The ‘Spinal Beetle’ making a fund-raising and awareness-raising subcontinental journey
for spinal injury rehabilitation arrived in Lahore this afternoon. The 1973 Model VW
Beetle, driven by journalist and civil rights activist Kanak Mani Dixit from Kathmandu, is
also making the trip “to strike a blow for overland connectivity between the countries of
Southasia,” he says.
The Spinal Beetle was flagged off from Kathmandu by President Ram Baran Yadav, and
in Delhi it was seen off by actor Om Puri and the founder of the Indian Spinal Injuries
Centre, Maj. HPS Ahluwalia. It arrived in Lahore across the Wagah-Atari border in the early
afternoon of 11 November.
The Journey: The 1973 model VW Beetle of the Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre (Nepal)
started its journey from Kathmandu Valley on 4 November 2011. Coming down to the
plains, it entered Uttar Pradesh and reached Lucknow on 5th evening. Westward, it took the
National Highway-2 to Agra, getting on to the Grand Trunk Road originally regularised by
Sher Shah Suri in the 16th century.
The ‘Spinal Beetle’ arrived at the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre (ISIC) on 7 November evening.
Travelling further along the Grand Trunk Road, it stopped off at Chandigarh and Amritsar
before arriving at the Wagah-Atari border. The Spinal Beetle will enter Pakistan via the
Wagah-Atari border and, in Lahore, visit the Mayo Hospital. From Lahore, the car will ride
the Grand Trunk Road as well as the M-1 motorway to Rawalpindi / Islamabad, and end the
journey at the Paraplegic Centre in Hayatabad, Peshawar on 16 November.
Why the Adventure: The sudden rise of the number of patients over the last year has
forced the Spinal Centre-Nepal to raise its service from 39 beds to 51. We seek to raise USD
110,000 from the 1100 mile journey, at the ‘rate’ of USD 100 per mile from friends and
supporters worldwide. At midway, the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre in Delhi is 540 miles
from Kathmandu. The final destination, the Paraplegic Centre in Peshawar, is 1100 miles
away. About USD 35,000 of the USD 110,000 goal had been raised by the time the vehicle
arrived in Lahore.
Awareness: The Spinal Beetle Rally is also an effort to raise awareness of spinal injury
prevention, rescue, care and rehabilitation in the Subcontinent. In this effort, the Spinal
Centre-Nepal is assisted by Indian Spinal Injuries Center-Delhi and the Paraplegic Centre-
‘Overland connectivity’: Kanak Mani Dixit hopes that the drive of the Spinal Beetle from
Nepal through India and Pakistan will also help promote the goal of ‘overland connectivity’
across Southasian land borders so that there is high-volume people-to-people contact. “The
visa regimes must be softened, and the people at large must feel free to move about,” he
The Trip So Far: After a gracious send-off from Ram Baran Yadav, President of Nepal, the
Spinal Beetle left Kathmandu Valley and arrived at the Bharatpur Hospital. Interactions
were held for the start-up of a spinal injury rehabilitation unit there, with the help of Spinal
Center-Nepal. The Hospital committee contributed Rs 50,000 for the Spinal Beetle’s fund-
raising drive. Having come down past Gorkha District of Nepal, crossing the border we came
to Gorakhpur, where we learnt in Hindustan newspaper that Pakistan had allowed the
opening of the Gorakhnath Temple in Peshawar after 60 year closure.
In Lucknow, the SIPS ‘super speciality hospital’ organised an interaction with patients
and staff, and we met activists who were working on peace related issues, including India-
Pakistan people-to-people solidarity. From Lucknow, we took a spanking new superhighway
to Agra, which is on National Highway -2, and part of the Grand Trunk Road, whose original
incarnation was built by Sher Shah Suri in the 16th century. We will be following this road
all the way to Peshawar. In Agra, we were greeted and hosted by the Physicians for Peace
and Development, which is also affiliated with the Physicians for Social Responsibility. At the
interaction with the doctors there, it emerged that there is no spinal injury rehabilitation
centre in the city even though there were seven or eight neurosurgeons there. Some time
was spent visiting the Taj Mahal, on the very day of Eid, and Agra Fort, the ‘power center’ of
In Delhi, a grand reception was organised by the Indian Spinal Injuries Center, with which
the Spinal Centre-Nepal has been collaborating since the latter’s inception a decade ago.
Speaking at the function, Major HPS Ahluwalia, founder of ISIC, lauded the three-country
drive for helping spread awareness about spinal injury rehabilitation, and promised the
support of ISIC both for the drive’s fund-raising objective as well as for the Spinal Centre-
Nepal. The Director of ISIC Dr. HS Chabra repeated these sentiments, while journalist and
peace activist Kuldip Nayar (born in Sialkot) lauded the Spinal Beetle participants for helping
to raise awareness about people-to-people contact across Southasian frontiers. At the
flag-off, actor Om Puri bowed in a ‘namaskar’ to the Spinal Beetle and talked about the
importance of “dignity to the disabled”. Sending the Beetle off on its journey to Lahore, Maj
Ahluwalia recalled his childhood in Lahore. He suggested that Dixit work to bring together
a Southasian association for spinal injury rehabilitation. From Delhi, with an over-night
stopover in Chandigarh, the Spinal Beetle arrived in Amritsar, to be hosted by Tejinder Singh
Gogi, the hotelier and significant India-Pakistan ‘link person’. The team found time to visit
the brilliantly lit Harminder Sahib (the Golden Temple) on the very night of Guru Nanak’s
The Mayuri Restaurant of Jalandhar: During the drive into Amritsar, the team stopped off
at the road-side Mayuri restaurant at ‘bypass Jalandhar’. Only when the Spinal Beetle was
already in Amritsar did Dixit realise that he had left all the passports and travel documents
at the restaurant. Thankfully, he received a call from the proprietors, the Prajapati family.
Upon return, there was joyous handover of the satchel. The grandfather, 96-year-old Barkat
Singh, was originally from the village of Fatehgad near Sialkot. He asked that a fistful of
earth be brought back for him from Fatehgad.
The Rallyists: Kanak Mani Dixit, Founder-Chair of the Spinal Centre-Nepal, is driving the
Spinal Beetle. He is accompanied by Shanta Dixit, board member of the Spinal Centre-Nepal
and educationist. It was Kanak’s trekking accident a decade ago, resulting in a broken back,
which led to the establishment of the Spinal Centre-Nepal. Dixit has been a journalist since
1971, and has worked to maintain Nepal as an ‘open society’, fighting King Gyanendra’s
autocracy and challenging the Maoist party to stand by the peace process.
Done it Before: The Spinal Beetle has done the Kathmandu-Dhaka stretch twice, in 2002 and
2005, to generous response.
About the Spinal Centre Nepal: Inaugurated by Sir Edmund Hillary on April 2002, the Spinal
Centre-Nepal will be ten years old in 2012. Originally catering to patients from ‘traditional
accidents’ such as fall from trees and cliff-sides, spinal injury victims of ‘modern-day
accidents' related to construction, rock mining and traffic events are increasingly filling our
wards. We offer physiotherapy, occupational therapy, nursing, medical care, counselling
and home rehabilitation. We are also involved in prevention. The Spinal Centre is run by the
non-profit Spinal Injury Sangha – Nepal.
Website: Details of the ‘Great Nepal-India-Pakistan Spinal Beetle Drive’ are to be found at
www.sirc.org.np. The site also gives information on online support and pledges.
Farjad Nabi, Phone: 322-4491969
Dr Waseem Iqbal
Head of Department
Department of Rehabilitation Medicine
Combined Military Hospital
CMH Lahore Medical College
Lahore Cantt, Pakistan
Cell phone: +92-333-5600-504
Ilyas M Syed,
CEO, Paraplegic Center
Hayatabad, Peshawar, Pakistan
Esha Thapa, Director, Spinal Centre-Nepal
Tel: +977 11 660847/48