As young as 10 years old, Naveen was inspired to travel. He heard stories about travelers; the cultures they would experience, and landscapes they would see. His goal was to travel by road as much as he could until he reached the United Kingdom. He started in Australia in 2010, using his savings and working part time along the way. Then, in 2011, he got to India.
“One picture I still can’t get out of my head was a beautiful girl wearing a face mask. She was wearing it to safeguard herself from pollution. It was such an impactful picture, in my head. I couldn’t justify my travel, my dream to travel was at the cost of environment. Suddenly my idea of traveling started to feel hollow and without a purpose.”
What do you do when your ambitions are contradictory? You reinvent the journey. Naveen decided that to reach the UK, he would travel in a zero-emission vehicle. Tuk tuks are one of the leading causes of pollution in India. Naveen saw this as a challenge. He would complete the 14,000 km journey without petrol, and teach people about the importance of sustainable living along the way.
“My fundamental pillars of this project were to build, travel and inspire.”
He began the long process of building his own solar powered tuk tuk. He faced many challenges in making this dream a reality: lack of knowledge, resources, and financial struggles.
“The vehicle had to be reliable so that people can trust in this technology and trust that common people can make it. It took me three and half years to make three prototypes.”
During the long process of trial and error, Naveen ran into many periods of questioning his commitment to this dream. He had to take on coaching badminton as a part time job to fund the project, and it was through this that he learned his biggest lesson. It was a six year old named Kritika that taught him the lesson of patience and perseverance.
“Her motor skills were very bad for six year old girl. My job was to throw shuttles at her and make her touch the shuttle with her racquet. six weeks, passed by and nothing was happening. Then one day, when I threw a shuttle at her, she actually hit it back. For a moment there, we both stared at each other. Both of us knew what it meant! It took six weeks and thousands of shuttles...Things take time!”
Finally, after years of grueling work, the tuk-tuk was ready for the journey. The local garage where they had been working threw a huge party in their honor. Local ministers were invited, local government officials, and media were part of the celebration. When he left the following morning, the Solar Tuk Tuk failed within the first Failed in the first 1km.
“I had spent 3 years talking like a madman, and it broke.”
He contemplated abandoning the project. He pushed it back to the garage, and left it for the night. The next day, he went to the garage to face the people that had been helping him create the tuk tuk.
“I could see they felt sorry for me. I could see it in their eyes. I felt like I let down myself and I let down my team. Then one said, ‘Naveen, you know why am I involved in this project? It’s because by working on these small jobs, I’ll never go out to see those countries you are going to go, but my work and my soul will travel with you to this countries!’ It was this statement (that made me feel I was) no longer alone in this journey, and I cannot turn my back and walk away from this.”
What has started as his own dream had impacted others, and become a dream for them too. It was no longer just about him, it was about the team and the community behind him. He fixed the Solar Tuk Tuk and on the 8th of February started his journey once again. This time the tuk tuk didn’t break down once in his 14,000 km.
During his time on the road he learned a lot. He would have to stop every 60-80km in order to recharge, either by plug or by waiting for the sun. This gave him an opportunity to meet people at every stop, learn from them, and re-energize himself for the trip.
Naveen learned many lessons along his long journey, but two stood out to him most in his mind; the first was about his preconceived notions of others.
“From the day one of my travelling I was challenged with the perceptions I had about new cultures and people whom I would meet. For example, I had this perception of Iran to be very unsafe. Which was completely untrue. I had experienced a hospitality culture like nothing else. People welcomed me with open hearts, wide smiles and pampered me with love. I was taken aback by my perceptions or generalizations that I made before. It made me open up my mind and take things as they are.”
The second lesson that struck him the most was a sense of greed that grew out of his anxiety.
“During the start of my journey, I was calculative and anxious about my rations. I was always worried and used to think of the worst possible conditions that I could end up with, which helped me to be more prepared, but also bought a bit of greed and anxiety out in me. Most of the villages, I was given/gifted/donated a kilo of tomatoes or few boxes of food. It was very useful, as I could survive easily for few days. I was hastily collecting and saving it for the future, and hoping one day, I would still have food for which I don’t have to spend money on. But what I hadn’t realized is that situation was I was doubting the generosity of people. During the action of throwing my food into a bin, I realized the love that people had given me I was throwing away. It made me more conscious to take only what I really needed to survive. It took a lot of anxiety out of my head, and I began enjoying every meal.”
Along his way, he also worked on educating others. He visited school and universities hoping to encourage the idea of sustainability and daring them to pursue their dreams.
“One of my dearest stories was in a school in Delhi, India. After the session, a father comes up to me and says, ‘Naveen, my son until now asked for a fast car like lamborghini, but now he wants a solar car. He thinks its for a better future!’ And his small change of mindset in this kid is the start of what I was hoping to do with my journey.”
In early October, Naveen reached London. During his journey he went to schools and colleges to talk about his experiences and his work towards sustainability. The fact that he was able to complete this amazing journey without petrol helped to open up people’s mindset.
“People and friends keep asking me why I am doing this long and hard trip. It was for the pure happiness of traveling, and it was my dream. I was blessed to do such a journey. I am very thankful to all the people who helped me to pursue my dream and overcome my challenges. This journey meant I could learn, and I could give. It taught me to accept things as they are. And it taught me to give smiles.”
Learn more about Naveen’s journey and his solar tuk tuk here.