From Great Lows To Mighty Heights: Meet Pushkar Shah

Adventure Issue 98 Jul, 2010
Text by Pat Kauba / Photo: ECS Media

Cycling for 11 years through 150 countries worldwide to promote global peace is no mean feat. But Pushkar Shah proved that if you really set your mind on pursuing your dream, you become unstoppable no matter how bumpy the ride.

I have been shot, arrested and tortured...
That’s what Pushkar Shah told me, showing me the scar on his hand from the bullet as we sat around the table. It happened during the 1990s ‘People’s Movement’ to bring an end to Nepal’s Panchayat system. Before that, he’d lost his father, killed while serving with the Indian Army in Assam.

 “I am a peace activist,” he says. It’s why Pushkar Shah spent 11 years cycling around the world through to 150 countries spreading a message of peace and an end to violence - everywhere.

 In the beginning, many people did not believe him, his motives, or intentions. They would say, “When you get to Japan or when you get to America you will throw away your bike.” But he didn’t. He kept on cycling around the world, spreading his message. He did it on a shoe-string budget when, at times, a shoe-string would have been a luxury.

 Surviving on what people would give him, and the hospitality of many, he quickly became a proverbial cycling yogi. He carried about 60 kg on his bike: a tent, cooking utensils, extra clothing, food, his journal, spare parts, a repair kit and the 100 rupee note that his mother gave him as a parting gift.

 It certainly has been a long strange trip around the world and back to Nepal for this humble man from the hill town of Dolakha. Difficulty became his friend and constant companion - the hot deserts of Sudan roasted him, thugs in New York mugged him, he was robbed on more than one occasion. In the Congo, he was lucky to find and buy back his stolen camera in the market with his pictures surprisingly still in it. He was even kidnapped (in Mexico).

 Nonetheless, the head of the United Nations saluted him. In fact, countless dignitaries from around the world greeted him openly, except Russia. For some reason, the Russian government never granted Pushkar a visa. Not one of his four separate applications was accepted.

What’s next, Pushkar ji?
All the 150 miniature flags of each country, along with the UN flag gifted to him in New York, are going with him to the top of Mount Everest in the spring. His journey will culminate on the ‘roof of the world’. There, his final appeal for World Peace will flutter in the winds like the Buddhist prayer flags strewn across the Himalayan passes.

 He’s off to Mera Peak as I write his story, to train and prepare himself for the coming springtime challenge. He will go solo with his 151 flags. He has become an inspiration to countless people of every creed, color and culture around the globe. But yet, here in Nepal for some reason he seems not to be getting the recognition he deserves. He is still looking for sponsorship for his spring ascent.

 How can this be? I wonder. Maybe what he’s doing is not important to people, or worse, maybe people just don’t care about peace anymore?

 Many times he faced hardship. He baked in the heat of some nameless and inhospitable deserts. In Cuba he survived on mere raw sugarcane from fields that lined the road. His many deeds and trials have been recognized around the world; Google his name and see. Yet his final step is proving to be his most trying.

 A Nepali Aama
Perhaps the person that I should have interviewed for this story is Pushkar’s aama (mother) to hear what she has to say about her son; about the last 11 years that he has been away. It is well noted how attached, loving and caring a Nepali Aama can be. What were and are the woes that this lady has suffered? Countless days wondering where her Pushkar is: Is he okay? Is he eating properly? Has he been kidnapped, or worse? I know how much my aama frets when I just go across the street to buy a liter of milk. It is in a mother’s nature. Her worry must have been great, but she must be complimented for raising a good son and, more so, a good human.

 Does she fret even more now that her son is back safe and with her? I wonder. Now that he is getting ready to summit the world’s highest (and one of the most dangerous) peaks - Mount Everest - is this, perhaps, the last straw for one woman’s wits?

 Nonetheless, she must feel immense pride for raising a son who is not content to just stand by and watch what is wrong with the world. What a statement to make by one person; to do something for the world, how grand. So often, people only work within the confines of their own borders; but to do something for all mankind everywhere is truly thinking ‘outside the box’. Seldom do we see such fine examples of people working for (symbolically) all of humanity.

Doubters and Naysayers
I Googled ‘Pushkar Shah’ and got 15,700 hits. The very first link took me to his personal website, where the very first sentence sets out his goal: “On November 29, 1998 I set out on an 11-year-long journey to capture my dream, the dream of riding 221,000 kilometers around the world on my bicycle to spread the message of peace and hope for my country and for the world.”

 But one hit by a Nepalese in America, who had some bad things to say about Pushkar, was worrying. It implied that he had taken money (as a donation) and had flown across some borders. There also were comments by others - some scathing, attacking Pushkar that he was a fake, and others defending him. It worried me while writing this article. After spending time deeply pondering how to proceed, I figured that in 11 years a person cannot have made only friends. Maybe he did fly over a few borders; what of it? I imagine (especially after traveling through 25 different countries with my own Irish passport) that not all border crossings are particularly safe, especially with a passport from a distant and little known country like Nepal. And besides, he did still travel through 150 countries; fact! And he traveled for 11 years; fact! And now at the end of it all, he is going to summit the highest mountain in the world.

 I have met Pushkar and while I can’t say that I know him well, what I do know is that he does not look like a masochist who enjoys having pain inflicted upon him. He has dealt with enough.

I praise and support Pushkar. And as for the naysayers…, so what! As the saying goes “You can’t please all the people all the time”. After 11 years, I am sure that that adage must ring true for Pushkar. If he was or is a charlatan, then I really don’t think he would be climbing Everest after cycling so far for so long just to keep up an appearance. No I think he would have just come home and slipped quietly into obscurity.

 Pushkar has created hope by taking what must be the most difficult road. This is special. Or as the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said:

 “I teach you the superman. Man is something to be surpassed.”  

 You can check out, contact and keep track of Pushkar Shah on his website at The quote from Nietzsche (1844-1900) came from Also Sprach Zarathustra (1883).