A LIFE IN THE REVERSE: Biresh Prasad Dahal cycling backwards on Doha’s streets.
Photo : Najeer Feroke
The 29-year-old Nepali, who has eaten insects to get by and even survived death, tells Anand Holla of his reverse-explored journey across Asia and Africa.
The seat of his mountain bike looks fresh as new for it has never been used. Yet Biresh Prasad Dahal has travelled to 44 countries on two wheels.
Two words: backwards cycling.
Perched on a tiny cushion pinned between the handlebars, Dahal has his back to the traffic but his eyes on the road. Never mind that his neck stays twisted throughout to do so.
Since March 2004, the 29-year-old Nepali has reverse-explored his way across Asia and Africa. This week, Dahal is down in Qatar to cycle through the country, and then zip off to Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Oman.
But why would one cycle backwards, all over the world? “Because nobody bothers to look at you if you cycle normally,” he tells Community.
Dahal is a straight shooter. To keep his fantastic “World Peace Cycling Tour” dream alive and pedalling, he embraces support in whichever manner it comes.
“I don’t hesitate to ask someone for food. Those who hesitate die hungry,” he says. On a mission to spread a noble message, of world peace and living together by dissolving differences, Dahal also aims to set a Guinness World Record by backwards cycling to 151 countries.
Dahal has as many countries’ flags with him as stamps on his passport. A lot of them grace his weather-beaten 21-geared bike — the latest being Qatar’s national flag. “I’m always thinking of ways to grab people’s attention as that’s the only way to reach out to maximum people,” he says.
For Dahal, returning to Qatar is somehow about a journey coming full circle. When Dahal was growing up in Nepal’s Gaighat village, his father worked as a labourer in Doha for 14 years.
“There were severe hardships at home, but my father worked hard to raise us well. I was seven when I pestered my mother into buying me a cycle,” he recalls.
But riding the cycle like other kids didn’t excite Dahal. “Through my teens, I was obsessed about doing crazy stunts, like cycling on one pedal or cycling without using hands. Once I gained confidence cycling backwards, I wanted to go places,” he says.
By late teens, Dahal’s escalating existential crisis had led him to his life’s purpose. “I didn’t want to lead a routine life — get married, have children and retire. I wanted to run away from money, fame, marriage and all societal norms. That’s why I quit my job at a hospital.”
It would hurt Dahal to know how impossible it seemed for “a common man from Nepal” to dare travel the world.
“I wanted to discover the world, and know how people live, eat and work in different countries. So I started by cycling backwards through all of Nepal,” he says.
Outside Nepal, Dahal first went to India. “The response in Nepal and India was heartening, which spurred me on to go further,” he says. Thereon, he would travel to a handful of countries at a stretch — like Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, China — and return to Nepal, before taking off again.
Through the years, Dahal has had a friend or two to keep him company by cycling alongside him. For the last few years, it’s been Barun Adhikari and Bajindra Kumar Mahara’s turn.
In one sweep, they cycle across three or four nations, like Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. At times, they have had to take flights or ships to reach countries, from where they would pedal away to another set of countries.
“Some of the countries we have visited are Vietnam, Laos, South Korea, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Cyprus, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe,” he says, almost running breathless, “And it’s been wonderful.”
If crossing national borders on a bicycle is unnerving — various border police have grilled them on a few occasions — passing through no man’s land stretches is scarier.
“We came across this one kilometre gap when we crossed from Kenya to Uganda. You need to be extremely cautious there because if you get shot, neither army will claim your body,” Dahal smiles.
Even for a low expense tour like Dahal’s, hopping across the map has cost him Nepalese Rupees 72,00,000 (QR262,580) in 10 years. Of this, only NR13,00,000 has come from home. “The rest has been taken care of by Good Samaritans from mostly Nepali and Indian communities all over,” he says.
Dahal and his buddies have been lucky to find people helping them out with food, shelter, money, or even new cycles, as it happened after their cycles were stolen from Thailand’s Nepal Embassy.
That doesn’t mean Dahal can afford to stop looking for sponsors. In fact, he makes an earnest plea to Community to mention his contact number 70798939 so that he gets help. “I can wear the sponsor’s T-shirt or fly their flag for a good cause,” he says, matter-of-factly.
On the road, Dahal and his two friends eat anything they can lay their hands on, but don’t forget to have two eggs each and a lot of fruits and vegetables. “We have had to eat insects to get by, but it’s all par for the course,” Dahal says. The trio stock up on water, juice and chocolates to stay hydrated and energised on their 80 km-a-day rides.
Despite preparations, Dahal’s trips always end with a sprained neck and blood-shot eyes.
“When the street is crowded, my neck and back strain even more and my eyes water due to redness,” he says, “Flyovers are a pain to get by, and so are nights. We avoid cycling at nights,” he says.
Fortunately, Dahal has met with only one road accident till date. While cycling from Burundi to Tanzania on the national highway, his quick thinking saved him from death.
He recounts, “Two cars moving at 120kph from opposite ends were about to collide and I happened to be right between them. Instinctually, I jumped off my cycle to the side of the road. Next moment, I saw my cycle get crushed. The driver had my cycle repaired, and I rested for 17 days.”
Speaking all of two-and-a-half languages — Nepali, Hindi and broken English — has never slowed him down. “Language doesn’t matter. My teacher once told me: If you wish to travel the world, then language problem would be just one of the many challenges you’ll face. Use sign language to indicate hunger and thirst, but don’t stop your journey.”
Dahal rattles off the many “lessons” the journey has taught him. “Like in Africa, I saw the starkest disparity between the rich and the poor. But I found the rich to be petty and the poor to be large-hearted,” he says.
On a lesser note, when Dahal came across the first sensor-powered wash basin in Singapore, he thought it was magic. “Such things made me realise how cut off from modernity Nepal and I were,” he says.
Reactions to Dahal’s unusual ride are similar across countries — people waving at him and taking videos, children laughing and chasing.
“Some call me a show-off, but I don’t care,” he shrugs, “My parents support me immensely. I feel content to see them happy and make Nepal proud.”
The blueprint of Dahal’s globe-trotting expedition is sourced from fellow Nepalese cyclist and World record-holder Pushkar Shah who cycled 221,000kms in 11 years and travelled to 150 countries.
“He rode straight, but I hope to visit 151 countries by riding backwards,” Dahal says.
Living every backpacker’s fantasy is way cooler than lounging in a villa, believes Dahal. “I prefer living dangerously and absorbing life through experience. Learning about world’s cultures is my wealth,” he says.
Not only does he maintain a diary which he plans to turn into a book once he accomplishes his goal, he also writes about his experiences in Nepalese newspapers and is a “visit reporter” for Nepal’s Araniko Television.
He says, “I wanted to do something that nobody else can. You’d say someone can certainly cycle backwards just like me. But I doubt anyone would have the perseverance to cycle backwards to 45 countries... and still feel it’s just not enough.”
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