Abu Dhabi: Chitra Poutel has a single-minded vision: to inspire people with special needs and show them that they are capable of just about anything. With this resolve in mind, he has cycled across 28,000 kilometres and met thousands of people.
What makes the achievement of this 29-year-old Nepali even more striking is that his right leg is shrivelled and nearly four inches shorter than his left, making cycling a particularly difficult activity.
“Many people may consider this to be a handicap. For me, it means I have an opportunity to create world records and, in doing so, show others that you only need resolve to get anywhere that you want to in life,” Poutel told Gulf News.
The cyclist is currently in the capital, and he claims that this is the 52nd country he has visited.
“My goal is to visit as many countries across the world and reach out to associations working with people with disabilities and special needs. And of course, I try to cycle to as many places as possible,” he said.
But it has not been easy to get this far.
At the tender age of five, Poutel was afflicted by polio. The infectious disease left his right leg weak and withered. Growing up, however, Poutel was determined not to let this hold him back in life.
“At the age of fifteen, after my mother succumbed to cancer and passed away, I told myself I would do something that others thought was impossible for me. In this way, I could be an example for them and help them to also strive for their dreams,” Poutel said.
Four years later, in 2003, armed with a mountain bike and some sparse equipment, Poutel set out to cycle 1,050 kilometres across Nepal, from the eastern town of Kakarrvita to the western zone of Mahakali. He had trained himself for about a month, and was determined to achieve his target.
“At first it was extremely difficult and I experienced excruciating pain. I was only able to cover about 50 kilometres per day, and I had just 7,000 Nepalese rupees (Dh255 at present rate) with me. But many well-wishers supported me, allowed me to stay at their rest houses and motels and provided me with food and money. All the while, I spoke to people with disabilities that I met and tried to encourage them,” Poutel recollected.
The journey took him two months, but at its conclusion, Poutel was convinced he wanted to continue cycling and raising awareness about the abilities of people with special needs.
At the end of the year, Poutel ventured outside Nepal, cycling from Nepal to Delhi and from there to Kolkata. After that, there was no stopping him. Over the next ten years, his travels took him to Bangladesh, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and then to countries in Far East Asia _ including Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, China, Indonesia and Philippines — and the Australian continent.
“I tried to cycle as much as possible. And wherever there was no land permit, I took a flight or travelled by ship. Every time I each a new country, I look at its land routes and prepare for the next leg of my journey,” Poutel said.
He has returned to Nepal every now and then to train himself further and also to collect funds. His efforts have also attracted a fellow Nepali, Gyan Bahadur Rai, who now hopes to cycle with Poutel and film his efforts.
The duo have been in the UAE since Sunday (September 22), and are currently staying in Abu Dhabi with friends.
“I hope to soon cycle around the Gulf countries and Arab region before heading to Europe. I am waiting to get started but financial constraints have held me back so far,” Poutel said.
In the meantime, Poutel is also looking to speak to people with disabilities, as is his custom.
“When I reach the 100th country I have visited, I hope to apply to the Guinness World Records and be listed as the first person with physical disability who has cycled in 100 countries. And then finally I hope to head to the Americas and Africa,” he said.
Once he has travelled across the world, the cyclist added that he hopes to settle in Nepal and open a foundation to help people with special needs.
“I want to encourage them to ride like me, and organise races and other activities to help them. After all, I could only cover 50 kilometres every day when I first started, and only thought I could cycle across one nation. Now I can ride 130 kilometres each day and have already visited more than 50 countries,” he said.