At first sight, it looked like a large group of professional cyclists on an expedition.
Dressed in cycling gear and safety helmets, they all lined up behind the oldest of them all —54-year-old monk Gyalwang Drukpa — the head of the Ladakh-based Drukpa order.
Revered by the Buddhists as the 12th reincarnation of the Drukpa, Gyalwang is on a two-month cycling mission with his team of, what he calls, ‘Kung-fu nuns’.
Gyalwang Drukpa, who arrived at the regional campus of the Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development in Sector 12 on Wednesday, said: “Our aim is to spread the message of peace, gender equality and create awareness about environmental concerns. This is the our fourth cycling expedition.”
Except the Drukpa head and a few male support staff, the rest in the team are all nuns and have been been trained in Kung-fu. “We particularly chose the nuns for the expedition to showcase women power and the fact that they are trained in self defence, which is the need of the hour today,” said the spiritual head.
The 200 nuns, all in the age group of 15 and 45 years, belong to various nunneries of the Drukpa sect spread across India, Bhutan and Nepal. They started the expedition from Kathmandu on July 3 and would cover 2,500km before reaching Leh.
Gyalwang Drukpa said: “We aim to reach Leh between September 8 and 10. The cycle yatra is timed with the Naropa spiritual festival that takes place at our Hemis Monastery in Leh. The festival takes place once in 12 years and this year we are celebrating the 1000th birth anniversary of the Indian saint Naropa, patron of the Drukpa lineage.”
The cyclists have traversed through Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana and will now head to Amritsar from Chandigarh. After Amritsar, they will head to Jammu, Srinagar, Sonmarg, Kargil and end at Leh.
Jigme Konchok, a 22-year-old nun, said: “It has been an amazing experience even though we had to battle extreme weather conditions.”
For Jigme Tenzin Lhamo, a young nun from Himachal Pradesh, the expedition has been particularly tough, given the increasing traffic on the highways. “The traffic and pollution were dense in Uttar Pradesh and the highways were congested. We have been lucky to have the support of the state police. As a rule, we cycle in a single line and start our day early around 5.30 am and end at 6pm. We cover a distance of 70km to 80km a day,” said Lhamo.
The nuns said most people are curious to find out more about them and the reason for the expedition. “We share our concerns for women safety and climate change. We also request people to take to cycling, as it is not only good for the environment, but also for health,” said Lhamo.
Gyalwang Drukpa said the aim of the ‘Kung-fu nuns’ is to fight against gender stereotypes and environmental degradation.