You are all aware of how inspired I have been with Ram and his Wheelchair Yaatra, but let me tell you, my admiration for his yaatra increased 10 fold during our journey to Lumbini.
We are in Himalaya country, so the mountains that he had to climb and descend …… scary! And OMG – the state of the highway is atrocious! Unpaved surfaces in many places and oh the DUST where you can hardly see two feet ahead of you; two-lane narrow roads such that trucks would squeeze by Ram a mere two inches from his wheelchair; one false move by the young truck drivers and he was gone for sure. REALLY DREADFUL driving skills by other drivers causing many accidents along the route which reduces the highway down to one lane for both ways. Sheesh. Journey from hell, it really was. And Ram did it in a wheelchair ….. my admiration is now out the window for him.
The 350km journey from KTM to Lumbini took us over 12 hours and we were in a Bolero (an off road SUV). Ram did his yaatra in 26 days – astounding considering the conditions AND he was in a wheelchair. Some days he could only manage 6km due to the rough conditions, other days he could progress some 30kms ….. he just never knew what was ahead. Hats off to Ram, I am still in awe he made it in one piece to Lumbini.
Getting close to the end of the day, when the temperatures started to cool off from the day-time highs of 42 degrees Celsius and all 8 of us in the Bolero were looking forward to a cold shower, we spotted the SIRC ambulance used as Ram’s escort vehicle for the Yaatra. How great!
It was Binod the Yaatra driver only, heading to Lumbini airport to collect SIRC’s founder Kanak Mani Dixit (who had the good sense to fly). Binod who is normally a reserved kind of guy, was really thrilled to meet his colleagues. I think it shows in this photo, he is beaming 🙂
Once we left Binod, we were all feeling pumped and much less lethargic after such a journey in such heat, when who did we spot along the road only Ram the man himself, along with Sanu Maya his wife and Prajwal. Ram was wheeling along with Sanu Maya and Prajwal walking behind him. Suman our driver pulled in, in front of them and we all jumped out. There were hugs and handshaking to beat the band.
Now there were 11 people grouped on the side of the road. You’ll remember I said the roads are narrow, so we were the cause of a traffic jam as there was no room for two trucks going the opposite directions, to get by with 11 people on the curb. Next we heard the police sirens and thought we might be in trouble. Suresh in the photo below looked a little troubled, but no, they were here to escort Ram to his penultimate stop some 4km outside of Lumbini. Word had spread that he had entered the limits of Lumbini.
We soon left Ram, knowing the next time we would see him was at the Mayadevi Temple, the birthplace of Buddha, Lumbini. Next morning, we were all up and ready at 6am to start the day, the hotel kitchen staff were not quite as eager so nothing for it, Esha gets stuck in and makes eggs and toast for everyone – too funny!
Well wishers and invited guests started to arrive at about 7.30am at the Mayadevi Temple, there was much excitement and anticipation, waiting for Ram to wheel into the grounds. Word spread among other visitors, and many waited for Ram’s arrival.
You have to remember attitudes towards disability in Nepal are not very advanced. People in Nepal are not entirely open minded about disabled people. There is little sympathy for the impact on the life of the disabled person, and many feel that life is over for a person when they are confined to a wheelchair. People in Nepal are generally not used to seeing wheelchairs at all and assume, just because someone is physically disabled, that they are not capable of partaking in everyday life. So for them to hear that a paraplegic had traveled from Namo Buddha to Lumbini in a wheelchair, was definitely worth waiting for.
Many dignitaries came out including the Head Lama of the Mayadevi Temple and the Head of the Lumbini Development Trust. Kanak kept them amused while we waited for Ram. Many monks came from a number of monasteries that surround the Mayadevi Temple, we were delighted they came, and how they collaborated with their various blessings at the puja ceremony.
After this, Ram was laden down with katas from over 60+ well wishers. It was close to 40 degrees Celsius by this time (9am), I think I would have been keeling over!
I spotted this sign after the long walk along the promenade between the Mayadevi Temple and the Eternal Peace Flame.
After the many speeches and presentations, the whole ceremony was over by about 10am. The SIRC team ended up taking a break and having some water at a little teahouse by the Burmese Monastery. This photo shows Ram’s delight at the glass plaque present to him by SIRC, depicting him in a wheelchair as a cartoon character. And finally, a joyous SIRC team, proud of Ram’s accomplishments. I am proud to be a part of the SIRC Family, albeit only for 5 months!
What a fabulous last event for me to experience at SIRC. Makes me very proud to have been a part of it. For more photos, please check here.