Clad in black sweatpants, red jackets and white helmets, the hundreds of cyclists pedaling the treacherously steep, narrow mountain passes to India from Nepal could be mistaken for a Himalayan version of the Tour de France.
The similarity, however, ends there. This journey is longer and tougher, the prize has no financial value or global recognition and the participants are not professional cyclists but Buddhist nuns from India, Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet.
500 nuns from the Buddhist sect also known as the Drukpa Order , on Saturday complete a 4,000-km (2,485 mile) bicycle trek from Nepal’s Kathmandu to the northern city of Leh in India to raise awareness about human trafficking in the remote region.
“When we were doing relief work in Nepal after the earthquakes last year, we heard how girls from poor families were being sold because their parents could not afford to keep them anymore,” 22-year-old nun Jigme Konchok Lhamo told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“We wanted to do something to change this attitude that girls are less than boys and that it’s okay to sell them,” she said, adding that the bicycle trek shows “women have power and strength like men.”
The bicycle trek, from Nepal into India, is nothing new for the Drukpa nuns.
This is the fourth such journey they have made, meeting local people, government officials and religious leaders to spread messages of gender equality, peaceful co-existence and respect for the environment.
They also deliver food to the poor, help villagers get medical care and are dubbed the “Kung Fu nuns” due to their training in martial arts.
Led by the Gyalwang Drukpa, head of the Drukpa Order, the nuns raise eyebrows, especially among Buddhists for their unorthodox activities.
“Traditionally Buddhist nuns are treated very differently from monks. They cook and clean and are not allowed to exercise. But his Holiness thought this was nonsense and decided to buck the trend,” said Carrie Lee, president of Live to Love International, a charity which works with the Drukpa nuns to support marginalised Himalayan communities.
“Among other things, he gave them leadership roles and even introduced Kung Fu classes for the nuns after they faced harassment and violence from monks who were disturbed by the growing shift of power dynamics,” she said.
“Most of the people, when they see us on our bikes, think we are boys,” said 18-year-old nun Jigme Wangchuk Lhamo.
“Then they get shocked when we stop and tell them that not only are we girls, but we are also Buddhist nuns,” she said. “I think this helps change their attitudes about women and maybe value them as equals.”
“People think that because we are nuns, we are supposed to stay in the temples and pray all the time. But praying is not enough,” said Jigme Konchok Lhamo.
“His Holiness teaches us that we have go out and act on the words that we pray. After all, actions speak louder than words,” she said.
Source:The Kathmandu Post