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Raise £100,000 for education in India, Pakistan and China

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Basic Info

The resources and links given below are intended to make the life of all journalists and interested parties as easy as possible. For any questions, please contact Stephen McCutcheon at or use the online form here.

Who is Stephen McCutcheon?
What is R4E?
Why Education?
Who is ActionAid International?
How are you travelling?
Tell me about your journey so far...
The Road to come...
Journey by camera...
Can students get involved?
How do donations work?
Backup and Sponsors
Other Interesting facts...
Press Pack

Who is Stephen McCutcheon?

"After completing a degree in Quantity Surveying in 2001, I opted for a change of scenery by teaching English in Nepal in 2002. Those eight months amongst the Himalayan heights changed my perception about the third world and the importance of education to its development.

By 2004, my travels had taken me across much of Asia to Australia and back to the Sub-continent. The intensity of life in India touched me deeply and I vowed therein to make a difference.

Riding the Silk Road had long been a dream of mine, and actually doing it by horseback seemed the logical way to proceed. I love horses and never had the guts to take lessons as a kid. Tying this journey in with the depravity of education across Asia seemed both logical and unique to my mind and saddling up, Riding for Education was born.

With no experience at riding horses, I learnt in Delhi and began this challenge in Nov 2004. It’s been a rocky road till now, my place in China, but one on which I’m continually amazed by the power of the human heart and the ultimate yearning for the open road."

What is R4E?

Riding for Education (R4E) is a 10,000 km journey by horseback and camel from Delhi in India to Beijing in China to raise money for and promote the need for education in the region.

The ride aims to raise £100,000 from overseas donors for the international aid organisation ActionAid International. ActionAid have well developed education programmes in India, Pakistan and China, and all donations raised by R4E go to supporting these projects.

Beginning in November 2004, Stephen began his journey from New Delhi, India. His route to Beijing follows an ancient leg of the Silk Road through Pakistan to Beijing, along which he has been visiting schools to outline the need for education. Stephen is currently in China, on the final leg of this momentous journey.

Why Education?

As we move through the gateway of the 21st Century, Education for All remains an elusive reality. As cornerstone to the worldwide Millennium Goal movement, better education is the undisputed champion of poverty alleviation, yet almost 1 billion people sit illiterate across the globe.

Bring India, Pakistan and China into the equation and we have 600 million illiterates or almost three quarters of the world total to account for. The levels of poverty in countries like India alone top 250 million. An education can help change that and R4E aims to do just that.

Who is ActionAid International?

In 2004, whilst trekking looking for reason in NE India, Stephen encountered ActionAid’s work in the oft ignored state of Assam. The organisation was one of only a handful helping the state’s Government tackle the problem of rampant illiteracy through innovate schemes to get kids in school and improve their education.

ActionAid has been working in India since 1972 and today has 14 offices spread around the country. On the sub-continent, the need for education has never been greater and with a network of over 300 grass roots partners, ActionAid is helping thousands of adults and children gain an education and thus blaze a path out of poverty.

Whilst originally entitled 'Riding for India,' ActionAid's entrenched programmes in Pakistan and China, persuaded Stephen to fundraise for education in all three countries where, man to man, the need was just as great. Helping the common man achieve the dreams of himself and his family, remains the core push of R4E and ActionAid International is the perfect partner to make this goal a reality.

How are you travelling?
If we could live another day longer, mine would be on horseback, a fresh breeze behind and nothing but the open road ahead.

In the style of nomads and traders of old, R4E is accomplished entirely on horseback. Across India, Stephen rode aboard a local Kathiawari mare called Rosie, and crossed Pakistan’s Himalayas with two Afghani mares, using one as a pack animal.

In China, the ride now has a full caravan contingent of three camels, to make the desert crossing and a black Stallion called ‘Boran’ - meaning ‘storm’ in the local Uyghur language of Xinjiang (NW China).

Whilst the ride was able to rely on local hospitality and roadside inns in much of India and Pakistan, tackling the remote deserts of Northern China is quite different and travellers of old had every reason to be worried.

Across the Taklamakan and Gobi deserts, the ride is completely self-sufficient, carrying up to 100 litres of water and several weeks of food. Up to a maximum of 100kgs can be carried on a Bactrian camel over long distances, making our total baggage weight over 300kgs plus.

Thanks to sponsors outlined below, the ride has its own power source, Sat phone and medical capabilities. Nights are now spent in camp with food cooked on a re-fillable petrol stove. All food for the animals is carried with us, though mainly the camels are able to survive on local vegetation. Boran is generally fussier.

Tell me about your journey so far...

Riding for Education follows a lesser-known branch of the Silk Road from old Delhi, across Pakistan to rejoin the main road in NW China where it sweeps around the Taklamakan desert and across the deadpan Gobi towards Beijing.

Across India, the 2004, 500km ride followed the sub-continent’s arterial Grand Trunk Road towards Pakistan and China. Since the time of the Afghan ruler Sher Shah Suri (1540-7 AD), the road has been the sub-continents key trade route and the significance of reliving the journey was not lost on the national press.

In many ways, the historical significance of the journey characterised the Indian leg into Pakistan. It was the first time since the Partition of 1947 that anyone had ridden on horseback from into Pakistan (as well as the first time Stephen had ridden), and despite intense lobbying by Stephen and the national press on both sides of the divide, permission was denied to cross the border.

Rosie was stolen less than a week into the journey and an encounter with fireworks near the border nearly resulted in disaster. Rosie remained in India after he crossed, and later turned out to be a proud mother after giving birth to a surprise foal in mid-2005 - meaning she had been pregnant during the ride!

Pakistan was something different. Accompanied by Pakistan Television (PTV), the 1500km, three month ride across the country was dominated by a 7.6 Richter scale earthquake which tragically struck in late 2005. Stephen suspended his ride for several weeks to aid the ensuing relief effort, but continued on to China as time drew short.

Whilst life for the earthquake survivors was tougher, the ride across Pakistan’s Himalayas in December was also difficult. Heading onto the Karakorum Highway in December 2005, marked the beginning of an age old route into China and still a hazardous one to take.

Navigating icy mountain roads, continual issues with horse shoes and deteriorating weather made the going slow and dangerous, yet the warmth of the local people made every stop seem short and help was never far away.

R4E visited and filmed over ten schools with PTV during the three month ride across Pakistan, helping to spread awareness about their work and their continued need for support. One in every two people in Pakistan is unable to read and write, while almost fifty percent of children drop out of school before they ever complete it.

On New Years Day 2006, Stephen entered China over the 4693m Khunjerab Pass, marking the world’s highest international border crossing. He was the last foreigner out of Pakistan that year.

The Road to come...

After a year and a half hiatus to renew funds, sponsorships and preparations, R4E set out across China in late July 2007, from Taxkorgan, approximately 100km from the Pakistan-Chinese border - the geo-political realities of the area prevented the ride starting on the border itself.

After three weeks in the saddle, the journey was interrupted by permits issues after successfully crossing the Pamir Mountains down to the Taklamakan desert. With the problem now resolved, the ride set off anew in March 2008 towards Beijing.

From now on, the Silk Road enters its deadliest phase across the second largest sand shifting desert in the world - the Taklamakan. Even with the best equipment on hand, travelling by camel caravan exposes one to the same risk today as a thousand years before.

Stephen’s journey now begins through the heart of the Kunlun Shan Mountains on the border of Tibet, ultimately descending into the oasis of Hotan and onto the Southern Silk Road to China. From there, the road skirts the Taklamakan desert before ascending rapidly into the Kunlun Shan and across the Lop desert into Gansu and the historic gateway to the Silk Road at Dunhuang - entrance to China proper.

Historically the Silk Route has always descended towards the ancient Chinese capital of Chang’an (Xi’an), but later a good proportion of trade was diverted towards Beijing during the reign of the Mongol Empire and the time of traveller extraordinaire Marco Polo.

Whilst Marco Polo may well provide inspiration to reach Beijing, he doesn’t provide a route and though the Great Wall is one guide, it is in the footsteps of another great luminary that R4E will reach the Beijing capital across the open Gobi.

In 1923, Owen Lattimore documented one of the last great camel trade routes of its time from Mingshui in NW China to Hohhot, capital of Inner Mongolia, approx. 500km NW of Beijing. His journey captured a one-time record of a once popular trade route known simply as the ‘Winding road,’ through the heart of the dreaded black Gobi and the abandoned Tangut ghost city of Khara-Khoto.

R4E will attempt to follow the majority of this ancient route with its key goal fixed firmly on visiting schools along the way to promote the cause of Education for All.

The provinces of Xinjiang, Gansu and Inner Mongolia, are amongst the poorest in China with rampant poverty and high illiteracy rates. Average wages in Gansu are only US$270 per year.

The journey should take up to eight months and reach Beijing shortly after the conclusion of the 2008 Olympics in China. Average distances should be cover around 30-40 kms per day.

Other famous travellers to have completed journeys similar in scale include Messrs Peter Fleming of 'News from Tartary' (1936) fame and Major Clarence Bruce Dalyrmple (1905).

Journey by camera...

Riding for Education is currently filming a documentary on the journey and the schools encountered. Together with a handy Sony PD 170, the video camera is always on hand to capture unique situations and stories from the saddle.

Through India, R4E’s partner 25th Frame Productions (India) arranged the filming and a deal with Pakistan Television (PTV) captured the events in Pakistan on DVCPro format. A two to three part documentary is planned and underway.

For a preview of the documentary click here. Alternatively, a DVD version can be requested here.

Can students get involved?

Sure. A section of the R4E website has recently been dedicated to schools and students who wish to use the ride in their lessons to help learn more about the Silk Road and the educational plight of the communities living along it today. Using the ride as a reference, R4E may provide a starting point or reference for classes aimed at studying the ancient Silk Road and its state in the 21st Century. The section is intended to complement classroom curriculums and provide a means to encourage the subjects of geography and history.

The new Schools Area of the R4E website includes links to a R4E Wiki to allow students to edit and comment upon a series of articles detailing the Silk road, its greatest explorers and the civilisations that once made it famous. Students can also post a message (or question) to Stephen anywhere along the Silkroad (by satellite phone), as well as follow the ride live on a connected Google Map and through the expansive terrain of Google Earth. As with any visitor to the R4E website, students may also like to place a new R4E News Widget and animated banners on their MySPACE page, Facebook profile or blog to show support for the ride and provide a continual source of fresh content for their page.

How do donations work?

All donations towards Riding for Education go squarely towards aiding schools in poor areas of India, Pakistan and China through ActionAid International programmes in each country. Donors can contribute to the R4E fund online or via post - all details are given on the R4E website.

R4E Donations go directly to ActionAid UK where a separate R4E fund has been established. Donations are then split three ways between India, Pakistan and China.

Backup and Sponsors

Riding for Education is currently supported by 19 sponsors both in kind and financial. These presently include:

Costa Del Mar - Sunglasses
Global Solar - 25W CIGS Solar Panel
Ichi Translation and Productions - Promotions
Lyon Equipment Ltd. - Storage equipment
Loco Engineering Ltd. - Solar Universal Power Supply (SUPS)
MailaSail - Satellite Email Compression
McNett Corporation - Outdoor Product Repair
Nexus Corporation - Website hosting solutions
Nomad Travel Stores - Medical Kit Support
Nurtural Horse - Bitless Bridle
Premier Kufpec Pakistan B.V. - Financial Support
Pakistan Tourism and Development Corporation (PTDC) - Accommodation Support
Ranvet - Veterinary Supplies
Sea to Summit Ltd. - Waterproof Storage bags
Tekkeon Inc. - Mobile Power Storage
Thorlos Inc. - Specialised hiking socks
Transworld Trading - Indian Saddlebags
Vettec Inc. - 21st Century horse shoes
Xantic Hong Kong Limited - Web-enabled Satellite Phone

Additionally, R4E has received outstanding support from:

25th Frame Productions - Documentary Producers
Kashgar Mountaineering Adventures - China Logistics Support
British High Commission Pakistan - Sponsored Equine blankets and support
ActionAid India - Promotions and Press Conference Aid
UNESCO Pakistan - General Support and classification of R4E as an Education for All Initiative
Pakistan Television and Broadcasting Corporation - Documentary Partner
Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO) - Pakistan Logistics Support - Education

Other Interesting facts...

R4E is currently trialing the following evolutionary products:

  • Superfast - a brand new product from Vettec Inc. which dispenses with nails and metal by allowing the owner to 'custom form' their own horseshoes on site.
  • Solar UPS - Loco Engineering’s ground breaking Solar Universal Power Supply solution that allows the ride to run any 12V device directly off a solar panel, with a common car cigarette lighter.
  • myPower ALL - Tekkeon Inc’s portable power solutions that gives an extra 2.5 hours on a laptop and readily charged off a solar panel.
  • Nurtural Horse Bitless Bridle - a unique bridle without a metal bit, that claims to give better control over one’s horse without the pain. Time will tell.

Full details of the ride as well as a regularly updated weekly Diary are available online at

For the beauty of the mountains, there can be no comparison but the warmth of the people that inhabit them.
Press Pack

A complete set of updated information about the ride is also maintained in the below R4E Press Pack.

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