PRAGUE -- Three continents, 10,000 kilometers, one year -- it's a long trip for a bicycle messenger.
But Afghan cyclist Nadir Shah Nangarhari is no ordinary messenger. A peace ambassador for Afghanistan's government, he is on a grueling mission to encourage support for his country, still facing huge challenges nearly 14 years after a U.S.-led invasion drove the Taliban from power.
Nangarhari and his son began an epic cycling trip in July, setting out from Istanbul and crossing Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, and Austria before reaching the Czech Republic.
“Afghanistan has made a lot of progress in the last 14 years because of the support and sacrifices of the international community,” Nangarhari told RFE/RL on September 5 in Prague.
“I want to thank the countries I’m traveling through, but also tell them that they still need to continue to support my homeland and bring peace,” said Nangarhari, who is a dentist by profession and a longtime cycling enthusiast.
“Afghan people want peace and we are tired of war,” he said. “I hope the people I meet will see that.”
Nangarhari will next ride through Germany, Scandinavia, and Britain. From there, he plans to fly to New York City by the end of the year and visit the United Nations.
From New York, he and his son Feruz Khan plan to cycle to the U.S. West Coast, where they will board a flight to Sydney, Australia.
Feruz Khan said the journey has already tested their mettle.
“Every day we are riding more than 100 kilometers,” he said. “It’s very tough, especially through the hills and mountains. We aren’t allowed to ride on the highways so we have to stay on the bike paths. It’s been difficult.”
The 17-year-old, who just completed high school, singles out the terrain in Bulgaria and the former Yugoslav republics as the most challenging -- so far.
Afghanistan’s National Olympic Committee has provided the father-and-son cyclists with equipment. The Foreign Ministry has organized their visas and is paying their expenses.
In 2002, Nangarhari cycled from Kabul to London, a journey that took him more than a year to complete. On his return, he was given the title of national hero by the Afghan government and a medal by the Olympic Committee.
Since 2003, Nangarhari has traveled across Afghanistan, including risky trips to remote and violence-plagued areas, to advocate for education and the empowerment of women.