A BuzzFlash Reader Commentary
August 21, 2002
Pedaling Peace -- Cyclist from Nepal Rides Against the Currents of War
By Dwayne Eutsey
In stark contrast to the war drums pounding louder every day around the country and as the caissons of carnage relentlessly roll toward Iraq, Pushkar Shah quietly pedals his mountain bike across America as part of his worldwide bike tour promoting peace and compassion.
I missed Shah when he toured my part of the country recently (Maryland), but I managed to contact him via email, which he checks whenever he finds a computer with free access to the Internet. We exchanged emails during his time in Chicago and later in Colorado. He has picked up English on the road, so communicating this way was awkward. However, his call for peace during these bellicose times came through loud and clear.
"War is not the answer," the 34-year-old Nepalese citizen summarized his philosophy to me during a break on his trek to Seattle. "Peace doesn't come through violence. We need to keep peace and live with peace and love."
As war fever spreads here in the West, it might be easy for some to dismiss such sentiments as wide-eyed idealism, the kind that naively believes a global bike ride can somehow make the world a more peaceful place. Yet, when it comes to non-violent resistance to war and repression, Shah walks the walk (or rides the ride). He has not only lost his father to war, but as a peace and democracy activist in Nepal, Shah endured arrest, torture, and even being shot once for practicing his beliefs in a country that was a dictatorship (it's now a constitutional monarchy).
Inspired by Martin Luther King and Mohandas Gandhi to take his pacifism beyond his community, Shah left his small village in Nepal four years ago on a personal mission to single-handedly spread a message of peace and compassion just as the Buddha did in the same region centuries ago. While Buddha set into motion the Dharma Wheel with his teachings, Shah has set himself into motion on two wheels of a battered bicycle that has carried him around most the world.
Living off the donations he receives from supporters and usually sleeping in a tent that he carries with him, Shah says he typically bikes about 90 miles a day. "I've already done 77,000 kilometers (around 48,000 miles)," he wrote to me. Before coming to the United States last year, Shah had biked through nearly 50 countries, including India, Pakistan, Japan, Australia, and a number of Caribbean countries.
He has scrounged for food in Cuba and had his gear stolen in New Zealand. He's had insults hurled at him and marriage proposals made to him. He has cycled through Buddha's birthplace in Nepal, and prayed and cried at Martin Luther King's tomb in Atlanta. His major insight about the different cultures and peoples he has seen on this arduous ride is simple.
"The world is one house," Shah writes me, repeating the phrase he uses in most interviews. "We are the family of that house."
Yet, in recent years that world house has been in danger of erupting into flames and some family members living there can't seem to stop lighting matches. In some ways, Shah's journey represents how pacifism has come under siege in the past few years of rising violence, militarism and terrorism. He has been robbed during his travels -- one of the most life-threatening incidents was in Barbados, where he struggled in his tent with a knife-wielding intruder. Shah's journey has also brought him to world trouble-spots where his nonviolent beliefs were often profoundly challenged.
Although he doesn't speak much of his experiences, various reports indicate that Shah was in Venezuela during the military coup that ousted Chavez and saw the president re-installed as a result of the peaceful uprising against the coup. While non-violence succeeded then, Shah also happened to be in New York City on September 11, 2001, three miles from the World Trade Center when terrorists flew planes into the towers.
"I saw the World Trade Center collapse," Shah says. "That was terrible." Writing in his diary, he described his harrowing experience this way:
"The twin towers were burning. People could be seen jumping from windows hoping to make it out alive. Building no.2 went down at 10:05, the next one at 10:28. It was like watching a movie. The beauty of New York turned into dust as the citizens watched. The city turned into a graveyard. Railway, tunnels, airport, everything closed down. We were terrified with the news of more hijacked planes in the sky. I was imprisoned in New York City."
As demoralizing as the terrorist attacks were in their viciousness, Shah said he also witnessed a lot of positive things about humanity during his month-long ordeal in New York, heroism and generosity that inspired him to continue working for peace despite (or perhaps because of) the horrific brutality of the attacks.
It's this unflappable belief in the power of peace that keeps Shah pedaling. Up at 6:00 a.m. every day, he is on the road by 6:30, sometimes having only water for breakfast. He stops along the way to discuss his peace ride with activists, churches, schools and universities, local news media, or anyone who asks to hear his story.
Shah says he misses his family in Nepal (he has a wife and son there), but with hardly any money to sustain him day by day, he doesn't see how he will be visiting his home country again anytime soon.
"I will ride my bike until 2009," Shah says, adding: "If there is no accident." Despite the distance and the time he has spent away from home, he says his "family is proud of me because I'm spreading peace message for my world."
However quietly he does it, Shah is indeed spreading a message of peace and hope around the world, and at great risk to himself with little to show for it (immediately, anyway). In response to my question about whether it is religion that motivates him to make such a personal sacrifice, Shah wrote back: "I do not believe in religion. I believe in universal God. There is only one God. Only one sun, one moon, one sky, and one world."
With the world currently tilting closer and closer toward the abyss of war, Shah's dogged determination to work against the war machine's momentum may seem futile. But his solitary effort to work for peace and compassion reminds me of something one of his heroes, Gandhi, once said: "When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall-think of it, always."
Although tyrants and murderers may appear to have the upper hand at this dark moment, I'm placing my bet that Pushkar Shah, mile by mile, is riding with the winning team.
If you'd like to help Pushkar, you may send donations to:
To find out more about him, visit http://thamel.com/puskar/index.html
You may contact Pushkar via email at: email@example.com
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