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Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2007

Two years down the road, Nepali cyclist wheels solo through Japan

Staff writer

In December 2004, Dhakeswor Chhetri packed a small bag and hopped on his brand new bicycle with the equivalent of 2,000 yen in his pocket. Leaving his family and home in Nepal, Chhetri and three other friends began a 10-year mission -- bicycling for world peace and universal friendship.

Dhakeswor Chhetri is on a 10-year bicycling tour for peace
Dhakeswor Chhetri, who is on a 10-year bicycling tour for peace, poses with his mountain bike in Tokyo's Takadanobaba district on Feb. 14. SATOKO KAWASAKI PHOTO

Although the others retired from the trip one by one, Chhetri, 51, traveled through India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, China and South Korea.

For more than two years, he has biked 70 to 100 km a day, rain or shine.

"I wanted to do something to contribute to (my) country and to the public," Chhetri said. "I have no academic skills, but I was confident in my physical strength. . . . So I did what I could do -- ride my bicycle to tell the world about Nepal, and to learn about the world from other countries."

Why a bicycle? Chhetri said he couldn't afford a car and it is easy to fix. Most importantly, a bike lets him interact with people directly, without a physical barrier.

"I get to view the same world that people around me are seeing," Chhetri said.

Last Christmas Day found Chhetri and his bike in Fukuoka Prefecture, from where he set off east for Tokyo. Through Kyoto, Nagoya, Toyota in Aichi Prefecture, and Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, he rode.

Without any particular route, he found himself sleeping outside a couple of times. On other occasions, he got help from local police, who found cheap guesthouses for him. Some officers even let him spend the night.

Other people helped by offering food, shelter and sometimes money, he said.

"Throughout this trip, I have met so many people and I am grateful for their kindness," Chhetri said.

One encounter was with a Nepalese man in Hamamatsu. According to Chhetri, the man offered his bicycle, which was better than the one Chhetri had bought in Nepal. On his new bike, Chhetri finally made it to Tokyo in mid-January, 18 days after arriving in Fukuoka.

By chance, one day in Shibuya, Chhetri met countryman Jigyan Kumar Thapa, a Saitama resident and Ph.D. candidate at Yokohama National University. who interpreted Chhetri's interview with The Japan Times.

Thapa said that when he saw the traditional Nepali hat on Chhetri's head, he ran up to talk to him.

"It was mind-boggling to think that (Chhetri) left his family and went on this journey by himself despite his age," Thapa said. "But at the same time, I was proud that a fellow Nepalese was out on this great mission."

Chhetri's family and friends, on the other hand, were not exactly thrilled at first. Chhetri said his wife, three daughters, two sons and his 86-year-old mother were worried and did not support his decision in the beginning.

"My family, neighbors and villagers were negative at first, all thinking that I was joking," he said. "But this was the first time in my life that I could do something that would lead to public good."

Hardships come hand-in-hand with journeys, Chhetri said, and he does not consider it rough when he goes without food and water or when bicycling in bad weather.

In Thailand, he was robbed of what little money he had, and in Laos, he had to sleep in a jungle known for prowling tigers -- yet, he bicycled on.

"Every challenge I face is to prepare me for the next greater challenge," Chhetri said. "Of course I miss my family. But being sad distracts me so I try not to think about them too much. Right now, I am just trying to focus on my mission -- to promote world peace and universal friendship."

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