500 kilometres at the biennial travels to my elephant rally
Due to shrinking and overpopulated habitats, wild elephants and human populations now often live in close proximity. An unexpected encounter between the two is often a disaster for both parties. Crops and property can be destroyed, humans and elephants can easily be injured or killed. Since inception in 2002, Elephant Family has been working to protect the endangered Asian elephant, its habitat, and the families who live alongside them.
In our own modest way, Maclaren also endeavors to protect families. We have a long history of designing and producing baby buggies renowned by generations of families for their world-class safety. In fact, one of our core principles is to strive to protect families traveling with young children by building the safest products in the world.
We are pleased and humbled to be in a position to be able to give something back. We believe in taking responsibility for the world around us and our role in it. We first became involved with Elephant Family in 2015 as we celebrated our 50th birthday. We partnered on a year long series of fund raising events which culminated with the inaugural Travels To My Elephant rally.
This year we are thrilled to participate in the second Travels To My Elephant rally.
On the surface, the rally follows a familiar format often applied to charity golf tournaments and foot races. But the brilliance (or madness) of Travels To My Elephant is its complete immersion into its cause and culture. Racers came from all over the world to traverse 500km across Rajasthan, India from Jodhpur to Jaipur. Speed is not the way to win this race – that would be madness on the roads of India – this is a test of agility, wit and character far beyond the usual requirements of a charity golf tournament.
an earnest discussion about fortitude, responsibility and conservation
Any thoughts of a chauffeured day trip; viewing the sights of the Indian country-side through air-condition frosted windows are quickly dispelled. This is a boots-on-the-ground immersion into the staggering beauty and inspirational grit of India aboard vehicles which afford little shelter.
It is an up close exposure to the unique reality of a specific environment. This has a trans-formative effect on the racers. Discussions between racers, often strangers just days before, pivot from pragmatic to profound over the course of the rally. What begins as a chat about the challenges of piloting an underpowered and impractical machine uphill in the midst of streaming trucks, cars, cows, camels, sheep and people; ends as an earnest discussion about fortitude, responsibility and conservation.
Racers piloted an assortment of colourful local transportation - Gujarati Chagdas, Royal Enfield motorbikes, tuk tuks and vintage Jeeps. Each machine somehow simultaneously manifesting perfect utility and total inefficiency in a manner unique unto itself.
Into this fray we launched “The Flying Tuxedo," a black and white Royal Enfield Bullet 350, decked out in Albert Thurston livery. A tribute to our Albert Thurston Buggy and a collaboration with the kind folks at Albert Thurston. Despite the motorbike’s relatively recent vintage, riding the The Flying Tuxedo is best described by a local Indian joke: the piston remains still while the rest of the motorcycle shakes around it. But in the spirit of the rally: there are no bad motorcycle rides...
At planned and unplanned stops along the way racers began to embrace what seemed foreign just days before. Building on the grace, hospitality, and hope demonstrated by our hosts, each instance became an invitation to reflect. Each instance remade racers as advocates.
Visits at local schools were an education for students and racers alike. A charity 10-over cricket match against home team, The Khimsar Royals, proved endlessly amusing for local kids. On the edge of the Thar Desert, thousands of camels began to appear as we approached the massive Pushkar Camel Fair. The fair itself is an impressive sight – livestock trading, amusement rides, street performers and some of the best people watching in the world. Traditional music and dance seemed to be around every corner.
When all was said and done, the Travels To My Elephant 2017 raised well over £500,000 to help protect Asian elephants and keep the families who live alongside them safe. In addition it transformed racers into champions – champions of the rally and champions of the cause.
Additional Photography: Mehdi Arash Naseeruddin