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A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

- John James Audubon


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Adventure Travel

Jun 21, 2018

#VanLife Meets Sailing: A Tom and Sofia Update, One Year Later

Tom de Dorlodot is a professional paraglider & paramotoring pilot, partnering with companies such as Red Bull, Volkswagen, Garmin and Patagonia. Sofia is Argentinian, born in Paraguay and the daughter of a diplomat, making her more than familiar with a lifetime of travelling

WRITTEN BY

Sean Verity

We think they’re a pretty cool couple. 

On the 21st June 2017, The Outdoor Journal published a story about Thomas de Dorlodot and Sofia Pineiro. Having come from a VanLife, they were taking to the sea. The plan? To find the most beautiful places on the planet to paraglide, dive and surf.

Meanwhile, they would welcome professional athletes and friends to join them along the way. Their only goal? Seek intensity. We caught up with them last week, to find out how they are getting on.

You can read the original article from last year here, or alternatively check out the Search Projects video below.

TOJ: “Seek Intensity”, that’s the quote you left us with last year as your main objective. How did that go? What were your most ‘intense’ moments? Do you have one in particular you can share with us?

Tom: The year has been hectic. When we left Belgium, we didn’t know it at the time, but we really had no clue about sailing! I couldn’t even hold the helm. I was not even sure that I could take the boat out of the marina. So we left Brussels with a few friends that could sail, a bit better than us, and basically it’s been a year of learning, with all the possible mistakes you could make on a sailboat. But we didn’t break anything, so that’s good. 

Sofia: In the beginning, it was a good and a bad thing for us that we started with the worst conditions. With no experience, and difficult weather to navigate, we had to learn fast and adapt quickly. We developed good processes and reflexes on board. These were good lessons to learn early on.

Benoit Delfosse

Tom: One of the best moments was arriving in the Azores. It is just an incredible place, a very wild island. I remember one moment in particular, when we woke up in the morning and were sailing towards Faial. In a very calm sea, a whale came out of the water just a few meters away from the boat and exhaled, we got so wet. The whale just came out and pshht, we took all the humidity and the water in our faces. It was really crazy, it was the first time we really saw a whale that close to the boat. And then, the next day we saw ten sperm whales, dolphins everywhere, it was just incredible. We love the Azores so much that we actually found a piece of land there in Horta with a small ruin on it; when we finish our travels, we will build a house there.

TOJ: How did this year on a boat differ from the ‘van life’ you were doing before? Have you adjusted? Do you have a preference between one or the other, which and why?

Sofia: The boat life, by far. There are many similarities between the two lifestyles, but not when you compare driving for 10 hours or sailing for 10 hours. When you sail you’re always outside, the air is pure, you leave no harm behind you and it’s just you in the middle of this huge ocean. I think that is quite unique.

Tom: You also don’t need gas, that’s a good thing. Most of the time we have the wind in our sails, and it’s silent, you can just choose your own line in the water. It’s different when you’re on the road and you have to respect speed limits and red lights. The freedom of being able change plans in any moment is an amazing feeling. For example, we were in Dublin yesterday, and then for a moment you consider, “Why not go to England” and BOOM, you cross the sea and you go to England. You cannot replaces this feeling of freedom, knowing that the Azores were only 7 days away, which might look far, but you learn to travel at a different speed.

Tom de Dorlodot

When you walk in the mountains, ski, or cycle through a country, you have the time to see things, to meet people. It’s the same with a boat, because you don’t do long distances but everyday you’re in a different place. There’s also the sporty side to it; taking care of a 12-meter sailboat when in heavy conditions can be challenging, but very exciting.

Sofia: It’s common to experience strange feelings too, you reach land after a couple of days without being in a city, and you feel like an alien! You need a few hours to re-adapt and kind of act “normal” again.

Yann Verstraeten

Tom: The boat is actually a very good way to disconnect. It’s a bit like high altitudes in the mountains. You leave the coast, and you’re out there by yourself. The higher in the mountains you travel, the less people you meet. We have a lot of time to read, and we don’t need a watch or clock; we eat when we’re hungry, we sleep when we’re tired. Of course, it also comes with a few downsides. We have to take care of the boat, and the pictures you see on Instagram is the “glossy part”, but also we have problems, the boat took water a few times, we broke things.

“The good thing is that when you leave land, you only think about one thing: to come back. And when you’re back, you only think about leaving again.”

You always want to be on the move, and it’s great because when you come back to the land you get a good shower again, you appreciate the simple things. The restaurants, nice food, and sitting on a bench that doesn’t move around.

TOJ: How is the boat? and let’s talk about the SEARCH project.

Tom: The boat is doing really well. We expected to have a few problems, because it was out of the water for 7 years and we worked for 8 months to fix it. Now it’s in super good shape, everything is fine so we think it’s the perfect tool for moving efficiently from one place to the other.

Benoit Delfosse

Regarding the SEARCH project, it’s a very large search. The goal is to try to find the best places in the world to fly, we’ve encountered many places and made a good start. From the moment we landed in Gran Canaria (Canary Islands) and talked to the local pilots, we couldn’t stop grinning.

“One of the guys said that no one had crossed the island from one side to the other, they thought it was impossible. 2 days later, we did it.”

For us, it’s pretty cool to be able to arrive by boat, with the gliders, take them out and make a flight that local people have been dreaming about doing for years. It was a great moment. However, we’re not only looking for flying places, we’re also looking to continue to learn and to get to know new people.

Sofia: Gliding is taking a new dimension, there’s the sport side of it, but also the discovery when you find a new place, with a new culture. We also have the mission to not only show the beauty of our planet to the world. Having seen the bad things about the environment and pollution, we want to convey these findings to others. Try to expand the community awareness, for example by having a group of scientists coming onboard.

Benoit Delfosse

Tom: At the end of the day, it’s all about sharing. We are happy to invite people onboard, we had Simon Charrière, who is a professional skier, sponsored by Patagonia, recently. We had Gaetan Doligez who is an alpinist. These guys come onboard and they share their stories, and then they touch their own community. We now feel that we have more responsibility to share what we see, not only the dreamy part, but also what we think is wrong. That’s the direction of our focus for the next month.

TOJ:  With regards to the environment, climate change, etc, you’ve been in contact with it every day, from flying to diving, and everything in between. Did you have any moments where you said “wow, the climate is really changing”

Tom: One of our main concerns is plastic in the ocean. Unlike the CO2 emissions, this is a kind of pollution that you can see, that you can witness. The other day, whilst we were in the Azores, we saw seven big sea turtles. When you get close to them they get scared and usually go under water, but one was chewing a piece of white plastic, because it looked like jellyfish. She wouldn’t let it go and looked a bit sick. We don’t really realise how bad it is for the environment and we’ve been throwing plastic in the ocean for many years now. It’s difficult to acknowledge, because it’s difficult to count all the fish in the water; but when we speak with the locals and fishermen that have been sailing for 40 years, they all reach the same conclusion: we’ve reached a limit. We’ve gone too far and we now need to realise it.

Tom de Dorlodot

As a paraglider I’m super concerned about the weather, I have to look for stability and good weather to fly. When you speak with the local pilots, for example in the Canary Islands, where they started flying over 25 years ago, they say “we used to have better days, more stable conditions”. Everyone tends to say that everything is more extreme now. It moves you. When you’re connected to nature every day, it’s different then when you’re living in a city.

“You eat your sandwich wrapped in plastic and it looks normal, but if you live on the sea and you see a piece of plastic every 40 meters, you realise there is something wrong.”

Sofia: Now we have an opportunity to change habits. For example, when we go to the supermarket, we can only take the vegetable that are not wrapped in plastic. Our amount of waste has beed reduced drastically.

Tom de Dorlodot

Tom: I wish we could catch more fish, but sometimes it feels like the sea is empty. We didn’t manage to catch a single fish from the Azores to here (Ireland). We have good techniques, but we caught nothing. Then you come to Ireland, and you see massive boats dragging the ocean and taking tons of fish out of the water each day. We are really trying to make an effort on this side and I think it’s going to get better, but sometimes it’s impossible: you go to the supermarket and it’s plastic everywhere, everything is wrapped into plastic. I think now the consumer has the power to change this, by not buying things wrapped into plastic, and this can make a difference.

Benoit Delfosse

TOJ: You’ve embraced “a life with less” philosophy with regards to materialism, what have you found is really indispensable? What did you think was going to be essential, but actually wasn’t?

Tom: I think that nothing is essential at the end of the day. You need good food, healthy food, you need to catch a fish now and then.

“Fashion:”we are not into it, we try to just work with responsible brands…”

We are in a little bubble, for sure, but we’re not trying to live outside society, we are just on another page now. This kind of trip changes you, for sure.

TOJ: Do you receive clothing throughout the year, through your sponsors, or you just have a set of clothes from a year ago that you re-use endlessly?

Tom: We work with Patagonia and they have a “worn-wear” philosophy. You have to use your clothing until they are completely destroyed, and even then we can still fix it. We like it when your jacket looks used, and they want you to use it until the very end. Now we have a complete set, and I don’t think we will need a new one from the new collection. If we do, our old set of clothes will go to Pakistan, to the high-altitude porters that will need it more than us. We are happy to work with Patagonia who is trying to be eco-responsible in a way.

TOJ: One last thing about last year: scariest moment?

Tom: At the beginning when we left the Baleares and we went to Gibraltar, we got stuck in a thunderstorm in the middle of the sea. We took the sails out, and for 2 hours we were fighting in really heavy conditions, massive waves, with thunder all around us. At every lightning strike you think “ok, the next one is for me”. If it strikes you or your boat, you sink pretty fast. That was super scary. But we stayed focused, we stayed calm.

“It’s a very big lesson of humility, being on the ocean out there, you feel like you’re nothing. It’s impressive.”

TOJ: What’s next?

Tom: We are going to Scotland next week. From Scotland, further North, to the Shetland Island, and from there we cross to Norway. We think we will be there end of July, and we will spend a month / a month and a half in Norway; and then back down to Belgium. I have to go to Turkey for another expedition, but with 4x4s this time, with the SEARCH project team. We have 2 Amaroks (VW pick up) because Horacio is also sponsored by VW now, and with the roof-tents, a cameraman plus the photographer (John Stapels) we will do a kind of “old school” SEARCH project. Dirt bags, small budget, searching for places to fly. I think Turkey has lots of potential. Then we take the boat back to the Canary Islands, and from there we cross the Atlantic.

You can follow Search Projects on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

You can find Tom on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

You can find Sofia on Instagram.

Find your own sustainable paragliding or sailing trip on OutdoorVoyage.com

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Adventure Travel

Jul 12, 2018

The Power of Community: A Motorcycle Journey from India to Scotland

In January 2017, Ben and Prashant left behind comfortable lives to explore a project-driven motorcycle journey of community service and adventure - across 60,000 km and 20 countries.

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WRITTEN BY

Jahnvi Pananchikal

With a strong vision of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – “The whole world is one family” – Ben and Prashant help projects in education, housing, and skills training with communities in remote areas from India to Scotland: one motherland to another on their Royal Enfield.

This is Vasudhaiva Ride.

Photo credit: Vasudhaiva Ride

After 17 months of motorcycle riding, and five service projects in three countries, Ben and Prashant feel certain and optimistic about three truths: humans thrive in communities, sustainable design can save the environment, and the road to discovery is emergent in nature.

The duo tells us about their vision, values, experiences, and commitment to community service and sustainability.

“The world is one family”

Ben and Prashant have a powerful and inspiring vision to create a better world. That’s how they set out on the journey of Vasudhaiva Ride, along with Buddy, the dog, with a strongly belief in the positive impact of human togetherness and environmental sustainability.

How projects of Vasudhaiva Ride begin

Ben and Prashant identify and collaborate with people in diverse global communities who are driven by service and impact. Once synergies are established, they ride to specific communities and stick around to finish what they start. All projects are driven by the same vision and promise for the joy of craftsmanship and collaboration.

The essence of each project

Every project needs to be community-driven and sustainable. Whether it’s conducting workshops on sustainable design with school students, or actually building an entire community centre with upcycled waste materials, Vasudhaiva Ride engages in every project as it comes.

Prashant is experienced at building upcycled design and architecture, and Ben enjoys organising communities inspired by human connection and collaboration.

The journey with local communities (so far)

Vasudhaiva Ride began in Jijamata Nagar, a slum community in Mumbai where the two worked with EDUCO, a local school and conducted workshops for teachers and students on sustainable design and experiential learning.

Then, they rode 1000 km to Pushkar, Rajasthan to collaborate with Nivedita Chopra who was keen to build a home to inhabit 12 people. Within 24 days, they applied existing skills, learned from the locals about sustainable design, and worked with 40 local and international volunteers to build a model for affordable and self-reliant housing from locally sourced materials. All that for under 1 lakh rupees ($1,500 USD).

Next up was Bihar, where Prashant is raised. Having rode 11,000 km, they created a model for self-reliant housing, working with 3000 youths, over 100 family workers, and more than 40 trainees alongside volunteers from every continent. The project took place over 9 months in Arrah, Bihar and Buddy, the dog, was around to help too. This time, not only did they turn waste into resource, but also integrated solar, wind, and water filtration systems in place, along with urban gardening.

Photo credit: Vasudhaiva Ride
Photo credit: Vasudhaiva Ride
Photo credit: Vasudhaiva Ride

In March 2018, they left Buddy, the dog, with Prashant’s family after riding with him throughout India, and rode up to Nepal to collaborate with Himalayan Climate Initiative (HCI) to build a playground for change. They built an upcycled learning centre at the elementary school in Kagati village, 14 km from Kathmandu. The two also trained a local women’s group in upcycled design to be financially self-sufficient, and build affordable learning playgrounds.

After crossing China and Tibet, they reached Kyrgyzstan where they are currently working with another local community.

The power of human connection

Each project done by Vasudhaiva Ride has been possible because of people. From finding the right collaborators and raising funds to gathering volunteers and garnering media supporters, Vasudhaiva Ride has lived its mission with the help of the global community. The project is entirely crowd-funded and relies on the generosity of people’s time, effort, and resources.

When they started, Ben and Prashant had an idealistic view of the power of human connection and thankfully their journey so far has revealed that the ideal of human compassion and connection is completely real and achievable.

You can support them here.

Follow the Vasudhaiva Ride:

https://www.facebook.com/Vasudhaivaride/

https://www.instagram.com/vasudhaivaride

 

A chat with Ben and Prashant

We had a chance to have a quick conversation with Ben and Prashant about their journey.

TOJ: What surprised you about humans during the Vasudhaiva Ride project?

Ben: I think the questions that were on our mind before we started the ride were: are people ready to make a shift? Is the average human who is aware of the large issues of the world ready to start changing the way they lived for a positive future? And I think what we found, which I suppose was a surprise, was that by and large, yes. Whether we were talking with farmers, city youth, international travelers, local rural Indians, or homeowners, everyone was very keen to connect with us and join us in the work we were doing.

This is why our projects were so successful – because no-one hesitated in helping us, in whatever way they could.

TOJ: How was the endeavour of community building challenging? What are some things that helped handle those challenges?

Ben: Certainly, especially in Bihar project, we were working in a region which was known for its conflict between social groups. We had several deathly shootings in our neighbourhood while we were there. Unemployed youth were pelting stones and killing multiple people at a train station, just 500m away from where we were staying and the same station where all our volunteers would arrive to. The context we were in was about violence between people and that’s one reason why we wanted to work in Bihar. One of the things that helped us with those challenges is Prashant. He is an extraordinarily natural community-builder. People in the West study this kind of thing and Prashant just does it.

We hired workers from different places and in the first few days, there was a showdown between the workers from Dhanbad and Arrah. The workers from Dhanbad came to us and said that they are going to kill us. Prashant went down to the field and he got all the workers together. He talked to them and said,”Look you all may be Bihari, but I’m also a Bihari. Noone messes around here.”

Photo credit: Vasudhaiva Ride

To zoom out of it, one of the ways we overcame such challenges was through the common vision we shared.

The story of Vasudhaiva Ride would make them REALIZE that what they are working towards is something that the whole world is watching. I think that led people look beyond than their local identity and engage in a truly global ENDEAVOR.

Prashant: The biggest challenge was to work on these projects in places that we don’t come from. We have been travelling to different places and hosting large-scale projects in unknown places with people from different countries. In one sense, the projects are for people we are serving in the local community, and in another sense, they are for volunteers and the global community. Working with people with a common vision is what made it easy to overcome this challenge.

Photo Credit: Jyoti

TOJ: Why do you think human connection is important? What is its purpose in the contemporary context and how has VR advocated its significance?

Ben: If you look into any study, you will see that humanity is the same all over. Human connection is about recognizing those commonalities as opposed to focusing on the differences. It’s one way of resolving conflict between peoples and by recognizing that larger connectedness we all share.

We are in a time now where, at once, human connection is more possible than ever. Yet we are also in a time where differences are exaggerated in media, or political and social systems. In such contradicting contexts, we feel our responsibility to advocate for human connection. Our vision of “Vasudhaiva Kuthamabakam” is about “one world, one family,” and in a family, you can have differences. The experience of a Bihari laborer would be very different from the volunteer from Czech Republic. But once you recognize those differences, you’re able to talk about them.

Photo Credit: Romy Ardase

I think what we do in our projects is that we create spaces where people can talk together, share food together, teach each other customs about weddings, cooking, mourning and so on.

In our projects, we have seen people connecting on a very human level.

TOJ: What are some classic ways you’d bring people together? What worked and what didn’t work? How did you resolve when it didn’t work?

Ben: Just by hosting the project and living together to complete the project, we are bringing people together. More specifically, by sharing a vision with a team of people, be it Indian artists, privileged artists from the Western world, or labourers from rural India. What works is simple things – cooking, sharing, gifts, reciprocity of kindness. Bihari cook would invite volunteers for a Biryani and the same volunteers would share bread they brought all the way from Argentina. We didn’t have to do much to make those connections happen. We just brought people into a space, suggested a few norms of being open to new experiences, facilitated the process of people working together, and then we just let things arise. More than anything, that’s how the connections happened.

Photo credit: Ashanti Richardson

Sometimes, it didn’t work. Of course, there would be conflicts of personalities, cultures, or otherwise. We would talk to people involved and just ask the questions that needs to be asked in any conflict: what do you feel and what do you need? And always, we would come to a peaceful conclusion and people involved would come and work together to create. In that way, co-creation is a healing process.

TOJ: Can you elaborate on keeping your complete faith in the life of service?

Ben: To answer that question, I need to look at the major norms in the global, modern societies that push people away from a life of service. Being told that if you value your work, you should be paid for it. So what does it mean that we are not receiving any money? In fact, we are working harder than we have ever worked in our entire lives and we are going into debt. So the capitalist framework has definitely shaken our faith.

Another way of seeing it is that every single dollar or rupee that’s gone into Vasudhaiva Ride is used towards service in at-risk communities. That’s important to recognise and that is what gives us faith when it’s rainy.

Photo credit: Vasudhaiva Ride

Prashant: I completely believe in the life of service and I encourage people to live this life. It’s not a new concept. All societies and the entire universe works on this principle – we take something from someone, and we give something in return. That’s how we maintain balance in the ecosystem.

TOJ: Please describe ways in which you and Prashant are similar and different and how that affected the project collaboration.

Ben: Prashant and I play the stereotypical roles of an easterner and westerner. At least, we used to. I come from a background of wilderness guide and academia where everything is planned on a spreadsheet, weeks in advance. Prashant is from a world of India and artists with little pre-planning but a strong vision and an intuitive sense of how to get there. Those two ways work together very well. Prashant is the visionary and I help him put down the vision onto paper and into a plan.

We are similar in extremely important, deeper ways. I met him at Khoj international artists residency in Pune and there was a power outage on the opening day. We ended up playing live music. So in terms of energy, spirit and soul, we are very similar. We connect very easily and have a strong foundation of trust and mutual understanding. We are also both optimistic and realistic and pretty hard to distress. Whether it’s a road accident we witnessed or facing potential violence in the region we were in, neither of us got distressed by that. Both of us have an appreciation for the larger goal, which keeps us grounded. Lastly, we are both very simple people with simple means and getting by with what we have.

TOJ: Can you describe the feeling of finishing a task given to a team of people and draw a comparison to the feeling of reaching the project finish line?

Prashant: You feel very satisfied when your imagination and vision come true with the hard work of all the people involved.

After finishing the day, I would take a walk around and think of what we have achieved. I feel that it’s the most important part of the project. It’s a time of learning, understanding, reflecting, and improving.

As for team work, we followed routines where people would break for meals, exercises, and discussions as they engaged throughout the day according to their experiences and choices of tasks. Every five or ten days, we would check with the team about how it’s going. My main responsibility has always been of seeing how we are getting closer to the vision.

Photo credit: Romy Ardase

Every project brings its own set of challenges when it comes to the finishing line. Some finish earlier, others take much longer. But each project helps us get better at accepting the emergent nature of the task at hand.

TOJ: In what ways was building infrastructure from scratch different in each project? How was it influenced by the community you were working with?

Prashant: It was different for each project because of the diversity of culture, region, people, land, work styles and so on. When we did a project in Pushkar with a 24-day timeline with affordability in mind, we fastened the process of getting volunteers and worked according to project specifications. In the Bihar project, the space was different where things didn’t happen on time. Nepal was similar in that the work styles were different. But what was common in all the places is that we found people who are skilled at working with hands, and while working on the projects, we all managed to refine our skills.

The community influence also varies. The volunteers weren’t as skilled as the locals. The latter group defined the effectiveness and the timelines of the projects.

TOJ: Please highlight some of the most challenging and rewarding emergent moments of building something concrete with people from different backgrounds and age groups.

Prashant: Gathering different waste materials was both challenging and funny. Since Bihar is a dry state, for example, no one was ready to transport huge amounts of empty liquor bottles that were not even sent to a recycling factory. No drivers wanted to transport it without an authorized official from the government. So sourcing materials was very challenging. Another material we needed was sand and even that was not available for two months. So when we finally outsourced wasted liquor bottles and sand, we used them in construction during early mornings so that no one could see us with them. It was quite funny because it felt like we had smuggled gold or something.

The vision of making a house with waste made it easy to work with people from different cultures and ages.

For the locals, turning waste into resource was very new and they were also anxious about results. But finally, it was rewarding for them to discover its value as a low-cost and sustainable alternative. Now they even share it on social media.

All of this is basically emergence because there were no teams available. We found people over a period of 5-10 days for certain kinds of tasks. That’s what made it challenging and beautiful.

Photo credit: Vasudhaiva Ride

TOJ: In what ways did your past prepare and help you commit to your present?

Prashant: Whether it’s building cars with a team, starting a company from scratch, or doing a lot of technical work that involves hands-on effort, my past gave me a lot of confidence and experience to do bigger, better things. I feel that through Vasudhaiva Ride, I am refining my work in better ways and learning a lot, which will definitely be helpful in the future.

TOJ: Can you please elaborate on the synergies you find between riding motorcycles and doing community-led projects?

Prashant: They are both certainly very different. But I feel that doing a project while riding around the world is so much more fun because it helps us reach the weirdest geographic locations possible, whether it’s deep jungles or huge mountainous regions. For example, in Orissa, we were in Niyamgri hills in Dongria Kondh, and horses and motorcycles were the only way to get into the local community. Travelling by road on a motorcycle also helped me discover India so much more than I ever imagined. And of course, when your bike breaks down, you make new friends. People also look at you differently when you’re on a motorbike as opposed to traveling by plane. They see you as someone who has ridden for a long time to get to their community for a project-driven interaction and as one they can trust to work hard within their local context.

TOJ: This project is emergent, spontaneous, and adventurous at its core. How would you define the values and philosophy behind Vasudhaiva Ride in the context of adventure travel? In what ways does it connect to human connection and community living?

Prashant: Soon after the moment we met, Ben and I saw emergence happen. We decided that this journey will be project-driven and based on service throughout the world. It could have simply been a fun, motorbike journey across the world, but we knew that we wanted more.

Photo Credit: Vasudhaiva Ride

Because of the nature of our journey, adventure is inevitable. We went to the base of Mt. Everest and rode through the Himalayas, found ourselves in the mountains of Nepal and the deserts of Tibet to get to Kyrgyzstan. For us, service is embedded in adventure.

We feel happy thinking of the positive impact we left behind at the last stop. That satisfaction means a lot in such a journey.

We were just two people in the beginning, with a dog. Now, we are 3000 people from all over the world. They all believed in our vision and have helped us in every way possible.

Every place that we reached and left behind, our people formed an emotional connection. All created long-term friendships and carried a hope with them for a better future.

You can follow Vasudhaiva Ride on Facebook and Instagram

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