Spiritual Varanasi, innovative Guj bring solar powered SI-2 to India

Varanasi and Ahmedabad may not be having much similarities but the pioneers of 'Solar Impulse 2', claimed to be the world's only solar-powered aircraft, chose the two cities for a layover in India as they have distinct "dimensions" of spirituality and innovation.

PTI| Last Updated: Mar 11, 2015, 23:24 PM IST
Spiritual Varanasi, innovative Guj bring solar powered SI-2 to India

Ahmedabad: Varanasi and Ahmedabad may not be having much similarities but the pioneers of 'Solar Impulse 2', claimed to be the world's only solar-powered aircraft, chose the two cities for a layover in India as they have distinct "dimensions" of spirituality and innovation.

"Varanasi is a holy city. I have visited Varanasi many times and I am impressed with that place. It is true that the project is about technology, it is also true that the project is about human adventure. But when we do these flights, these long-duration flights, it's always a spiritual experience," said Andre Borschberg in a reply to a question on why the next stop of the plane is Varanasi.

The globe-trotting 'Solar Impulse 2' made a landing at the Sardar Vallabhai Patel International Airport here last night, fifteen hours after it took off from Muscat.

Borschberg, the project co-founder and pilot of SI-2, and its co-pilot and president Bertrand Piccard were sharing their experience of flying in the plane with reporters here.

"..So to be in Varanasi is to touch a spiritual dimension, which is a key to us. It is not only about business, it is not only about technology and it is not only about clean energy but it is also about humankind, and for us it is certainly about spirituality," added Borschberg.

He was responding to a query on why SI-2 team chose Ahmedabad and the holy city of Varanasi for their stopover in India.

They will be leaving for their next destination in neighbouring Myanmar.

Borschberg said his team decided to take a halt in Ahmedabad as Gujarat is one of the most industrialised states in India.

"Ahmedabad or Gujarat is the most industrialised province, may be the most one in India, and besides that our partner Solvay has a big facility here...That is the reason we preferred this state to land," said Borscberg.

Piccard said he had realised during his last visit that Gujarat was known for innovation, but it is the view on clean energy of then chief minister Narendra Modi that brought him back.

"Gujarat is a province that is very very known for innovation. The first time I was here four years ago, I met Mr Modi (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) twice, he spoke a lot about renewable energy and he supported to bring solar power in India. That is why we decided to come here," Piccard said.

"When I met Narendra Modi and talked about innovations in clean energy and he was so much interested in our projects. So I thought of coming back to see him but now he has left," Piccard said in a lighter vein referring to Modi's elevation as PM since then.

Piccard and Borschberg are likely to stay in the city for three days before leaving for Varanasi.

"We will have events with our partners, with schools, universities and also with authorities because we believe in sharing this project with people as much as possible. That is why we are going to stay (here) for three days," said Piccard on his programme in Gujarat.

While Ahmedabad is the commercial capital of Modi's home state, Varanasi is his Lok Sabha constituency.

Gujarat has the highest production of solar energy in the country.

To a query, Piccard said the current problems plaguing the human kind are due to poverty, depletion of natural resources and pollution whereas clean technology is a "therapy and a medication to the society."

"Because it (clean energy) will save environment, it will also create jobs, make profit for industries and above all will save the natural resources," he added.

When asked to share his memorable experience during years of flying, Piccard referred to his 'around-the-world' journey in an air balloon in 1989.

"I was flying 300 metres above the ground and children were cheering and waving to me. I was smelling kitchens from the houses in India and then decided to come back here," he said.

Yoga has also become an integral part of the routine of pilots, with Borschebrg practicing it for more than a decade with the help of Yoga guru Sanjay Bhanot.

Piccard said he practices 'self-hypnosis' to connect with his inner-self.

He said the solar impulse project took 13 years to complete and around USD 150 million have been been spent on it so far by many partners.

However, the spending for the project is 25 per cent lesser than the Formula One, quipped Piccard.

He also appealed to people of India to support the cause of the Clean Future Project.

"If we have 100 million people of India coming to this platform and saying they agree for a concrete action for clean future, the government of India and other governments in world will think that we have to take a measure or otherwise we will not be re-elected in future," Piccard said, adding they can bring a change to the world, especially the biggest democracy like India.

Chief Sustainability Officer of Aditya Birla Group Tony Henshaw, who was present along with the SI-2 team, said his company has supported the cause of the renewable energy and the spirit of innovation, as they want these values to be instilled in their employees.

Solar Impulse is claimed to be the first aircraft to fly day and night without a drop of fuel, propelled solely by the Sun's energy. The single-seater aircraft, made of carbon fibre, has a 72-meter wingspan, larger than that of Boeing-747 and weighs only 2,300 kg.

The 17,248 solar cells on the wing recharge four lithium polymer batteries weighing 633 kg each, which allow the aircraft to fly at night.

SI-2 reached Muscat yesterday, nearly 13 hours after it left Abu Dhabi.

From Varanasi, it will fly to Mandalay in Myanmar and Chongqing and Nanjing in China and thereon to USA.