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Running with the Silent Spectators
By Ernest Joseph
As a runner, traveling abroad makes us realize that running has its own culture and it varies from one country to another. I found running in the streets of European or Australian cities not much different than running in the United States. On the other hand, running in the streets of eastern civilization can be an entirely different story. On a recent visit to India, my place of birth, I found it to be true. I did not know how the experience of running in the streets would turn out, partly because it had been 18 years since my last visit to the land of enchantment. I had avoided running as a fitness activity as a youngster in India, although I had participated in sports at university and state levels. But there was one thing I was sure of although running in places such as tracks and parks is gaining popularity in India, running in the streets is unheard of and will raise a few eyebrows. Keeping this in mind, I ran on a treadmill in the Taj Hotel while I was in Bombay, the largest city in Western India. I was delighted when I saw 1.0 displayed next to distance on the control panel and the time was only 4:15 minutes! I thought I have improved tremendously on my mile PR until I realized that the distance was in kilometers. For a moment I thought it had something to do with jet leg(s) from 20 hours of flying! My next stop was New Delhi, the capitol of India in the northern part. Keeping safety in mind, I asked at the front desk of the hotel about running in the streets in the early morning hours. His polite response was sir, you should not run in the morning because it will be very cold outside Well, It was in the Fifties the next morning, but was considered a cold wave in a place where the average temperature most of the year is in the 90s. I told him about our Saturday morning runs in sub-zero temperature at Rockland Lake in the winter months and I am sure he must have thought that I was crazy.
Finally, I found a perfect setting for an outside run. This was at Mount Abu (1219 Meters). It is a pretty hill resort in the State of Rajasthan in western India and famous for its exquisitely carved Dilwara marble temples. It is a well-known fact that the art & architecture of a country reflect its intensity of religious devotion as well as economic prosperity, without which elaborately carved temples such as Dilwara could not have been raised. In every phase of Indian history, Kings and Princes supported art & architecture by spending lavishly on the commemoration of their religious beliefs or personal interests. The first of these ornate temples dates back to 1032 AD. The temples of Dilwara are an absolute "must" for anybody visiting India - perhaps even more so than the Taj Mahal, a more publicized 17th century symbol of married love. Even my 16-year old shared this opinion by saying I will nominate this temple as the eighth wonder of the world. Such a masterpiece of temple architecture with intricate carvings on marble stones, which were brought up to such high elevation on elephants backs in 1032 AD, is worth a trip to this remote place.
The plan was to start my run from this 125 years old princely club with polo grounds which is now turned into a luxurious Rajputana resort, and head towards Dilwara, about 5K distance. Since the run was in the morning, I was expecting a traffic free tranquil run. But I knew I was going to have company of the silent spectators, called Presbytis entellus, AKA Langur monkeys. Langur in Sanskrit means, tailed. Countless groups of these long-tailed monkeys inhabit the tree-lined roads of this resort town, and despite being a folivorous species, I was told that "hand- outs" from people as well as snatch away from people also constitute a large portion of their diet besides foliage. In other words, I will be fine as long as I do not carry food or water on this run. During my run I constantly felt this friendly human-like presence but with an awkward silence. Its like running NYC marathon with silent spectators. Come to think of it, I had run NYC marathons in the eighties where I had found a few sections of the course (and I am not talking about the bridges) with silent spectators, but glad to say that I found them vocal and involved during more recent runs. Anyway, I did make occasional eye contact with these silent friends and as a response I got occasional whoops form them, but mostly they seemed busy in their social grooming activity.
Overall, I was thrilled to get a run in and did not have to worry about safety or dress code (a shirtless runner in Japan breaks the local law). Running in most parts of India is confined to Tracks, Parks and Beaches, so there are no road races. There are a couple of marathons that take place per year but without mass participation. The only social running club I was able to find was Harriers in New Delhi, but their focus seemed to be more on drinking than running. India has plenty to offer for a curious mind which is willing to go with the flow and look beyond the startling socioeconomic gaps. When I asked this guy I met in Agra hotel who was from Boston, about his visit so far, to which he replied, I am here only since two days and it seems like I am here for months . too much to grasp at every step of the way
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