The Trans-India Challenge 3,500 miles across India in a Morgan three-wheeler

Alan Braithwaite, as his wife Pat is quick to say, is a ‘doer’. But if you’re a doer, and you’ve just retired, what do you do?

For Alan, this is not a particularly vexing question. As he puts it quite directly: “I’m not one to sit around on my backside and contemplate the roses!”

There is always plenty to do, but what really captures his imagination and his drive for “restless exploration” is a seemingly crazy plan to drive a Morgan 3 Wheeler car across India and back with his wife.

The Suffolk pair, both in their seventies, are planning an epic 5,600 km (3,500 miles) trip in the tiny British sports car, across India and back, from Mumbai to Hyderabad to Kolkata to New Delhi and back to Mumbai - all in 31 days.

The Trans-India Challenge, as they call it, is no ‘bucket-list’ fun trip. Alan’s a big guy, standing well over six feet, and possesses enormous presence. His steely grey-green eyes are filled with determination and, when he has a point to make, they look out over his glasses to fix you with a fiery glare. Alan wants to make a difference in his ‘retirement’, and this road-trip is his big declaration to the world that he intends to turn his formidable intellectual guns on financial poverty, economic waste, environmental challenges and sustainability issues.

Alan’s Big Idea has two parts: first, he wants to raise £200,000 to support an Indian NGO called Goonj; second, he wants to use some of that cash alongside Goonj to fund academic research into the impact of the innovative model employed by Goonj. Their approach, he says, not only helps alleviate financial poverty, but promotes sustainable economic practices that are good for the environment, and society, and it is achieved with an over-riding respect for the dignity of the rural communities they are trying to help.

About Goonj

Alan and Pat have a passion for India through long family connections and on visits became aware of rural poverty and deprivation. Alan’s extensive search for an organisation with a mission in this area, that could be supported by the challenge, kept alighting on Goonj. The Indian NGO's link with sustainability and the Circular Economy, alongside the relief of financial poverty, became the central theme of the adventure. He was excited by the discovery that Goonj was pioneering the idea of recycling urban discard, particularly clothing and textiles, to generate a vibrant economic system that allowed rural villages to fight their way out of financial poverty.

Based in New Delhi, Goonj collects thousands of tons of urban discard to distribute to over 5,000 rural villages. The villagers are then gainfully employed to recycle the material into valuable products for resale. This award-winning work is the ‘Circular Economy’ in action.

Sorting discarded shoes at the Goonj facility in Delhi

There are many organisations across India – indeed, the world – that focus on recycling and environmental issues, but what makes Goonj stand out is its focus on respect and dignity.

Goonj does not do “charity”. Unlike most other social development and aid programmes, Goonj just doesn’t give stuff away to the needy. Instead it collaborates with rural communities who are encouraged to work together to recover from disasters and reinvigorate local economies.

Villagers in Bihar collecting their Family Packs

One example is “Work for Cloth”: Goonj discusses local problems with the community and helps prioritise the most pressing needs. Teams of locals are then organised, with the help of Goonj team leaders, to undertake the work required (such as fixing water supplies and sanitation, building a bridge or repairing a road). When the work is completed, the villagers are rewarded for their efforts with “Family Packs” which are large parcels packed with clothing and other essentials. No-one gets something for nothing, and therefore respect and dignity are maintained.

Goonj's projects include helping villagers to learn new skills

A second example is a relatively recent innovation and promises to revolutionise disaster recovery: Vaapsi. This is a Hindi word that loosely translates as “Comeback”. Under this programme, local trades’ people, who have been wiped out by a disaster, are provided with tools and equipment to restart their businesses. Again, nothing is given away free, and the recipient must provide a service to the community in return. For example, a hairdresser may be provided with scissors, combs and other items to restart their business, but in return for free haircuts for local school children. When trades’ people earn their equipment in this way, dignity is maintained, and they can go about their business with pride.

As Goonj says – we give a “hand up, not a hand out”.

Alan Braithwaite

Alan’s background more than qualifies him to take on the job of investigating and promoting Goonj’s solution to the world. He spent decades growing and running his 40-strong management consultancy where he developed cutting edge sustainability and logistics projects for some of the World’s largest companies. His expertise is so widely sought that he spent many years as a part-time academic focused on supply chain management and business operations models.

Today, he is still very much in demand. Alan is Chairman of the Freight and Logistics Policy Group at The Chartered Institute of Transport and Logistics and sits on the board of e-cargobikes.com Ltd - a pioneering zero emissions delivery service using electric cargo-bikes for UK supermarket chains and local retailers.

Pat Braithwaite

Pat Braithwaite exudes energy and a tremendous sense of fun and adventure. Just like her husband, she has no intention of slowing down as the years advance. With her stylish bob of red-blonde hair and twinkling brown eyes, she dashes between tennis, the local church where she’s the warden, and looking after her horse and often her youngest grandson Jacob. Together Pat and Alan have five grandchildren who Pat describes as “a constant source of delight and excitement.”

She has always been an active volunteer in community work, including school groups and School Governorship, Church Treasurer and Parochial Council member.

Pat’s background is in food safety and packaging, but in more recent years she was financial controller and company secretary in the consultancy business. Now she is throwing her considerable energy into organising the Trans-India Challenge, and will co-drive Alan through India in the Morgan 3 Wheeler.

The Route

• Starts February 2020

• 3,500 miles (5,600 km)

• 31 days split into four legs

• Mumbai – Hyderabad – Kolkata – New Delhi – Mumbai

• Average speed: 40 – 60 km/h

• Average distance each day: 150 – 250 km

A wrinkle in the plan

As plans for the Trans-India Challenge developed through 2019, Alan became aware that his health was not what it should be. A visit to the doctor identified a heart problem – he would need open heart surgery to replace an aortic valve, and get a double bypass.

Alan after his heart operation

Alan was undeterred, calling it an unexpected ‘local difficulty’. The Trans-India Challenge would go ahead and he approached the surgery as just another obstacle to overcome – a problem like any other, and this one has a solution.

Alan underwent the surgery at Cambridge’s Royal Papworth Hospital in July 2019. At the time of writing, his recovery is progressing well, and after eight weeks, he was driving the Morgan three-wheeler again.

To ensure that he’s at optimum fitness and health for the Trans-India Challenge, Alan has taken medical advice and changed the start date to February 2020.

The Morgan three-wheeler

The colour scheme is specially designed in memory of Alan Braithwaite’s Father who drove Morgan 3-Wheelers between the First and Second World Wars. According to Alan: “As a boy I remember him saying that if he won the Pools he would buy a black Bristol car with yellow wheels. My brother and I never understood where that came from – but it sure looks good!”

• S&S 1983cc V twin air-cooled engine (as used in Harley Davidson motorcycles).

• Dry sump lubrication and push-rod valve mechanism, mounted ahead of the front wheels.

• Max power (@5250rpm) – 82 bhp, Max Torque (@3250rpm) – 140Nm

• Performance 0-62 – 6 seconds

• Top Speed – 115mph (185 kph)

• Urban mpg – 21.1 mpg (13.41/100km), Extra urban – 44.9 mpg (6.3/100km), Combined – 30.3 mpg (6.3/100km), Co2 – 215 g/km

• Mazda 5-Speed transmission (as fitted to the Mazda MX5)

• Final drive – bevel box with belt to the single rear wheel

Be part of the adventure!

You can follow Alan & Pat's Adventure on the following platforms:

Twitter: @transindiachal

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/transindiachallenge

Instagram: @transindiachallenge

Web: www.transindiachallenge.com

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdtHPVM775RvlSTlPUbhx2Q


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