31-year-old Nepali cyclist Pushkar Shah is taking off again on 13 January to start the next leg of his 150-country bicycle tour after a month-long break in Nepal.
When Shah left his home, Charikot, in August 1998, many conflicting thoughts crossed his mind as he peddled towards the border. "But I remained very determined. I confronted all my doubts about whether I could do it or not. One of the things that kept me focused was the unseen challenge that lay on the roads ahead," recalls Shah.
After reaching Kathmandu, he headed towards Pokhara and then on to the sacred Buddhist site Lumbini. "I collected Buddha's soil from there and kept it with me as a talisman," he says. As the journey unfolded-hot, humid, dry, sweaty, breezy and sometimes pure Zen-it was that very soil that helped him connect with all sorts of people. Little by little, he gifted it away. Shah hit upon the idea of a bicycle-tour because he wanted to spread the message of "peace and love from the Himalayan country of Nepal".
The combination of Buddha's spirit and the sheer will to pedal carried him afar, starting from India then to Pakistan, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, China, Honk Kong, Korea, Japan, Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, even East Timor, and finally, Australia, from where he flew back home to take a break. In all, Shah crossed 28,500 km in 21 countries on his mountain bike.
"I took a break to rest and plan my future trip. I've had no official sponsors from Nepal and some Nepali embassies had been very unfriendly," he says sadly. "In China they rudely told me-'We don't have any obligation to help you, please go away'." Shah gets encouragement and many positive vibes from a growing number of young fans who read his monthly updates in Wave magazine, which has carried details of Shah's tour from day one. Financial support has been hard to come by, although Shah considers himself a professional cyclist.
For the upcoming leg of his journey through Australia, New Zealand and the US, the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) has agreed to help out. "We have provided cycling gear like track suits (with the NTB logo) and Rs 40,000 for miscellaneous expenses," says Diwakar Rana, Assistant Manager of the NTB. "We have also prepared a formal letter establishing him as a promoter of Nepali culture and world peace. The letter will be a bona fide for Shah during his travels." However Shah had also asked for a daily travelling allowance, which the NTB declined to give him, saying it would be too long-term a commitment-Shah plans, if all goes well, to cover 150 countries over 11 years.
Shah cycles 10 hours on average daily when on tour, consuming some 10 litres of water and covering about 100 km. The intrepid cyclist holds a Master's degree in education and was active during the 1990 People's Movement. 10 years from now, Shah would have cycled more than 330,000 km and had incredible experiences. "I have two missions in life. Cycling and preaching peace," smiles Shah.
To support Pushkar Shah and learn more about his dream, email [email protected], or call 492553, 431765.