Alok Lamsal, 30th april
When Rupak Khadka and Rajendra Sapkota finished walking through all of Nepal’s 75 districts ten years ago to spread the message of environmental protection, their family and friends told them they had made their point and it was time to go to university.
But instead of settling down for a placid student life, the young duo decided to take on an even more challenging task: to bicycle across South Asia. The two are now back in Kathmandu after pedalling through India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal.
They set off in November 2009 with just Rs 10,000 in their pockets and decided to follow in Pushkar Shah’s foot pedals. Shah covered 400,000 km on his bicycle travelling through 150 countries and then returned home to Nepal to climb Mt Everest last year.
“We thought it would be cool to also go around the world and draw attention to the extreme environmental deterioration,” says Khadka, “so we started with South Asia.”
Sapkota says they were trying to remind people of Buddha’s message about the need to preserve the environment and to keep the outside clean to be clean inside. “Buddha said saving nature is saving creation itself, so this was a spiritual pilgrimage for us,” Sapkota adds.
The Nepali pedalers found that not everyone shared their ideas of a clean environment and a clean mind. In Banaras they were cheated by touts, they saw great gaps between the rich and poor everywhere they went and felt this was laying the seeds of future violence. And although people found them interesting, not many were willing to use bicycles to commute. Nepali ambassadors in New Delhi and Colombo were less than helpful, and even refused to see them.
But they did get a welcome from the nuclear scientist and former president of India, APJ Abdul Kalam who received them warmly and commended them on their symbolic journey to promote environmental awareness in South Asia. “The inspiration starts from within and motivation starts when triggered by simplicity,” Kalam told them.
In Bangladesh, the two got a hearty welcome everywhere they went. Aghast at the traffic, they even tried to get the people of Dhaka interested in pedal power but they found the city moving away from rickshaws to diesel and petrol cars.
In Sri Lanka, the Nepali ambassador refused to see them. But by a complete coincidence, they ran into him a few days later at a function in Colombo. He was not feeling well, so the two taught him some yoga after which the ambassador said he felt much better. So he gave them Rs 5,000 and sent them on their way.
During their two-year cycle journey, as yoga practitioners Khadka and Sapkota often felt like the yogis who used to walk barefoot on fire, didn’t eat for a month or meditated naked in caves in the mountains. “There is a spiritual cleansing that comes with extreme physical penance, this must be why the ascetics did it,” explained Sapkota.
After completing their tour of South Asia, the two are now planning to go further afield to southeast and central Asia, and have prioritised countries with problems of environmental degradation.
Their motto on the trip is ‘If you want to change the world, change yourself first’. Back in Kathmandu they are trying to promote bicycling, and lobbying for the creation of bicycle lanes in the capital. They were members in the group that convinced the municipality to invest in the bicycle lane parallel to the Ring Road on the Gaushala-Tinkune road.
Says Sapkota: “Bicycling is the ideal mode of transport for Kathmandu. The distances aren’t great, it’s neither too hot nor too cold, and easy to get around. Most importantly, bicycles don’t pollute and don’t need imported fossil fuel. It makes you and others around you live longer.”
Published in Nepali Times.