Pedalling as a life lesson

Self-reflection, patience, determination and optimism, cycling teaches it all

Photo courtesy of Eliza Sthapit.

Cycling brings fond memories. Learning to take that first ride with my mother in the small alley next to home. Re-learning with my husband in the streets of Europe.

Both came as a necessity. The first because I had failed several attempts at balancing, and it was a matter of self-pride. The second because cycling was the primary mode of affordable commute for a student overseas.

Read also: No city for cyclists, Sewa Bhattarai

I often connect cycling with life, a balance you need to learn, and once learnt can never unlearn. What a beautiful form of experience that already is.

In Kathmandu, I cycle to work each day. Family, friends and acquaintances compliment me for being so conscious of my carbon footprint. But my cycling was due to forced necessity, I just do not have the fortitude to drive in the city’s chaotic traffic.

I switched to cycling during the 2015 blockade. Between daily chores at the office and home with two little girls, the struggle to join the long queues at the petrol station had tired me out. 

One evening, my husband brought home a beautiful bicycle. I was a bit angry about buying such an expensive bike. But eight years on I am so thankful because the bicycle continues to run solid and is my best buddy on the road.

Read also: Netherlands to Nepal by bicycle, Ashish Dhakal

Thin traffic during the blockade gave me confidence, and although hard at first, muscle memory eventually kicked in. When the blockade was lifted after six months and fuel was plentiful again, traffic clogged the streets again. 

Honking always troubled me, and I wished I could put a banner with bold letters on my bag: Don’t Honk. My wish was answered in 2016 when traffic police declared unnecessary honking a punishable offence.

A lot of people still warn me about the dangers of being on a bicycle on Kathmandu’s roads. That is true, they are not the safest place to be. I have had a few scrapes with bruises and aches, but that does not deter me. Cycling has become a part of my life. 

And there are people who encourage me. One traffic police officer always greeted me at the intersection I crossed every morning during my commute to work. Once a little girl asked me if it was all right for a woman to cycle. I told her I hoped someday she would be a pilot.

One night, the driver of a private car switched on the high beam so I could pedal along the potholed street in torrential rain. Strangers on the sidewalk smiled when they saw me on my bicycle. 

However, I am aghast at the utter recklessness and impatience of motorcycle and vehicle drivers on the roads, speeding and overtaking dangerously. On a bicycle one notices such rashness even more. 

Most of Kathmandu is a cycle city. Lalitpur now has bicycle lanes and that has made it easier to negotiate for space with other traffic. Moving slowly at my own pace, I have the opportunity to see and feel the things around me, to savour the beauty (and, yes, also the ugliness and dangers) of my city.

Cycling has become a ritual, and it does not tire me at all. It has given me a perspective on life, on how one needs to keep going no matter how steep the uphill, and keep an eye on the smaller wins every day. It reminds me that I am not in competition with anyone else, and I am only challenging myself to do better each day.

All these years, cycling has given me serenity, peace of mind, and a time for self-reflection. As the cycling culture continues to grow, it is also a reminder to make our roads safer for everyone. Fast or slow, all street users are equal. 

Cycling teaches us to be civil and considerate of others. My right to use the road also comes with the responsibility to think for fellow citizens. And this could be small, yet meaningful contributions towards reducing my and your carbon footprint.

Eliza Sthapit is the National Director for Habitat for Humanity International Nepal.

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