India, Tell Us Who You Are


David Yon,Part I (of III)


A few days ago, the big jet pulled its wheels up and we were on our way. Now as I sit in my room in Mirik, India, I am just hoping I can keep the wheels from coming off over the next five days of running in the Himalayas.

I am not sure why Gary Griffin and I (we each blame the other) thought it was a good idea to run a 100 mile five day stage race in a country we have never visited. And then there is this little mountain range some refer to as the Himalayas, you know the one where Mt. Everest rises above all others, but not by that much. Tomorrow we begin this interesting event by running 24 miles, starting at about 6600 feet and rising to almost 12,000. The next day we run around 22 miles and that is followed by 26.22 or so in what also serves as the Mt Everest Marathon challenge. We finish up with short days of 17 and 13 miles. The good news is that including the mountain’s name in the title signifies you can see Mt. Everest, not that you actually run on it.

Many, I am sure, are not surprised by the questionable judgement Gary and I displayed. But you have a right to expect better from Mary Jean and Peg. Our better halves usually display good judgment. They are not committing to the entire distance, but they are here with us and planning to do some serious hiking and running with us. They both are thinking about covering the entire distance on marathon day. I mean, when will they ever get the chance again?

India is a vibrant country, but it is trying to find its identity and place in today’s world. It likely will be the home of the world’s biggest economy and the largest population very soon. With a population that is growing fast and already numbering above 1.26 billion people, it will soon move past world leader China, which now has 1.36 billion people.

We spent our first day and a half in the city of Delhi. The streets were amazing, especially in the old city. Markets, chaos, and people packed together told the story of a city very alive, but some times that life included oxen and dogs clogging the streets. I would guess every thing in the world almost is available here. At one point we climbed into the back of rickshaw and a young Indian jumped on the bicycle and took us for the ride of our lives. Our group of 10 or so, riding in a number of these carriages, moved at a “breath taking” pace, dodging people, dogs, oxen and other vehicles, including motorcycles.

I was shocked to find Delhi was the world’s second largest city (behind Tokyo) with nearly 25 million people and on its way to 35 million by 2030 according to one United Nation’s report. It is hard to imagine the problems to come, let alone how to find the solution’s. It is known as the world’s largest democracy, and yet its reputation for corrupt government seems to impede progress providing for its citizens and creating enough education and opportunity to serve all. The caste system, officially declared illegal, still finds ways to hold people back. The country has recently elected a leader who promises to move the country past these roadblocks. While he seems off to a good start, it is very early.

I find the Indian people we encountered to be complex. They certainly can be warm and friendly, but they can also be reserved. Many things in their culture probably cause them to be a bit reserved with a group like ours. It is a country of many religions, languages and cultures. It is also a country that has been hit by senseless, violent acts of terrorism. It borders countries that create grave concerns.

Of course there is nothing like a good cultural event in the middle of a city to bring people together. The streets of Mirik glowed with colorful displays and echoed with music during our stay. Hundreds of people crowd around to hear entertainers perform in an outdoor area. As we walked by the stage Friday night, the night before our first run, every seat in the out door “performance center” was filled. As we stopped to watch and listen, the woman on stage implored the crowd to get up and dance, waving them to the dirt dance floor in front of the stage. There was a large group dancing in the isles. A few made their way down to the area in front of the stage.

I would sure hate to come this far and miss my run with sprained ankle. But I could not help but think, “If you want to know more about India, you can learn something’s on this dance floor.” I have no idea what the next five days in the Himalayas will bring, and I did not know how people would react to a stranger from another country jumping on to their dance floor. Interestingly, I was warmly received by a group of men, dancing in front of the stage. A few women danced nearby.It was a fun diversion and I am still thinking about exactly what it meant.