Hundreds of cyclists were pedaling the treacherously steep and narrow mountain passes to India from Nepal through the Himalayas wearing black sweatpants, red jackets, and white helmets.
Even though the journey looks like a Himalayan version of the Tour de France, it’s actually longer, tougher, and has no financial prize or global recognition. The participants are not professional cyclists, but Buddhist nuns from Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and India.
500 nuns from the Buddhist group known as the Drukpa Order completed a 4,000km (2,485 miles) bicycle trek from Netapl’s Kathmandu to the city of Leh in India in order to raise awareness about human trafficking in the remote region.
The 22-year-old nun Jigme Konchok Lhamo told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that when they were doing relief work in Nepal last year they heard how girls from poor families were being sold because their parents could not afford to keep them anymore.
They wanted to do something to change this attitude that girls are less than boys and that it’s Ok for their families to sell them, so they thought that the bicycle trek would show that “women have power and strength like men”.
The bicycle trek, however, is nothing new for the Drukpa nuns. This is the fourth such journey for these women, and they’ve met with local people, government leaders, and religious leaders to spread the messages of gender equality, peaceful co-existence, and respect for the environment.
The nuns 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.
The nuns, led by the Gyalwang Drukpa, raise eyebrows among people, especially among Buddhists for their unorthodox activities.
Carrie Lee, president of Live to Love International, a charity which works with the Drukpa nuns to support marginalized Himalayan communities says that Buddhist nuns are, traditionally, treated very differently from monks. They cook, clean, and are not allowed to exercise. However, his Holiness thought that this was nonsense and decided to buck the trend.
The number of Drukpa nuns has grown to 500 from 30, said lee, and she believes it’s because of the progressive attitudes of the 53-year-old Gyalwang Drukpa, who was inspired by his mother to become an advocate for gender equality.