Round-the-world cyclist Pushkar Shah has travelled to some of the most hostile places on the planet, sleeping rough and enduring robbery and kidnap – all in the name of world peace.
Now, Nepal’s best-travelled and most eccentric peace campaigner is hoping to complete his mission by placing the flags of all 150 countries he visited on his decade-long tour on the summit of Mount Everest.
Shah, who returned to Nepal last November after 11 years on the road, admits that his legs have probably taken enough punishment. But he says planting the flags will be the culmination of “my own peaceful battle against the many wars being waged across the world.”
“My aim was to spread the message of peace and to see the world. I want to climb Everest for the same reason,” Shah, 40, told AFP in Kathmandu before setting off for the Himalayas this week.
“I want to take all the flags I collected to the top of Everest.”
Shah will cycle from Kathmandu to Jiri in eastern Nepal, where the road ends, and continue on foot to Everest.
The 40-year-old has more reason than most to campaign for world peace – his father, a Gurkha soldier, was killed during an operation with the Indian army.
Then in 1990, aged just 20, Shah himself was shot during an uprising against direct rule by Nepal’s then-king. The largely peaceful revolt led to the restoration of democracy in Nepal, but Shah was wounded so badly that he was left for dead, earning him the nickname “living martyr” in his home village.
Six years later, he witnessed the start of a violent insurgency by Maoist guerrillas seeking the overthrow of the country’s centuries-old Hindu monarchy and demanding political and social reforms.
“People had so much hope in our new-found democracy, but then I saw the country go downhill so fast,” he said. “It was frustrating.”
So, in 1998, two years after the insurgency started, Shah decided to cycle around the world to spread the message of peace, armed with just a bundle of maps and 100 rupees (1.40 dollars) in cash.
“It was definitely not a deluxe trip. I lived off the kindness of strangers and the generosity of people I met along the way,” said Shah, who cycled for 10 hours every day while on the road.
The journey took him from his home in the foothills of the Himalayas to 150 countries in four continents, eating and drinking whatever was offered by local people.
This included elephant meat in Cameroon, horse meat in Switzerland, dog in South Korea, monkey in Guinea-Bissau, snake soup in Thailand, caterpillar with rice in Botswana – and, he claims, more than 1,200 varieties of beer.
In all, Shah travelled 220,000 kilometres (135,000 miles), taking in the Sahara desert, the Alps and the Egyptian pyramids and cycling along the banks of the Amazon river before returning to Nepal at the end of last year.
The journey took him to war-torn Liberia, Sierra Leone and East Timor, where he says he “did not see a single house that had not been burned.”
He was mugged in New York, had his bicycle stolen in New Zealand and was kidnapped in Mexico, although he managed to escape from his abductors who were later arrested.
Nonetheless, Shah says his experiences on the road were overwhelmingly positive, offering evidence that “the goodness of humanity has no geographic boundaries”.
“I wanted to see the world, and I saw the world,” he says. “Now, I want to see the top of the world.”
© AFP 2010