Nepali cyclists push global thinking, local action on worldwide environmental awareness ride
Our world is moving faster and in rapidly developing cities like Vientiane a great many new buildings can be seen emerging like mushrooms in rich soil.
Yet contrasting with the benefits of rapid growth are the human contributions to negative environmental effects such as climate change.
The Nepali cyclists help Lao children to clean up waste at Oupmoung School.
Globally, this challenge sees more and more people and projects coming together in an attempt to educate people to improve their ways and save our world from human-induced environmental catastrophes.
Like Laos, another least-developed but rapidly urbanising Asian nation facing the local effects of pressing environmental issues is Nepal.
Three cyclists from the South Asian country arrived in Laos recently as part of an effort to push their conscious message worldwide.
Home to the birthplace of the Buddha, Lumbini, and the world's tallest peak, Everest, the culturally rich but economically developing country is also known for the major earthquake that struck in April 2015 leading to loss of life and livelihoods.
Indeed it was the tremor itself that inspired the three members to hit the road.
Mr Anish Dhakal, 21, environmental activist, and social workers Mr Dilip Chhetri, 22 and Mr Nirmal Bard, 38 are in Laos as part of the five-year, 100 country expedition under the project named World Bicycle Tour for Environment Protection and World Peace.
The three visited Vientiane Times and shared the inspiration behind their epic trek.
“There was a massive earthquake in Nepal. After that great shock, an idea came to my mind that we human beings are guests on this planet for perhaps 80 to 90 years,” Mr Anish Dhakal said.
“During this period if we could try to do something positive in our life then our life is meaningful.
“I always thought about doing something big, something meaningful in my life for other people.
“The earthquake gave me more inspiration to travel around the world to raise people's awareness about environmental protection and world peace.
“With the great support of my two friends my dream came true.”
He said the bicycle appealed as a simple and effective time-honoured carbon-neutral form of transport.
“We human beings today are so enamoured with technology yet no one is caring enough about our planet.
“We are taking all the resources but what we are giving back is actually destroying instead of giving.
“We can't give that much but at least we can preserve our resources for upcoming generations.
“I thought that I can't change this world myself but why not to try to symbolise the importance of it.
“So with the help of my two friends we are giving a lesson, not only in one particular country, but everywhere that we have been.”
Topics raised include overpopulation, ozone layer depletion, green house effect, deforestation, water pollution, global warming, and ocean pollution.
The group entered Laos on March 19 when they came to Vientiane and took a rest.
The next morning they started cycling around Vientiane and visited the Lao Red Cross and Oupmoung School and talked with people around town.
They hope their tour will bring some changes in people's lives and help make this world a better place to live.
In Laos the group agreed the weather was hot but the welcome warm.
“We are really feeling happy to ride in Laos,” they all agreed.
“We were so happy to be able to stay at Oupmoung Temple in Vientiane for three nights and want to thank the monks for helping us with our accommodation and food, also for giving us a permission to talk with children at the school.
“We hope that our presence in towns and villages along our journey will help people to realise that everyone can play a role in saving the environment.”
The start young approach pays dividends.
“We should create a better world for the generations and generations to come. 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.
“The importance of keeping the environment clean should be taught from an early age.
“If children at primary school are taught about the environment then they can do something meaningful for environmental protection throughout their life. That's why this group focuses largely on visits to schools.
“We saw many wrappers and plastic bags thrown around the school and temple premises.
“With the help of the children we collected all the plastic bags and bottles, teaching the youngsters to use dustbins.
“They were interested and were so happy while joining together to collect the discarded wrappers and bottles.”
The team also visited the Lao Red Cross and talked to the staff about their aims and the purpose of the ride.
And they were happy to learn that the Lao Red Cross had donated some money to Nepal for the earthquake relief effort.
“We don't claim that we can change the whole world but we do believe that our tour will give a message to young people and everyone else about the importance of environmental protection and world peace.
“And we affirm that our tour will bring some changes to people's lives and help make this world a better place to live,” they said.
Of course, the language barrier remains a challenge but not an insurmountable one.
“While the schoolchildren could not understand English, luckily we met a monk in the temple who was able to interpret for us.”
While riding, they also struggled to make themselves understood sometimes.
“Many people stopped our push bikes on the way and asked about the reason for our ride.
“We felt that many Lao people were interesting in what we were doing.
“The Lao people are kind and have given us free water and food.
“Even though many people cannot understand us they share a big smile and give a thumbs up, wishing us good luck for our journey,” the intrepid riders said.
“In the course of our journey we've met a lot of people, especially youngsters, who wanted to talk to us and asked a lot of questions about our trip as we were carrying the flags of Laos and Nepal.
“We tell them our message is ‘say no to plastics'.”
“Wherever we can, we speak to people about environmental protection. And we stop our bikes in busy areas so as to share our message.
“So we are trying to maximise our interactions with people.
“We are giving the message that if a person can travel from one country to another country by bicycle, then why don't you use it once a week at least?”
Cycling itself is eco friendly, it helps to protect the environment and one's health at the same time, they explained.
“When you ride instead of drive it decreases your carbon footprint.
“Of course during our travels in Laos we had a few issues, particularly with our bikes, because the condition of some of the roads is not always very good.”
“But we were always able to fix everything with the help of each other and people we met along the way.
“We met so many nice people and they helped us to share our message by clicking on photos and uploading pictures on social media and encouraging other people in the area to engage.
“We are really happy with our time in Laos, as it is such a beautiful country and the people are so helpful,” he said.
“On our way we could see green forests and that the structure of the land has not been destroyed, while in Vientiane we do not see so many giant buildings overshadowing nature.
“In Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh and India we see big problems with traffic but in Laos the roads are still safe enough for cycling.”
Final words of advice for everyone?
“We all have to die one day, so why waste time fighting in the name of culture religion and territory and all that. Let's stay peaceful through our love for nature.”
By Patithin Phetmeuangphuan
(Latest Update April 1, 2017)