World cyclist leaves track in Yemen [Archives:2008/1212/Last Page]
He traveled to Yemen from Djibouti on a ship with 300 oxen, and cycled from Mocha to Sana'a in four days.
Nepalese peace activist Pushkar Shah might perhaps be a slightly odd sight in his bright lycra shorts and t-shirt as he peddles through the Yemeni countryside, but one that has been met with warmth by its inhabitants. As he cycled from the Red Sea coast up to Sana'a in swirls of dust with children shouting “I love you” in his tire tracks, Pushkar was impressed by Yemeni hospitality.
“Yemenis are very nice people,” he says, “Even if they do not speak the same language, they try and communicate.”
Pushkar – jokingly called “Pushcycle” by his friends- has been traveling round the world on his bicycle for the last 10 years. He has cycled through 135 countries before Yemen, and intends to visit 14 more before going back to Nepal.
“I chose to spread the message of peace around the world,” Pushkar explains, “My journey is one of peace, against war and fighting.”
Pushkar's mission springs directly from personal experience. His father was killed by terrorists when he was young, and he was arrested several times and subjected to torture as an activist in Nepal's 1990s popular movement for democracy. Disillusioned by the failure of peaceful protest and the persistence of violence in his country, Pushkar decided to make a difference by setting off on his epic cycling journey round the world.
He chose the bicycle for its simplicity. “All you need is determination and peddling power,” he grins. He is now riding his third bicycle, a present from Sir Edmund Hillary, New Zealand mountaineer and long-time friend of Nepal, after his second bicycle was stolen in Auckland in 2001.
“Sir Edmund Hillary died last year, but he still accompanies me on my journey,” he proudly says.
With more than 205,000 km to his name and up to 300 kilos of accumulated souvenirs waiting for him back home, Pushkar has a whole string of stories to tell. He escaped kidnappers in Mexico, wrestled an armed assailant in Barbados, ate dog meat in South Korea, bartered with taxi drivers in Mali, danced with the Gurkha brigade in Scotland, and cycled with elephants in Botswana.
But the experience has also been a humbling one, particularly in Africa where food was sometimes scarce and people expected him -the “white” man- to help them by giving them food or money. As Pushkar has no sponsor, he works when he can to earn money, but mostly relies on the hospitality and donations of others to complete his goal of cycling round 150 countries by 2010. In Africa, he says, it was sometimes difficult to persuade people that he really depended on their hospitality.
Pushkar's favorite thing about Yemen is fool or bean stew, which he eats as often as he can. He has chewed qat on several occasions, but politely says he is still not sure if he likes it. When he cycles past Yemenis having lunch and they invite him to join them, he happily casts his bicycle aside to eat in their company.
From Sana'a, Pushkar plans to travel on to explore the rest of the Arabian Peninsula while the weather is still cool, before slowly making his way back to Nepal where, in 2010, he plans to climb Mount Everest to strike the flags of all the countries he has visited on its summit. He eventually wants to return to his birthplace at the feet of the Himalayas to write a book about his travels and help the village, perhaps as a teacher.
When asked if he feels he has reached his goals, Pushkar is philosophical. “I am happy and satisfied with my work, but one man cannot change the world,” he says, “Peace is through action, and we all have to be a peace messenger. The world is one house and we are the family of that house.”
As he hops back on his bike to complete the last year of his adventure, perhaps Pushkar will have inspired a few Yemenis to look beyond borders with newly-felt compassion towards the rest of the human race. Or perhaps he will simply have motivated someone to dare, like him, to leave home with nothing more than the clothes on his back and cycle off into the unknown.
“Wherever you are, when night falls, drop the bicycle and pitch your tent,” are his last words of advice for those who want to follow.
Pushkar's progress can be tracked on www.pushkarshah.com.