Around the World on a Bicycle: Spreading Message or Loafing Around?

Saurab Dahal World Cyclist from Nepal (Kantipur)
Saurab Dahal, World Cyclist from Nepal, in New Delhi recently. Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium is on the background

The ‘world cyclist’ finally arrived in Delhi last week. He had been traveling in India for the past several months. He had added me on Facebook a couple of months back. I had been following his updates on and off. He had posted photos of his meetings with at least two chief ministers, some Bollywood actors and soldiers of Gorkha Rifles, Indian Army. His entries provided insights into his travel experience. One of his status updates said that he had to flee the house in Punjab where he was invited to stay overnight after the male host attempted to kiss him. [एउटा साइकले ठिटो– नेपालीमा ।]

Saurab Dahal was 14 when he started his world tour on bicycle in 2002. He dropped out of the school (9th grade) to spread awareness on issues like “green environment”, “education to children” and “world peace”. He said he was disheartened by the sight of street kids sniffing glues and begging for food on his way to school in Koteshwar, Kathmandu. “I wanted to do something for them,” he said. “That’s why I decided to leave the school and travel to tell the world about the plight of such kids who are not able to go to school.” After traveling 21 countries including Nepal and India Saurab has mastered the art of convincing people that dropping out of school is the best way to contribute to child education. “I am on a noble mission,” he says. “The people and Nepali embassies must help me [by providing shelter and air tickets].

Saurab Dahal World Cyclist from Nepal (Kantipur)
Saurab Dahal World Cyclist from Nepal (Kantipur). Click to enlarge.

While on road Saurab met many people who had varied opinions abut him and his mission. Some appreciated his efforts and offered assistance in the forms of money, food and shelter. Some were skeptical about his mission. The skeptics thought he was a lazy vagabond who didn’t want to study and work. They thought he was opting for the easy way out. Traveling the world for free is more appealing than toiling for food, they told him.

I agree with the skeptics, I told him. What difference does your world tour makes to those street kids? You are traveling for free, making money in the process, and having a good life without even passing SLC. Are you trying to prove that dropping out of a school is a fashionable thing? Isn’t it ironic that you want to educate children while you chose not to educate yourself? Or is it that getting out on a cycle is the best way for you to escape the poverty and anarchy back home? Why didn’t you choose to stay with those street kids and help them get to school instead of running away from them to explore the world?

“I am not like other world cyclists,” he responded without loosing his cool. “I have donated seven hundred thousands rupees that I collected during my journey to various schools in mid and far west Nepal. I plan to open a school somewhere in remote part of Nepal and spend rest of my life taking care of that once I end by world tour in 2020.” Sometime later he said he would spend 10 percent of whatever he makes during the trip for the school because he will have to think about his personal life as well. “Do you think that I don’t have a life?” he said smiling and added that he wanted to make at least a girlfriend in each of the countries he traveled. Traveling on a bicycle doesn’t mean I always have to paddle around and forget about the good things in the world. “Sometimes I stay in nice hotels, drink beer and have fun.”

His Facebook account is filled with photos he has taken with many girls he met in the trip. He calls many of the girls his girlfriends. “She is may girl friend numbar 107,” he responds to inquiries made by some of his friends about the girl on his side in a photo.

[Disclosure: Saurab is a brand ambassador of the Kathmandu Post and its publisher Kantipur Publications. Kantipur gifted him the bicycle that he rides after he broke the one he started his journey with in 2008. He stayed in my apartment here in Delhi for two nights last week. I let him in not because he’s promoting the newspapers I work for but because I thought it was a cool idea to interact with the traveler and hear his stories. He bought food for the second night with his own money.]

A day after leaving my apartment Saurab called me to complain about the ‘uncooperative’ Nepali mission in Delhi. “Daju, I just gave an interview to the Hindustan Times saying the Nepali embassy didn’t help me,” he said.

“The embassy did right thing,” I told him. “Why should the embassy buy air ticket to Singapore to a loafer like you?”

“But the embassy didn’t even let me stay for a night,” he said.

“The embassy should not let you in even for a night,” I told him. “You are on a world tour on bicycle to fulfill your own hobby. You told me that you have got enough money donated to you by people you met. Why don’t you spend your own money and stay in a hotel ?

Saurab speaks broken English that is not always enough to convince a stranger to let him stay overnight. But he carries a big file containing news clips, official letters from government agencies and Gorkha Rifles army officers that explain his mission. When people see those reports about his journey they trust him and offer him shelter and money. Those reports also help other reporters understand him and write further stories about his journey.

While in my apartment Saurab browsed YouTube to see videos posted by another cyclist from Nepal who is also touring the world. Furtemba Sherpa is currently somewhere in South America and has traveled more countries than Saurab has traveled. “We exchange notes and our experiences regularly on Facebook and Yahoo Mail,” Saurab said. “He advises me on where to go and who to meet when I plan to go to a country that he has already visited.” Saurab also appeared to be inspired from Furtemba’s way of recording short videos showing little bit of the place where he is standing and detailing his experience.

Pushkar Shah, the first world cyclist from Nepal, featured invariably in our conversation. After reaching 150 countries on his bicycle in 11 years and climbing the Everest last year Pushkar has retired from his journey. I interviewed Pushkar twice a few years ago and found him very simple and honest man though some of his critics prefer to differ with my impression. Saurab said he hasn’t directly communicated with Shah but appeared to be fascinated the latter’s achievement and adventurous journey. “Pushkar Shah said in an interview that having sex is very normal while bicycling around the world,” said a smiling Saurab. “I think he shouldn’t have said that. I don’t mean that’s untrue but our Nepali society doesn’t digest such blunt statements.”

Related link: The paradoxes of being Nepalese [Similar story of another Nepali ‘world bicyclist’ Lok Bandhu Karki on SocialTours blog by Raj Gyawali)