Netherlands to Nepal by bicycle

Low to high country, cyclist sees hope in how people along the way are adapting to the climate crisis

All photos: GUIDO VAN ENCKEVORT

At international climate conferences, delegates from Netherlands and Nepal always sit alphabetically next to each other. Now, a Dutch cyclist has pedalled all the way from one country to the other to highlight how climate collapse is affecting a land below sea level to the world’s highest mountains.

Dutch-national Guido van Enckevort, 33, believes not owning a car and not flying can reduce our ecological footprint, and he is putting that into practice by bicycling everywhere.

“The entire system should change, not just individuals,” he says. “But people like me who do not have to worry about our next meals also have a moral responsibility to change our behaviour.”

Van Enckevort does not own a car or fly anymore, and in March 2021, he started out on his bicycle named ‘Ziggy Two-Shoes’ travelling from the Netherlands, through the Balkans, Turkey, Armenia, and making his way into Iran, Pakistan, and India. He was in Kathmandu last week before moving on to Bhutan.

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Along the way, he is collecting stories of how communities are adapting to the impact of climate change. In the Netherlands, van Enckevort was working as a policy adviser for the Ministry of the Interior to find ways to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

He arrived in Nepal three months ago, and says slow travel by bicycle means he sees more, and it makes him more considerate as he has to think about food and navigation. The notions of time, home, nationality blur while propelling himself on two wheels.

As he was crossing over from Pakistan to India, van Enckevort noticed that the only thing different about the people on two sides of the border was religion, otherwise everything was the same.

“One starts to see how similar people are on both sides of borders, how cultures influence each other. You understand the world a little better this way,” he muses.

And as soon as van Enckevort crossed over from India, he knew there was something unique about Nepal. In a village outside Bardia National Park he played football with local youngsters at the edge of the jungle, as a golden sun set.

“During my nine-month cycling journey across Europe and Asia, I had played football in a dozen countries, but Nepal was different,” recalls van Enckevort, pointing out how the children passed the ball among themselves, and worked as a team, not as individuals. “Scoring didn’t matter and, most peculiar of all, the team’s possession of the ball was paramount, not scoring.”

He noticed that community bonds were tighter in Nepal, and gestures of affection between the young players suggested to him that they mattered to each other. Van Enckevorth had not planned to use up all three months of his tourist visa, but ended up pedalling up and down Nepal.

He stayed with communities with their own organic system for doing things efficiently, wasting nothing. Every twig, every branch had a role as he helped farmers repair thatched roofs.

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“In the west, we are messing everything up with consumerism and capitalism,” adds van Enckevort. “Our ecological footprint is ten times more than Nepal. We contribute more to the climate crisis.”

And a warming planet disproportionately impacts developing countries, even though they are low emitters.

“We are also used to a certain kind of lifestyle where everything is available,” he adds. “Changes have to be made, but often these changes are perceived in the West as privileges being taken away. There is a more positive way to look at this, and people can be shown that they are in fact getting things that are cleaner and better, more sustainable.”

What makes him optimistic about the future is that countries like Nepal can learn from the mistakes made by the West. Different priorities call for different approaches, and the sense of community based on trust which he found in Nepal is important to build a sustainable future. Progress cannot always be measured in money, he says.

Western countries, for the most part, are more prepared for the impact of the climate crisis than those in South Asia. They therefore have a moral responsibility to helping countries like Nepal to adapt.

Van Enckevort followed the pledges made at recent international climate summits in Glasgow and Sharm Al Sheikh, but laments the lack of trust and political will. The West has an ethical responsibility, but it is also worried that the money they give will be wasted because of corruption.

After 14,000km, this pedalling Dutchman says a more harmonious planet is possible: “Nepal and the Nepali people made me optimistic, as long as you play together like the children playing as a team in Bardia then things can change quickly for the better, and in a big way.”

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