Soha Ebrahimzandi and Somaye Farhan, the Iranian cyclist-photographer duo, are pedaling their way around the world, sharing their secret to fulfilling dreams. Nepal is one of their stops.
Follow your heart and chase your dreams with the faith that the stars will align and the universe will provide. This piece of advice, provided by Soha Ebrahimzandi and Somaye Farhan, may seem a bit too fantastical but it appears to have worked for them. The couple has been chasing their dream of traveling the world by bicycle for the past 20 months, without funds.
Ebrahimzandi and Farhan, both 29, began their world tour in April 2012, when they flew from Iran to Istanbul, Turkey. As Iran does not have a credit card system, they got their cards from a bank in Azerbaijan. Two months into their journey, the cards stopped working. Emails to the bank went unanswered, so the duo decided to travel to Azerbaijan overland by bicycle — but without money.
“The first day, I couldn’t believe it,” says Farhan. “I said, ‘No, it’s not possible to travel without money. We’ll die!”
But miracles took place. People would invite them to share their meals and homes. In Georgia, en route to Azerbaijan, their bicycles were stolen but their host gave them $1400 to purchase new and better ones that helped them reach their destination.
Except, Azerbaijan was a bust — the bank had closed, and could only assure them the money would be returned within two years. When they were faced with the choice of going back to Iran from Armenia or finding funds to cross the Caspian Sea to Kazakhstan, another miracle took place; a chance encounter, an introduction to a kind stranger and their passage was paid for.
“Miracles started to occur on the same day we ran out of money,” says Farhan. “We’re still traveling without funds.”
Ebrahimzandi and Farhan trveled from Istanbul, through Georgia to Azerbaijan, across the Caspian Sea to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and later Kyrgyzstan, where they were stranded trying to enter China. That prompted a U-turn back to Tajikistan, taking the Pamir highway, and down the road to India and into Nepal last September.
A Life Changer
Of all the countries the two have visited, only in Nepal and Kyrgyzstan have they stayed longer than a month.
“I love Nepal,” exclaims Farhan. “That’s why we cannot go, we cannot move again. Everyone who comes here gets stuck. It’s so peaceful.”
Ebrahimzandi believes it is because Nepal is near Tibet. The earth has the same seven chakras that we do, he explains, and Tibet is where the crown chakra resides, hence the mystical quality of the area.
“In Nepal, I feel a peace I’ve never experienced before,” states Farhan. “It’s a good place to meditate.”
Meditation was the most beneficial thing they did in Nepal, according to Ebrahimzandi. The couple took the Vipassana course in the Kathmandu center. Vipassana is a meditation course that originated in India. Rediscovered by the Gautam Buddha more than 2500 years ago, it has been taught as a universal cure to universal ills.
“The best thing about it is it’s pure,” says Ebrahimzandi, referring to how Vipassana has not been commercialized.
Although it has spread across the globe, there is no payment required to learn Vipassana. The couple signed up for a 10-day course and received the space to learn the technique in a peaceful manner, free of charge. The course sustains itself through the donations that come from its participants.
“It is so profound that a lot of attendees, after the course, are willing to perform services because they want to share this wonderful technique with others,” says Ebrahimzandi. “Service” refers to helping teach new participants Vipassana.
There is no religion associated with the course, despite its origins in Buddhism. According to Ebrahimzandi, a Vipassana center has Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Buddhists all seated together, meditating in silence.
Traveling has changed the couple — they became vegetarians, for instance. In India, as they did not have money, they ate at Sikh Gurdwaras where only vegetarian food is served. After 20 days on a meatless diet, they found themselves feeling lighter and more energetic, and decided to stay vegetarian. Vipassana, though, changed the way they travel.
Traveling in Nepal
By bicycle, the distance between Kathmandu and Pokhara can be covered in 48 hours (or a bit more). Ebrahimzandi and Farhan, after their Vipassana course, stretched the trip to 12 days.
“Every 10 minutes, I saw amazing things in the street and on the roads,” says Farhan. “After which I used to ask Soha to stop.”
Their trip to Pokhara had many pitstops, where they went off road to villages to stay for a while whenever something caught their eye. Rupa Lake, for one, stilled Farhan’s wanderlust a little.
“I wanted to stay there my entire life,” says Farhan. Their abode had an amazing view of the lake. “It was so beautiful... It was like paradise.”
Ebrahimzandi and Farhan are unlike tourists, in that they partake actively in village life. Ebrahimzandi has, over the past few months, picked up Nepali so he can speak to locals when they visit villages. In one settlement, they stayed with a Nepalese woman, Devi.
“She called us ‘mero chora ra mero chhori,’” says Farhan, a sentence that translates to “my son and my daughter.”
Devi asked them to stay a few more hours, as her son was returning. People don’t just want to see travelers passing by, says Ebrahimzandi. “Sometimes, they want to sit down and spend time.”
The bicycle helps, adds Farhan. “You can go slowly. You can stop. You can take pictures.”
An interactive experience describes their journey well. The couple do not take photographs of strangers. They have to live with them, communicate with them, and feel something, before clicking a picture.
“Otherwise it looks phony,” explains Ebrahimzandi. “It doesn’t have the energy. It’s not life.”
And experiencing life as the locals do is a prominent part of their travels. In Pokhara, a Nepalese friend gave them the key to his mudhouse in a village, where they stayed for a week on their own.
They made dal bhaat, one of the Nepalese foods they had learnt to cook. “There was a small fireplace in the middle of the house where we cooked,” reminisces Ebrahimzandi. “Neighbours would come in, and we would sit and talk.”
Making Dreams Come True
Their journey is not just traveling and experiencing the world though. Ebrahimzandi and Farhan, who call themselves the Dreammakers, also carry out workshops in schools they pass by during their travels.
A typical workshop begins with the couple sharing their journey and the miracles they’ve experienced. They then let the students express their disbelief, before showing them how they lost all their money and still continued traveling. According to Ebrahimzandi, the students usually split into two groups: one that believes that everything is possible, and a minority skeptic set.
“The power of ‘Yes’ is much greater when I ask ‘Do you believe in your power?’ or ‘Do you believe in your dream?’” says Ebrahimzandi, explaining that the stronger positive group influences the skeptics into believing. After the students have been inspired, they are asked to paint their dreams.
Targeted at children from eight to 13 years, the duo hope to use their one-hour workshops to inspire the children into believing in themselves and following their dreams before it is too late.
“When we grow up, our minds stop being open to new ideas,” declares Ebrahimzandi.
In their experience, the older students, who are around 16 years old, tend to dream of being engineers and doctors. “Their parent’s dreams,” states Farhan.
“If you ask Kripa, a 10-year-old, she’ll say ‘I want to play with snow.’ That is a dream,” says Ebrahimzandi. “And if she understands what her heart dreams of, she can fulfill it when she grows up.”
The couple urged students to ignore the cynics, to remember the dreams of their hearts and to follow them. Too often, people listen to concerns from others and wait for money, believing they have to earn a certain amount before they can chase their dreams. The couple believe the law of the universe is the reverse.
“The rule is, you have to chase your dreams and feel happy. You go for your heart and the universe makes it happen,” says Farhan. “You meet the right people, you got the right places... And everything is arranged.”
The couple pointed to the success of their exhibition in Kathmandu as an example. When they left Pokhara, they felt it was the right time for another exhibition (they had two in Kyrgyzstan). Following their hearts, they met the right people who put them in touch with Kathmandu University’s Center for Arts and Design. Ebrahimzandi and Farhan collaborated with 13 Nepalese art students to put together an exhibition, From Real to Surreal — A Meditative Journey, held in the Siddhartha Art Gallery from 12th to 17th January.
Now that the exhibition is over, the duo feel it is time to move again. “If you experience traveling, after a while, you can’t stay in one place,” explains Farhan. “You must move. You have to go on the road again. The road calls you.”
The couple has plans to go to Bangladesh and parts of India, down to Myanmar and other parts of Southeast Asia before crossing over to Canada and working their way down to South America. These plans are not set in stone though.
As Farhan put it, “The road will show us which way to go.”