New Experiences:
Running in Maharashtra State, India
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by
Alex Morton
January 22, 2003
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Just about everything I do in India is a new experience for me. Running is no exception. This holiday season I was escaping to
India on a spiritual journey for recharging everything that had slowed down. Rest and rejuvenation were my goals and thatÕs
how I spent my Dec/Jan holidays. After recovering a few days from the long airplane flights, the time changes, and the incredible
cultural shifts, I started back on my usual running schedule. I stayed in a pilgrim center in the rural area near Ahmednager (a
small village of 300,000). This provided me with a much easier place from which to run, as the traffic in the cities is
overwhelming for my Western mind.
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Most of my runs were early morning (6:00 AM) to avoid the traffic. Fortunately, I was able to find another Westerner who ran. He is
one of those super-fast, thin guys (sub 35 min 10K), but I was able to convince him that an occasional slow pace run was good
for him. He was able to help get me oriented to the area, although most of his long runs were only Ò6-8 milesÓ. So when I
asked what was out ÒthereÓ about 9-10 miles away, he had no idea. The most obvious difference in running had to do with the
traffic. The British had decided to colonize this country in the 1700Õs and consequently one of the many things they left after
independence was one that continued to cause me some difficulty when I ran. People were driving on the ÒoppositeÓ side of
the road (opposite compared to US behaviors)!Â
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I had to make sure I always ran facing traffic; otherwise I would intuitively head ÒintoÓ the oncoming traffic. Traffic in India
consists of massive trucks, smaller trucks, SUVs, cars, jeeps, motorized rickshaws, motorcycles, scooters, tongas (horse
carts), oxen carts, bicycles, pedestrians, oxen, cows, goats, and dogs. All of these objects flow in a pattern that is intuitive to
everyone except me, so I had to pay attention. No one appears to go in a straight line, but moves as tolerated in the direction they
want to go. (Mt. Pleasant traffic usually looks incredibly organized after I return from India.)
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Starting off running down a dark, rural road is an incredible experience, especially when IÕm not familiar with the road, the
country, and I donÕt know where IÕm going! In the dark and without familiar landmarks, I would occasionally experience the
unusual sensation of not really ÒmovingÓ, but only Òrunning in placeÓÉsomething similar to running on an endless stretch
of beach in the Low Country. Usually, I would plan on running ÒoutÓ on a road for 45, 60, or 90 minutes and then retrace my
route. Sometimes I would do 2-3 mile loops on familiar dirt roads in the low foothills and plateaus of the area.
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Sensory explosions were constant on my runs! Sight, hearing and smellsÉall new to my Western mind. I was probably a Ò
sightÓ to most people too. ÒWhatÕs this fair skinned, blond-headed, tall guy doing running down the road?Ó Not an everyday
sight, so everyone kind of looks. Not ÒdirectlyÓ in your eyes, that would be Émaybe rude and embarrassing? unless you look
first and hold their gaze for an extra second. At that point the person would break into a large, friendly smile. I would some times
say ÒHi.Ó in English or try my Hindi, ÒKi sa ho.Ó, and get a quick, friendly reply back.
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Many kids going to school on their bicycles would politely ride along side of me and just look for a while. Other images I
remember: the sun coming up as the full moon going down, groups of schools girls all dressed in bright school uniforms
waiting on the side of the road for the bus, bicycles carrying milk in tin containers to market, the large numbers of people who
ride in a car or a rickshaw, the 4 or 5 family members all one motorcycle, people carrying things perfectly balanced on their
head, the numerous religious shrines and monuments on the hill sides, all the animals, all the different types of vehicles, and
all the bright colors that donÕt seem to exist in the West.
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I finally figured out the Òdog problemÓ after a few runs. Initially, dogs would come out to greet me as I ran by their houses or
small villages where they lived. Rocks seem to be a universal language to dogs and at first I relied upon these to discourage my
running Ã’partners.Ó  Later, after I had identified where these dogs lived, I found if I just walked by their homes they paid me no
attention. These walk breaks were a reasonable trade off to avoid a bite from a dog that had never once seen a veterinarian.
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Horns are definitely ÒOKÓ as this is written on the back of every truck: ÒHornÉOKÉPleaseÓ. People are expected to use
them and they donÕt disappoint.  I was always hearing a horn of every type description imaginableÉ except the sound made
by US horns! Horns really are necessary and help people safely get to where they are going. When riding in a car, I generally
found travel to be frightening at times, however people are much more courteous and understanding than SC drivers and use
their horns every chance they get.
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And the new aromas, which were ever, present! There were the good smells of the county-side, farms, the earth, and flowers
doing battle with the obnoxious smells of burning ÒstuffÓ (plastic, wood, tires, dung, etc) to keep warm. Not to mention
whatever exhaust came out when a large vehicle went by you. So the mornings were really the best time for me to run. The
pollution is less at this time, which comes from all of the 2-cycle smoky engines in many scooters and motorized rickshaws as
well as the many fires that are built for cooking and warmth.
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Weather for everything is perfect in December. I experienced lows of 50F in the mornings and highs of 85F midday with a light,
cool breeze in the afternoons and always very low humidity. This helped with the frequent, fine dust that prevails in most of India.
I came to love my every-other-day bath that I took. This schedule was necessary due to the extreme drought conditions. The hot
water is heated on a stove or by solar heater and is only available at certain times of the day. Having time to take a Òcup bathÓ
using 5 gallons of hot water in a bucket, (mixed to whatever temperature I wanted) became a luxurious experience that I added
to the many things I take for granted here in the US.
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When asked by numerous people ÒWasnÕt the poverty depressing?Ó I must say it is quite obvious and very prevalent. I am
amazed on how little people live. What is even more amazing and depressing is how much ÒstuffÓ Westerns have, how
unhappy many people are with this stuff, and how they are frequently thinking and trying to get more! I think travel is helpful for
me to keep poverty in perspective!
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Jai Baba!
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