'Kung Fu' nuns bike Himalayas to oppose human trafficking

Sun Sep 18, 2016 2:27am EDT
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(Corrects Sept. 16 story to remove "monks" and replace with "general public" in paragraph 13)

By Nita Bhalla

NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Clad in black sweatpants, red jackets and white helmets, the hundreds of cyclists pedaling the treacherously steep, narrow mountain passes to India from Nepal could be mistaken for a Himalayan version of the Tour de France.

The similarity, however, ends there. This journey is longer and tougher, the prize has no financial value or global recognition and the participants are not professional cyclists but Buddhist nuns from India, Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet.

Five hundred nuns from the Buddhist sect known as the Drukpa Order, www.drukpa.org/index.php/en/ on Saturday complete a 4,000-km (2,485 mile) bicycle trek from Nepal's Kathmandu to the northern city of Leh in India to raise awareness about human trafficking in the remote region.

"When we were doing relief work in Nepal after the earthquakes last year, we heard how girls from poor families were being sold because their parents could not afford to keep them anymore," 22-year-old nun Jigme Konchok Lhamo told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"We wanted to do something to change this attitude that girls are less than boys and that it's okay to sell them," she said, adding that the bicycle trek shows "women have power and strength like men."

South Asia may boast women leaders and be home to cultures that revere motherhood and worship female deities, but many girls and women live with the threat of violence and without many basic rights.

From honor killings in Pakistan to feticide in India and child marriage in Nepal, women face a barrage of threats, although growing awareness, better laws and economic empowerment are bringing a slow change in attitudes.   Continued...

Buddhist nuns from the Drukpa lineage pictured in Ladakh during their cycle across the Himalayas to raise awareness about human trafficking of girls and women in the impoverished villages in Nepal and India August 30, 2016. REUTERS/Live To Love International/Handout via REUTERS