Riding Into History

Nirakar Yakthumba, of 1974 AD, a well known figure in the Nepali music scene, is now making a name for himself as a cycle and environmental enthusiast. As one of the founders of Life Cycle, a cycling resort in Hetauda, Nirakar talks to Verse about the organization, the benefits of cycling and his hopes for greater accessibility to alternate modes of transport in Kathmandu.

How did your early days influence your ideas towards environmental conservation?

I spent a lot of time outdoors: hiking, cycling, camping and rock-climbing. I loved nature and spent a lot of time in the wilderness.

Do you always use a cycle?

I cycle most of the time but I use a vehicle too. It is not practical to cycle all the time. I work as a cycle guide and regularly take groups on cycling expeditions.


Tell us something about Life-cycle.

Four of us started this organization. We began with a plan to take cycling to places where mainstream tourism has not reached. We have started camping in places where people can go stay, relax, cycle and swim. Although it has only been around for two months, after September it will be carried on in full-swing. We are trying to project this in the local as well as international market.
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Have you allocated specific locations for these cycling trips?

We have started the program in parts of Hetauda, Bishankhu-Narayan and Nawalparasi.

What age groups of people have usually been coming as part of your cycling trips?

There have been people from all age groups.

How have the local people been responding?

We have been training some local people to work with us and this has provided employment opportunities. Their involvement has been an integral part of our organization. We have also been trying to make proper bike parks in these places using natural and local materials.

What made you come up with the idea for this initiative?

Cycling is something I enjoy a lot and you might as well do something you enjoy. If you manage to make your hobby your job it does not feel like you are working.

Let us know something about Chain, the company.

Chain was started by twelve cyclists. We got together and designed the first mountain bike of Nepal. The parts are manufactured in China and assembled and sold here.

What difference can a user find between imported bikes and these bikes manufactured in Nepal?

The bikes made here are cheaper. The purpose of manufacturing these bikes was to allow everyone to be able to afford a mountain bike. A foreign mountain bike comes for around 40 thousand rupees or above, while these bikes will cost around 20 thousand rupees.

As a cyclist, how challenging do you find the roads of Kathmandu?

It is really very dangerous to cycle in the streets of Kathmandu. We do not have dedicated lanes and cycle signs. The traffic is very crazy and you have to be very careful while riding a cycle.

Can public transport be replaced by cycle transport in Kathmandu?

Of course it can. In the early 90s, when there were conflicts between India and Nepal for the Trade Treaty, everyone was riding bicycles. It was fine then, we didn’t even require traffic lights. The environment was saved of pollution. People still reached their destinations on time.

During your travels, have you found any difference between the cycling scenario here in Nepal and abroad?

In many foreign countries the government encourages city-cycling. There are minimum charges for cyclists and separate cycle stations and cycle lanes etc. There are a lot of facilities unlike Nepal.

How do you plan to carry this project forward?

I do not know about road biking, but mountain biking is certainly coming up and I’m sure it will do well. We are going to do as much as possible to help it. It is good for health, environment and tourism. That is why we are promoting mountain biking. I cannot say anything about road biking though. I would not advise a young biker to ride on Kathmandu’s streets because it is dangerous. I would recommend them to ride the bicycle outside the valley and enjoy the nature there instead.

Any last words to those enthusiastic about cycling?

Cycling is not a competition. Try to make it a lifestyle. You will always enjoy it. You’ll be able to see different things and places, especially in Nepal. I’ve been able to go to many places in Nepal and meet many people which I would never have been able to had I been in a car.

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Jamarko – The Little Store that Did

The stench of rotten garbage breeding inside a sea of black plastic rises from the murky river waters. Dogs try to lap a drink, but meekly retreat unable to satisfy their thirst. The flow from upstream becomes clogged, entangled in dams of food scraps, discarded bottles and decomposing paper mountains. Embedded in the feeble footpath that snakes along the bank, wisps of white and black catch your eye, relics of a daily shop some three years prior. A passerby looks disapprovingly at the mess below, covers their face with a scarf, scrambles by and then breathes a sigh of relief. The sigh is inherently also one of complacency, for it is their garbage too poisoning the river, it is their choices ultimately contributing to this environmental degradation.

Across town in Jhamsikhel, a small but dedicated team is working on creating newspaper carry bags and 100% recycled paper products. The store, Jamarko, seems a world away from the inescapable pollution that saturates Kathmandu and her environs. Yet within the confines of the small wooden shop revolution is taking place. It is environmentalism and recycling at its best. Specialising in handmade recycled paper goods, it is possible to see how waste can be transformed into practical use. Notepads, journals, writing paper, envelops, stationary, lampshades, paper curtains, cards, coasters, photo frames, gift wrap and gift bags are among the main recycled paper products. The store also carries a selection of mostly handmade giftware utilising natural fibres such as hemp bags, corn husk dolls, husk stools and felt laptop bags. The product designs reflect a refined and simple elegance.

Although established in 2001 Jamarko initially ran out of its factory site in Galkopakha. Now, after 10 years of operation, a space has emerged for this pioneering eco-business to enter the mainstream. The showroom itself is a reflection an intimate niche market of overseas visitors and environmentally conscious Nepali youth. A 2010 study by the Dept. of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at Kathmandu University reveals that, beyond being a trendy fad, recycling is also a form of income generation and employment, particularly for low income earners. Indeed Jamarko’s social entrepreneurship extends to employing disadvantaged women, the disabled and street children.  Rural communities also benefit from their work in producing Lokta paper products. The specialised and made to order Lokta paper products generates the financial stability for Jamarko to pursue more localised recycling objectives.

The reach of Jamarko’s message is, however, beyond recycling paper and reducing plastic waste. The parable lies deep within the heart of a movement to create a sustainable, safe and more liveable environment.  It lies within the passion and commitment of a dedicated few who can see beyond today, envisioning a cleaner and greener tomorrow. It lies within their belief that every little bit counts. Looking down at the river or into a field littered with waste, it is hard to find the motivation to change entrenched practices. Ignore the masses. Do your bit. Lead by example. Jamarko, after all, is effort.

Every one of us has the potential to put in the effort and become one of those few. It doesn’t take much; Simple decisions like refusing a plastic bag for small goods which could be easily stowed in the backpack or handbag you are carrying; Popping in a reusable shopping sack in your everyday bag so when you are at the store, even on unplanned occasions, you are prepared with an alternative to plastic; Recycling paper products such as newspapers, bygone study notes or that empty biscuit box from afternoon tea; Setting up a small recycling station at home, work or college and once a week dropping the paper of at Jamarko or a similar concept store.  Change is within everybody’s means. When will you start?