Wednesday, 29 May, 2024

Paddling For Tourism Promotion


LB Thapa

Ajit Baral needs no introduction. He is a world cyclist who has already paddled 77 countries. He has travelled across the length and breadth of Nepal three times. He has even paddled to such extreme places of the country where no cyclists have ever dared to tread. If you think this is enough then you are utterly wrong.
 To add more excitement and boost the Pokhara adventure tourism, Ajit Baral surprised everyone when he was seen flying with paragliding along with his mountain bike. A huge crowd became the eyewitness when he flew over Fewa Lake and finally landed at Khapaudi landfill.
Many Names
His personality is as such that people call him by many names. Some call him a crazy cyclist while others call him Nepal's tourism ambassador to the world. He does not mind how and what people call him because he believes in action rather than words. His down-to-earth type of personality has made him larger than life.
Today Baral is extremely popular on TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram. He regularly uploads several videos of the places he visits. He promotes local tourism in several places and his short videos are well received by a large number of viewers at home and abroad.

"I do not only cycle and pass by a village. I stay there for some days, work with them in their fields and learn the language they speak and more especially their songs. I love songs very much or I should say songs are much closer to my heart. Thus, I do not only promote local tourism but I do also promote local music and folk songs through my cycling tour. At present, I am promoting the Kirat community’s traditional music named Murchunga. For the first time, this musical instrument was used in a popular Nepali song ‘Gairi khetko sirai hanyo’ from Prem Pinda”, informed Baral.   
Like many parents, it was Baral’s parents’ intense desire to see him become a doctor or engineer. They put tremendous pressure on him to excel well in the examination right from an early age. However, Baral had a rebellious type of nature and he would do what he wanted to do. 
"I'm from a well-to-do Baral clan of Pokhara. It is quite understandable that with the social status and the prestige that my parents hold in society, they would have higher expectations from their children. Like my elder brother Dr Amrit Baral, who is a practising doctor, my parents wanted me to become a doctor or an engineer. However, I had no interest in these professions at all. Instead, I got into cycling when I was merely a tiny toddler, and later as I grew older; my interest began growing in cycling even more. Now cycling has become an inseparable part of my life", said Baral confidently.        
Full-Time Cyclist
Baral’s parents did not support him in full-time cycling and did not pursue a definite career. However, Baral was not ready to follow any profession at the cost of cycling. This very tussle of ideology created a much bigger rift in the relationship between his parents and him and this difference does still exist, added Baral.
After the end of the world cycle tour, Baral focused his energy on promoting Nepali tourism through cycling. He started travelling to several places in the country and promoted those places, which have touristic value.

“I have intense love and respect for my country. I always want to see my country economically strong and financially independent. But I know all this is possible only if the tourism sector of the country progresses uninterruptedly. During my world cycling tour, I advertised the amazing wealth of nature that Mother Nature has bestowed upon my country. I was glad to receive people’s enthusiastic responses throughout my world cycling tour”, said Baral.   
A critical time did also come in Baral’s life when he met with an accident and his left leg had been hit by paralyses. He was unable to move his left leg and some part of his waist. He was completely bedridden and his dream to promote Nepali tourism received a serious jolt.

"The accident was a serious one. I could not move my left leg and waist at all. Doctors had advised me to take complete rest. I was helpless and I found all of a sudden my world had been limited within my bed. Doctors had given me clear instructions that I should never try to cycle again, or I would completely damage the nerves of my left leg. I followed doctors' advice and lay on the bed for two years, however, without any progress. During that time, I had even thought of committing suicide - I was completely dejected and hopeless," revealed Baral.
After two years, Baral had lost all hope of getting cured of paralysis of his leg. He had no belief in doctors’ medicines. After two years of regular medication, one day he threw all the medicines and began to drag his body with the help of crunches.

"Doctors had warned me that if I try to walk then I would completely damage the entire nervous system of my body. I gave a damn to the doctor's advice and I continued dragging my body on crutches. After a few days, I began walking without crutches, after that I was cycling as well. As the days progressed I started getting more strength and now you can see my legs are as strong as those of horses," said Baral with a wide smile flickering across his face. Today Baral is happy in the sense that his willpower proved doctors wrong and he is completely healthy. He is regularly on his mission of promoting Nepali tourism with his mountain bike.

When this scribe asked him if his parents supported him in full-time cycling and promoting Nepali tourism. Upon this, he said, "Well, in short, I should say 'No'. My parents wanted me to become a doctor or an engineer. They had also provided all the necessary facilities that I needed. But I had refused to follow what they wanted me to do in my life. Even today, my parents ask me to leave cycling and start a business of my own and for that, they are ready to help me with any amount of money. But I have refused to accept their proposal. So there is a stalemate type of situation between my parents and me---but I will not give in and my service to promote Nepali tourism will remain to continue until I have enough strength to paddle my cycle”, said Baral rather emotionally.
A man of self-respect has rather accepted a harsh life but did not fold his hands with his parents for financial help. When this scribe asked him how he manages his expenditures then he said, "I have no regular income. Most of the time I receive donations from my well-wishers who are across the country and abroad. Moreover, I am a minimalist and therefore I believe in frugality. Most of the time I paddle for several days eating only noodles and water. You might have seen my several viral videos on social media, but nobody did ever ask me whether I had eaten well", said Baral rather emotionally.
Commited For Tourism
Though he has devoted his life to the promotion of Nepali tourism, his contributions to tourim sector has not been taken seriously the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) or Pokhara Tourism Council (PTC). They have never felt to support him financially. He has been promoting Nepali tourism without any financial assistance from these organisations. Imagine how much change he can bring only if NTB and PTC work with him to promote Nepali tourism.

Ajit Baral is a committed cyclist who has devoted his life to the promotion of Nepali tourism. Baral has amazing stamina, courage, and skill to become a brand ambassador for Nepali tourism abroad. Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), Pokhara Tourism Council (PTC) and several other organisations must work hand in hand with Baral to promote Nepali tourism.
Different business companies and national and international brands can also collaborate with Baral for mutual benefits. In this way, Baral’s passion for cycling will remain alive and on the other hand, he will promote their business at home and abroad. 

(Thapa is a Pokhara-based freelance writer.