25 April - 1 May 2014 #704

Wheels of determination

After 26 days on road, paraplegic Ram Bahadur Tamang completed his Lumbini Wheelchair Yatra on 18 April

HOT ON WHEELS: Officials from the Lumbini Development Board greet Ram Bahadur Tamang at the finishing line at Mayadevi Temple in Lumbini.
For many, covering the entire length of Namo Buddha to Lumbini on foot is a staggering feat. But making the journey on a wheelchair is almost unthinkable. Ram Bahadur Tamang achieved this feat on Friday when he reached Lumbini, his end destination after wheeling across from Namo Buddha in Kavre for 26 days, ten days ahead of the planned duration.

The 31-year-old, who hails from Mankha Valley, Sindhu Palchok, was injured in a bus accident in January 2011, which left his lower body paralysed.

The idea of setting on the 366km Lumbini Wheelchair Yatra came to him early this year. "While travelling on buses, I often noticed that passengers would easily lift 100kg potato sacks onto the vehicle, but when it came to helping me with my wheelchair, they would often hesitate," recalls Tamang.

The Yatra was his means to generate awareness of spinal injury, as well as to raise much needed funds for poor patients to access rehabilitation services at the Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre (SIRC) in Sangha, where he also works as a vocational training staff.

Toh Ee Ming
Ram Bahadur Tamang's wheelchair yatra

“If we remain confined within a room, the society will never acknowledge our presence, so we must go out and show the world what we are capable of," explains Tamang. Through the Yatra, Tamang also hoped to campaign for disability rights by reminding policy makers to prioritise disabled-friendly facilities.

Tamang considers wheeling through the dust and grime on the slope to Naubisey one of the major challenges of the Yatra.

Prior to this, Tamang had participated in the Kantipur Publication 3km national wheelchair race, where he placed 7th among 26 participants. To build up his stamina for the Yatra, Tamang wheeled up Sangha's hilly circuit every day. After months of preparation, his journey commenced on 24 March from Namo Buddha, the site where Buddhists believe Buddha sacrificed himself to save the life of a feeble tigress. Like the tigress which accepted Buddha’s sacrifice, Tamang considers himself as having received a second life through rehabilitation.

His harrowing journey included having to navigate narrow roads as huge buses overtook him at high speeds, stretches of steep terrain, and especially the unpleasant dusty, diesel-filled smoke section on the slopes from Naubise.

Along the way, Tamang made 21 presentations at various hospitals, community centres, rotary and lions clubs. He gave motivational speeches to other patients. In each presentation, he recited a self-penned song about spinal injury, rendered in the traditional 'gandharva' style, accompanied by the sarangi.

When he finally wheeled into the Maya Devi Temple on 18 April, he was greeted by the chants of monks. After Tamang paid homage to the temple, a welcome celebration was held at Lumbini’s Eternal Peace Flame.

Members of the Army Rehabilitation Centre in Swayambu bid farewell to Tamang (in blue).
After a mostly wheelchair unfriendly Yatra, Tamang mentioned that he was most impressed by the wheel-chair friendly facilities of the entire Lumbini area, including the Maya Devi Temple.

Kanak Mani Dixit, founding chairman of SIRC, congratulated Ram Bahadur Tamang for his “unstinting effort” in spreading awareness about rescue, treatment and rehabilitation in relation to spinal injury.

Across Nepal, the number of people sustaining spinal injuries continues to arise due to accidents on an expanded road network.

Construction accidents are a growing problem as well, while traditional injuries such as trees falling continue to affect rural subsistence farmers. Founded in 2002, the SIRC has treated approximately 1150 patients from all over Nepal.

*Toh Ee Ming *


Read also:

Rolling back home

Real to reel

Ride on the roof