a solar-powered auto!
Highlights

What can you do when you’re stuck in traffic? Not of course hatch a plan to tour 14,000 km over two continents and 12 countries, all with zero emissions.

What can you do when you’re stuck in traffic? Not of course hatch a plan to tour 14,000 km over two continents and 12 countries, all with zero emissions. But that is exactly what Naveen Rabelli, an Electronic engineer from University of Hyderabad (UoH), who was an automotive engineer by profession and a ‘traveller by heart’, did.

The 35-year-old pulled into London on September 16 last year, after travelling through India, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Swiss, France and the United Kingdom, on a solar-powered auto, christened ‘Tejas’. ‘Tejas’, the Sanskrit word for ‘Radiance’, is a Piaggio Ape auto rickshaw that is seen on the streets of most Indian cities and runs on diesel. However, Naveen and his team worked for years in a local garage, and managed to convert it into its present form.

The team had to work on it for three years and make three prototypes, but they did it. The final version even had an onboard computer and a driver display system, to monitor the performance of the vehicle. “I wanted to showcase an entirely Indian solution to the world that was reliable and feasible. If a person like me can make it in a garage and live his dream, so can anybody else,” Naveen says.

Having completed his postgraduate degree at UoH, Naveen travelled to Australia, where he was involved in designing equipment related to driver safety for Lumen Australia. At this point, he became an Australian citizen. After around five-and-a-half years, Naveen says, “the allure of travel got hold of him”, following which he quit his job, travelling around New Zealand and South East Asia.

He returned to India soon and discovered his love for electric vehicles when he started working with Mahindra’s ‘Reva’, which is known for its compact electric car. After building the auto for three years, Naveen began his official journey from Bengaluru on February 8, 2016. The Hyderabad native also got the support of Telangana Tourism for the journey. The vehicle had a bed, a solar cooker, a passenger seat and a mini cupboard for food that was donated to him.

From Bengaluru, he made his way to Pune and Mumbai. Here he boarded a plane with ‘Tejas’ to Sharjah in UAE, from where he boarded a ferry to Bandar Abbas in Iran. In Iran, he made his way through Shiraz, Isfahan, Tehran and Bazargan, before crossing the Turkey border. From Bazargan, he visited Erzurum, Ankara, Istanbul and Kapikule, before a stop at Thessoloniki in Greece.

In Bulgaria, he visited Plovdiv, Sofia and Kalotina, while on his way through Serbia, he passed Nis, Beograd, Novi Sad and Bogojevo. He crossed the Austria border near Spielfeld, before heading to Graz, Wien, Schörfling, Salzburg and Freilassing. In Germany he visited Munchen, Augsburg and Stuttgart, while his Switzerland visit saw him pass Zurich, Lucerene and Lausanne.

In France, he had visited Strasbourg, Metz and Reims, and was on his way to Paris, when tragedy stuck. Naveen's passport and wallet were stolen from the vehicle when he had parked it in a town on the outskirts of Paris, to urgently use a bathroom. However, the Australian Embassy in Paris issued him an emergency passport, and he crossed the English Channel (via ferry) from Calais, and reached London, just five days later than scheduled.

During the journey, Naveen visited over 20 cities and roughly 110 towns, experiencing temperatures from 38 degrees to -2 degrees. Living life on the road, he bathed in water bodies that he found along the way, and ate mostly what people could spare. He even smoked horse dung in Iran to cure a sore throat.

With 180 charges along the way, Naveen claims to have saved 725 litres of fuel. He also visited many schools on the way, interacting with children, and enlightening them on the need for renewable energy. The feat is perhaps second only to Bernard Piccard’s Solar Impulse.

What was Naveen's biggest takeaway from the journey? “In journeys of such scale, there are lessons every day, and with every encounter. From the beginning of the journey, my perceptions about cultures and people were challenged. At first, I was always worried about the people who I would encounter and how they would react to me. However, I soon learnt that, deep down, everyone is similar,” he says.

“Another important lesson was to break down a big goal into smaller ones. For example, I had a goal to complete several thousand kilometres, but I broke it down into 100kms and I focused on each of these smaller journeys. It not only helped me enjoy every smaller stretch, with lots of good memories, but it also made me less stressful about the final goal,” he adds.

Since the trip, Naveen has donated ‘Tejas’ to the Verkehrshaus Transport Museum in Lucerne, Switzerland. “I thought this would be a perfect end to the ‘tuk tuk’ which was born in India, travelled with zero emissions, and will continue to inspire people. I believe this end, will pave the way for new ideas and new sustainable transport solutions in the future,” he says. Naveen now plans to join a team in Germany where they will be making production level solar cars for cities. (www.thenewsminute.com)

By Nitin B

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