Dr. Amrit Baral can trace the seeds of the World Bicycle Tour back to April 25, 2015. It was almost noon when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal, sending shockwaves of destruction and devastation throughout his home country.
As a doctor at a government-run hospital, he was quick to act, heading out to remote villages to help people cope with a disaster the country was ill prepared to handle.
“I, along with members of Dirghayu Nepal [a local NGO], visited many affected villages to treat and supply basic relief materials to the victims,” he said as he described the scene.
It was in these villages that he realized the overwhelming number of issues facing those living outside of metropolitan areas. The lack of knowledge and awareness about health, hygiene and sanitation was eye opening, and made him wonder just how widespread this problem really was.
Was it just that village, or just in the villages across Nepal, or across Asia, or across the world? As he answered these questions through research, he felt the need to take action.
With the help of Shankar Poudel, a local radio host and seasoned cycler, and Ajit Baral, Dr. Baral’s cousin and an environmentalist at Dirghayu Nepal, he embarked on a cycling tour around the world, hoping to raise awareness about Nepal and funds for the victims of the earthquake as well as spread a message of genuine environmentalism and conservationism.
They plan to cycle through 100 countries in five years, using planes and other modes of transportation when they absolutely have to. Starting on September 20 of last year, they cycled from Nepal through six countries, riding their way south to the tip of India, using boats to get to the Maldives and Sri Lanka, and then biking east through Myanmar, Thailand and Laos before reaching Cambodia.
When they are not stopping in a city to take a break, they try to cycle at least 100 kilometer per day, and 125 km if they’re feeling up for it.
The trip is entirely self-funded, and they are relying on Nepalese communities as well as small donations in every country to help them find accommodations, cover visa costs and pay for bike repairs.
“We always thought about doing something big, something meaningful in our lives for other people. And the earthquake sort of pushed these ideas to the forefront of my mind,” he said.
Each of them described how the earthquake was a watershed moment for them. Knowing that nature could erupt at any moment and take lives in an instant prompted them to act now, instead of waiting for the “right” moment or someone else to take up the mantle.
The earthquake served as the genesis of a number of facets of the World Bicycle Tour. An appreciation for the sheer power of nature was a natural byproduct of living through something as uncontrollable and massive as the earthquake, and they said the bike tour is their attempt to spread knowledge about why people’s daily interactions with nature are important and worth thinking about.
“We decided to go to different countries and try to teach people, spread the message that the environment is important,” Dr. Baral said. “People these days are so enamored with technology. And now they want giant buildings, they want 5-star resorts. Because of this, so many animals are being pushed to extinction and so much of the natural beauty of the earth is being destroyed.”
Mr. Baral works within the environmental arm of Dirghayu Nepal and runs education programs on recycling, deforestation, and water/air pollution.
“Ten years ago, you could walk to a river and drink from it. But now, water has become a commodity like gold or silver,” he said.
Part of the reason why they decided to cycle across the world was to see the effects of humans on a global scale, and they say their trip has been eye opening, especially in Cambodia.
“When we were crossing the border from Laos, we could see it, the deforestation,” Dr. Baral said. “All along the border we saw trees being cut and burned. It’s astonishing.”
Even in Phnom Penh, they were disheartened while walking along the riverside to see the banks of the Tonle Sap and the Mekong rivers covered in trash.
“The river is so beautiful,” Mr. Poudel said. “We saw people even throw trash into the river and pee into it. Why?”
Throughout their trip, they have tried to expand their awareness campaign beyond newspapers and social media, meeting with local residents in every city and explaining the need for environmental efforts.
In India, Sri Langka and Laos, they gave speeches at schools describing their mission and ways local residents can be better about how they interact with their natural surroundings.
“This should start at the school level. Children should be taught from a young age to respect the environment and understand why it is worth protecting so they can tell their friends and parents,” Mr. Baral said.
The most important aspect of their trip, in Dr. Baral’s eyes, is local participation. They hope their presence in towns along their trip will make people realize that everyone can play a role in saving the environment.
“There should be fines for throwing trash on the ground, extra costs for plastic bags, and trash bins on every street corner,” Dr. Baral mentioned amongst the long list of ways people and local governments can start the process of living more environmentally-friendly lives.
They are not against development, but Dr. Baral said there needs to be more of an effort to make development work alongside environmentalism instead of against it.
“In favor of economic development, we should not ignore social development,” Mr. Baral said. “We should take care of both together. They are not exclusive. We can have economic development and social development.”
Instead of starting a big campaign and trying to attract lots of donors and help from international NGOs, the trio believes the best way to go about a project like this is to keep it small.
Person to person interaction, Dr. Baral said, has been extremely effective in getting through to people who often feel unmoved by international campaigns that don’t try to identify with the everyday issues they face.
“Even if we can change one person in each country, that is enough. This is what motivates us to push the pedals. We don’t expect to change a whole country. But if we change one person, maybe that one can tell a friend, and a domino effect occurs,” Dr. Baral said with a smile.
“With a project like this, we just hope to hand a better world to the next generation.”
The earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25, 2015 left much of the country in ruins. The country is still rebuilding. Reuters
The cyclists ride at least 100 kilometers per day, sometimes more, as they make their way around the globe. KT/Jonathan Greig
Ajit Baral, Shankar Poudel, and Dr. Amrit Baral stand with their bikes in front of Independence Monument.
KT/ Fabien Mouret
Cracks from the earthquake can still be seen in Nepal. Reuters
The trio show the strings and bracelets given to them by local pagodas where they have stayed throughout Asia. KT/ Jonathan Greig
For more information please visit their Facebook page at “World Tour Cyclists – Awareness Project”