In August 2007, Shah reached the 113th country on his list of 150, Turkey, via the port of Antalya.
Exhausted from his travel through Africa, he has decided to spend some time in İstanbul and rest before he heads to his next stop, Bulgaria. During his break, he spoke with Today's Zaman to share his message of peace and experiences on the road.
Having spent the last nine years on his world tour, Shah says he has survived thanks to "good people who have helped me on my journey," adding that "they are my sponsors." The Nepal Tourism Board now also supports him and will step in if he gets in trouble, but other than that his needs are few: "I don't need a lot of money. All I need is two meals a day and a place to sleep."
But why did Shah set out on such a tremendously difficult path? "I participated in the democracy movement in Nepal. I was arrested many times, I was tortured, beaten. That changed my life," he says, and he started questioning the reason why people killed. "So I decided to do something in my life for peace."
During his tour, he visits schools and clubs in different communities and speaks about peace, respect for other religions and cultures, living in harmony, respect for human rights and democratic values. "I've met lots of prime ministers, some presidents and even some famous people. I met Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person known to have reached the summit of Mt. Everest."
Incidentally, Shah met Hillary in New Zealand when his bicycle was stolen. Luckily, Shah's bicycle was found and every item on it was returned.
Throughout the conversation, Shah names other people he has met who have climbed Mt. Everest. He says he is trying locate and meet Nasuh Mahruki, one of the few such mountaineers, who is from Turkey.
Cycling through war
Shah tries to ride through safe locations, but he has ridden in two conflict areas: the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan, where he was two or three months ago. "But I wasn't in the conflict zone (in Sudan). It was really not safe."
For now, he has no plans to go to Iraq or Afghanistan. "Maybe within a few years, if there will be peace."
Although he avoids cycling through war, Shah was once victim of a non-violent war. "I was in Egypt first, then I rode to Israel and had plans to go to Syria. But Syria, and later Lebanon, refused my visa when they saw the Israeli stamps. That is called a religion war, you know," Shah explains.
Sometimes, peace can be as difficult as war. Shah's life has been threatened at gun or knife point nine times. Once, shortly after he passed the US border into Mexico, he met men who offered him water. The three men pulled out a knife and locked him inside their truck.
"I heard them putting my bike on the truck. I felt relieved."
He understood he was being kidnapped, but he was only scared when the men pulled the truck inside a jungle. "I knew they were going to kill me. My heart was pounding so fast. But I knew they didn't have a gun, because if they did, they would have pulled out a gun and not a knife."
Shah managed to punch and knock down one man, and he ran into the jungle. When he complained to the police later, they recovered all his items; the men weren't caught.
"I've been robbed before, in the Congo. They pull out a knife and tell you 'Give me my money.'"
In New York, when he was going back to his hostel one night, half-drunk, a man stopped him and asked for $10. "I said I didn't have $10," Shah begins his story and continues: "He opened his trench coat, took out a gun and told me, 'If you don't have $10, your life is not worth living.' I sobered up instantly. Told him to stop and gave him $20. He said 'Thank you,' and left. I yelled, 'Hey how about my $20 back?' He returned and told me 'Next time I see you around in this city, I won't ask for another 10 bucks.'"
I call home whenever I have money
Shah left behind a son, a mother and a brother in his village Dolakha, in northern Nepal. "I call them whenever I find money."
"I do miss my family, but I meet new family and friends every day," Shah says, demonstrating the affection he feels toward every member of the human race.
The 37-year-old Shah has a Web site, accessible at www.pushkarshah.com
Shah is planning to conclude his journey in 2010 by climbing Mt. Everest, to up to the summit with the flags of all the countries he's visited.
Today's Zaman Last Mod: 02 Eylül 2007, 10:37