Peace propels global bike ride
Big deal. Because you missed a few places, like Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Fiji, Jamaica, Winnipeg and Miami.
OK, so you’ve got an excuse – the boss wouldn’t give you 11 years off from work.
But four years, two robberies, four marriage proposals and 51 countries ago, Pushkar Shah, 34, hopped on his bike and rode out of his native Nepal on an 11-year quest to talk about peace with people across the planet.
“There’s not much peace left in the world, but people want to live in peace and love,” says Shah, who was in Avon the last few days. He rode out of town this morning headed for Steamboat Springs.
Shah is not independently wealthy, he doesn’t have any flashy sponsors and he’s not raising money for anyone, except himself. He’s traveling on handouts and donations and the kindness of others all over the world.
In Avon, he stayed with the owners of Narayan’s Nepalese Restaurant, which opened recently on the east side of the Christie Lodge.
“People don’t even understand why they are fighting and killing,” Shah says. “People also don’t understand that the world is one house and we are all the family of that house.”
Shah was a peace and democracy activist in Nepal in the 1980s, when the small Himalayan country was still ruled by a dictatorship. A member of the People’s Movement for Democracy, he says he was harassed, beaten and tortured by police when he participated in demonstrations and protests. He still has a scar on his right hand, where he was grazed by a bullet.
Nepal is now a “democratic kingdom,” Shah says, and he’s is on the road. So far, he’s visited a third of the 150 countries on his list, including India, Pakistan, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, the Phillipines, Canada, the United States and more than a dozen island nations of the Caribbean.
“I’m traveling by donations, day by day. I talk to people, I talk at universities, I collect some money and I go ahead,” Shah says.
But he doesn’t always have enough money to eat.
“Many times I ride my bike without food. I just drink water,” Shah says.
And his accommodations change every night.
“I’ve stayed in many different places,” Shah says. “Many times I’ve spent the night in the street, many times I’ve stayed in bus stations. I’ve stayed in the jungle and five-star hotels.”
One of the scariest nights was the one he spent in a jungle in China, Shah says, when he wound up in the middle of nowhere after he couldn’t understand directions. Shah doesn’t speak Chinese and, as he set out for a ride one day, he couldn’t figure out how far it was to the next town.
“I rode for about 50 miles and I couldn’t find another city,” Shah says. “I survived on orange peels in the jungle. I was afraid.”
There was also the time he was attacked at knife-point on the Caribbean island of Barbados, he says.
“We fought for about two minutes inside my tent with his knife,” Shah says.
A big hole was slashed in the side of his tent. But a replacement was donated before he left the island.
“There’s a different challenge every day,” he says.
Women in Hong Kong, Japan, Cuba and Miami have asked him to marry them, Shah says.
Shah’s been interviewed by more than 200 reporters during his trek, he says. The woman in Hong Kong saw an article about the ride and came to see him, he says.
“She proposed I marry her and I asked her why,” Shah says. “She told me that she likes adventurers.”
Shah told the woman he was married and had a son. The woman didn’t believe him, he says. She asked him how he could be riding around the world if he had a son, he says.
“So I told her it was OK for us to get married,” Shah says. “But I told her she had to buy a bike and join me on my ride, but she was afraid. I told her, “If you can’t join me, I don’t want to marry you,’ because I didn’t want to stop in Hong Kong.”
But the woman fed him and put him up in a hotel. When she saw him off at the airport, she gave him some money, Shah says.
“She told me, “This money is not for you. This money is for you to call me wherever you go,'” Shah says.
The woman who proposed to him in Miami liked his prospects in the Florida Lottery, he says.
“I was playing the lottery, a dollar every day,” Shah says. “She said, “If you win the lottery, I’ll marry you.'”
Shah entered the United States at Miami last year, after being stuck in Cuba for about a week. He was stranded, just 90 miles from Key West, because Cuban banks wouldn’t advance him money on his Visa card, he says.
“I had to sell everything, my clothes, my watch, my bike helmet, so I could get food,” he says.
He was rescued when a friend from Miami sent him $300, but the money wasn’t wired in the traditional manner, he says.
“It had to go hand-to-hand, through Cuban people. That’s the only way I could get it,” Shah says.
When he got to Miami, new clothes and supplies were donated to him, Shah says.
Shah had two perilous moments while visiting New York. The first was seeing the second hijacked plane crash into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, he says.
“It was very terrible,” he says.
The second was an encounter with a mugger late one night while he was riding home to a friend’s house. Shah had been at a reception with Nepalese people in New York City and, because he was taking a few days off from his ride, he’d had a few beers.
“I was riding home at 1 a.m. and I was a little drunk,” he says. “A man stopped me and told me to give him $10. I told him that I didn’t have $10 because I’m riding my bike around the world for peace.
“Then he pulled a gun on me,” Shah says. “He said that if I didn’t have $10 I didn’t deserve to live in this world.”
Shah says he was afraid so he took his wallet out, Shah says.
“I told him to wait and that I had a $20-bill and I gave it to him,” Shah says. “I asked him for $10 in change and he said that if he saw me the next day, he wouldn’t ask me for $10.”
He entered Colorado from Nebraska about a week ago.
But remember, Shah’s from Nepal, so altitude sickness is not in his vocabulary. He says the village he’s from in Nepal is about the same altitude as Avon.
“We worked everyday in the jungle, at 12,000 feet, collecting firewood,” Shah says. “I love the mountains. I came down Highway 6 from Vail, it’s very, very beautiful.”
Shah says he hopes folks from the valley will come visit his country.
“I love this place,” Shah says. “I want to say to everyone, welcome to Nepal, there is Mount Everest and other things to experience.”
OK, so there are plenty of mountains and lots of snow, but how are the slopes?
“There’s no skiing. Just trekking and climbing,” he says.
Shah sees a big difference between neighborhoods in the U.S. and those in Nepal and other eastern countries.
“You don’t know who lives next door, you don’t know who he is or where he’s from,” Shah says. “In Nepal, the community has 100 houses and you know everybody’s names. You know whose son is whose, you know whose father is whose, you know whose nephew is whose.”
Shah says he’s come a long way –technologically –from the village he was born in.
“I was born and grew up in a remote area of Nepal. We don’t have electricity or computers. We use kerosene lamps,” Shah says. “I’ve learned English on the road. I’ve learned computers on the road. I have a cell phone now. I have a Web site.
“I’ve learned many things on the road.”
Shah plans to write a book about his trip around the world.
“There are a lot of stories,” he says.
And there’s another big mountain he wants to climb after he finishes his trip around the world –literally.
“I want to climb Mount Everest, maybe in 2010, and fly the flags of all the countries I’ve been to,” Shah says.
Shah hasn’t been back to Nepal in four years. He says he misses his home and his family, but the world is becoming his home, and its people his family, he says.
“I miss my country and I miss my family,” he says. “But everyday I make new family.”
People of different faiths, cultures and races have to understand how alike they are if peace if going to spread in the world, Shah says.
“There’s only one sun and the light isn’t different for Moslems, it’s not different for Buddhists, Hindus or Christians,” Shah says. “There is only one light. There is only one sun. There is only one moon.
“Nature did not divide us.”
Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.