Global travellers meet at the crossroads of the world

PICTURED: Pushkar Shah (left) and Nicolas Queune in Todd Mall yesterday.p2129-Pushkar-Shah,-Nicolas

 

By ERWIN CHLANDA

 

Where does a man walking around the world meet another one doing the same thing on a bicycle? In Todd Mall, Alice Springs, of course.

 

When Nepalese Pushkar (pron. push car) Shah told his mum on August 1, 1998, he was heading off she gave him 100 rupees – one dollar. It was the only cash he set out with.

 

Today, 26 years later, after cycling through 150 countries and covering 221,000 kilometers, he has still has that banknote, despite being kidnapped in Mexico and robbed nine times in Africa.

 

In between it all he climbed the world’s highest mountain: his card – modestly – reads: World cyclist / Everest Summiteer.

 

When Nicolas Queune was in Japan he weighed in at 120 kilos. After walking the length of that country, and New Zealand, and now half-way through Australia, he’s down to 70 kilos. It’s the start of his 5500 km walk around the world.

 

A Frenchman from the Paris region, Queune is 34.

 

“I wanted to do something important in life. I always wanted to be a hero,” he says. “It is possible.”

 

Pushkar, now 45, wanted to bring a message of peace to the world after his father, a Gurkha in an Indian regiment, was killed in a civil conflagration.

 

He’s now on his second circumnavigation of the globe and has a new mission: raising money for 40 e-libraries in schools in impoverished parts of Nepal were kids have no pencils, let alone books. The cost is a modest $1500 per school – a computer and solar panels to drive them.

 

A Rotarian in his country, Pushkar told the local Rotary Club of Stuart last night he’s cycling around the eastern part of Oz to raise the funds. A cheque will do fine, he told the club.

 

It’s no surprise that he is writing a book. It will be published in Nepalese this year, and translated into English. It’s bound to be a tome.
The evening he cycled into Mexico he was kidnapped at knifepoint by three locals who thought he was an eccentric gringo with lots of money in his saddlebags.

 

By the time they realized their mistake they had transported Pushkar in the back of a covered truck a couple of hundred kilometers.

 

He was certain they would kill him but had deducted they had no guns (or else they wouldn’t have threatened him with a knife), and he assumed they wouldn’t make a mess of the truck by knifing him to death in its back.

 

When one of the kidnappers finally came to get him Pushkar punched him to the ground and took his knife. He dropped the second guy as well. Before the third could intervene Pushkar had scampered into the jungle.

 

What happened then? You’ll have to wait for the book.

 

Pushkar keeps body and soul together by being extremely frugal, sleeping wherever he can, usually in public places, in his tent and sleeping bag. Occasionally he encounters a benefactor who shouts him a night in a five star hotel.

 

He gets by on two meals a day, and sometimes that’s just slices of plain bread. He’s eaten monkey, elephant and caterpillars with rice during two and a half years in Africa, horse in Switzerland and snake in Australia. Thai is his favourite cuisine.

 

He pedals 140 to 150 km a day, but he takes some days off and recovers.

 

He does odd jobs: “I am a very good dishwasher,” he says.

 

His life’s not without romance but it is unlikely to interfere with his wandering the globe. A woman in Hong Kong wants to marry him. He said that’s great – let’s get a second bike. She said she didn’t like bikes. He said – no doubt in his best Nepalese manner – words to the effect: “Gosh, I’ll miss you.”

 

She said: “I’ll wait for you” and gave him a wad of banknotes. He thanked her profusely. She said: “The money is not for you. It’s for you to phone me wherever you are in the world.

 

The only trace Queune leaves is a web blog which he feeds, from time to time, with a tiny camera, recording what he encounters along the way: people, food, snakes, turtles, kangaroos and his green tent on top of Mount Kosciuszko, and frolicking with baby seals who – without their parents – swim upstream 300 meters to a waterfall at Point Kean in New Zealand’s South Island.

 

All his belongings are in a backpack mounted on a trolley, which he pulls behind him, and he carries his sleeping bag in his hand.

 

He sleeps in a tent by the roadside after covering 30 to 40 kms a day.

 

His Australian walk started in Sydney on March 25. He crossed New South Wales to Port Augusta in South Australia, before turning north to Alice.

 

To give an idea of just how long it takes to make these journeys on foot, he left Port Augusta on June 3 and arrived in Erldunda on July 13 – a month and ten days!

 

From Erlundunda he needed to take a bus to Alice to attend to a personal problem. He’s now returning to Erldunda to cover that section on foot.

 

Walking along the Stuart Highway many motorists stopped to offering help.

 

He politely declined: as this is winter, he can carry enough water.

 

Along the way he has found and collected in the streets, roads and highways 400 coins – some obviously very old.

 

From Darwin he will fly to Malaysia to continue east on his global adventure.

 

And what are his impressions of Alice Springs? He’ll get to know the town and surrounds better once he returns. For now he says the telephone works well from here – “un grand plus”!

 

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