Mananli to Leh – Running with the gods

“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” – John Bingham

So finally sharing an exhaustive reflection of what was a journey of a lifetime – The Great Himalayan Running Festival- 5 days x 14 km / a day, running through some of the highest mountain passes in the world along the Manali – Leh highway.

For a “non-athlete” like myself, and someone, as I found out 10 days before the event, highly deficient in B12 & D3, the only reason to sign up was to experience the beautiful unknown…What I had long hoped would be a road trip, would now be a running & camping adventure.

 

After 3 days of acclimatization, which included a beautiful trek to Beas Kund and a camp out at Marhi, we began the event with a flag off 6 kms from Rohtang pass (13k ft).

 

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Along this 1st run, Vishwas Sindhu‘s guidance and support was invaluable and to my surprise, after nearly 2 hours, we completed the 14 k and still had enough gas in the tank to do 20 push ups and a near 1 minute plank hold.
The long drive to our next stopover Jispa was also my first experience of high altitude mountain sickness, although at the time, I managed to convince myself that it was mere tiredness coupled with a migraine caused by lack of sleep – it wasn’t.

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The thing about the himalayas is – they can humble you and stretch your physical and emotional being in ways that you can only experience but cannot describe.

dsc_4424-2The next day was what many were calling the most difficult day on the circuit – the climb from Zing Zing bar to Barlacha La (16k ft) and beyond.
After 9 kms of steep incline, passing through the magnificant Suraj Taal and the Barlacha La itself, this was the first time I felt my body giving way… but with a will to simply finish, I completed the last 5 kms, which was followed by the most painfully effective stretching session with the great baba रोहित कल्याणा. However, my second bout of the sickness was sickening – the feeling when your body cannot move and your head wants to explode – this is what the second day of 14 k through 16k ft had done… However, a surprisingly effective remedy, Pranayam, cleared the head in a matter of minutes…

 

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Thankfully, the head did clear and when we reached our next station, I needed that clear head to soak in the beauty of the mountains that surrounded our camp on all sides at Sarchu.

 


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With a wind that brought the temperatures in the night to a sub-zero and almost took our tents away, we woke up the next morning ready to commence what was to be the most difficult day of the 5 day event – the only all-incline day through the 21 ghata loops ending right at Nakeela pass (15.5k ft).

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In completing this particular circuit, I faced the only time in the 3 days when, after the 9 k mark, I, along with my breathless lungs and sore muscles, had truly given up… Thats when the effort needs to exceed your 100% and fortunately, I found that extra bit in me. I crossed the finish line with a sprint that set free my inhibitions and weaknesses to reach Nakeela in what was the most fulfilling feeling I had possibly ever experienced.

When we reached down to our next station at Pang with a camp set on the river bed itself, the wind came to fore once again as it took away the camp kitchen and signaled for us to find an alternate shelter for the night (Roti – Kapda – Makaan really does mean something in these parts)… Only option was a highway stopover with a twin dorm style setup – a dream in the scenario we were in.


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However by this time, the altitude sickness had taken its toll, not only on me but on Alankrita (who to her credit, stuck along with me in these challenging conditions) and the other brilliant volunteers, some of whom had to be descended down to Leh to get proper medical attention.

Having now completed three of the toughest routes on the circuit, I knew I had nothing left to prove to myself anymore and we thus descended to Leh the next morning in what was one of the most enthralling drives through More Plains and Tanglang La, among other gorgeous hamlets (Thanks Manu Bedi for the lovely ride)

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We closed the event in Leh and I close my post here with a sincere vote of thanks to Vishwas Sindhu and the amazingNupur Singh and all others who came along as fellow runners – @Poornapragna Gudibande, Brinda Poornapragna, रोहित कल्याणा, Pardeep Khatri – you guys are an inspiration, the volunteers and medical support personnel.
Special thanks to Amrinder Singh Brar Rajan for letting us off-road with his Pajero 🙂

The journey was one that will stay with Alankrita & me for a lifetime and is one of the few things I am extremely proud to have part-taken in. Not because it was the first event of its kind, not because I ran the distances that I did for 3 consecutive days, but because I did something that I always thought was beyond me. Here’s hoping for many more stories… and conquering many more self-inflicted limitations !

 

Post-Modern Mela: Provoked-Provocation

© Anant Srivastava.
© Anant Srivastava.

I got up the Sunday morning, feeling a sense of purpose ahead of my day. A few long-pending tasks were awaiting completion, my friend Tejender had given me a replacement for my broken tennis racket, and thus an evening at the Yamuna Sports Complex was lined up.

Another item on the day’s plan was a visit to India Gate as a show of support for the cause of women’s safety. I thought I would go and join a peaceful protest to show that no matter what, it is about time the Government wakes up and acts in response to the gruesome gang rape of the 23-year-old physiotherapy student. Wholesome changes were due.

For me, at the start of my day, “We The People” were different from the Government; an insensitive, disconnected and corrupt Government. My views on this distinction would change by the end of the day, but more on that later.

© Anant Srivastava.

Upon reaching India Gate, I saw the road blocked off by a group of protesters on the section between Rajpath and Ashoka Road. I have never been one for disrupting the existing system to bridge the already disrupted, but maybe that’s just the naïve me who had never before protested and should have known that it is not only acceptable to create havoc to make your own point, but also encouraged.

© Anant Srivastava.
© Anant Srivastava.
© Anant Srivastava.
© Anant Srivastava.

On joining the protest, I saw a group of roughly 20 odd school girls, without any teacher or guardian, standing on the edge of the Rajpath-India Gate crossing demanding greater sensitivity to women’s security. Next, I saw a man, exercising his lungs and backed by a much-entertained mob, he put himself under a white Volkswagen; a car that maybe symbolized the corrupt government, or maybe, just maybe, an honest executive who did well enough to buy himself an awesome car. However, for the purpose of a mass protest, I shall only accept the first scenario; how dare I not.

© Anant Srivastava.
© Anant Srivastava.
© Anant Srivastava.
© Anant Srivastava.

What I saw next was one of the only high points of my day. The police force, in a fairly large group gathered around the schoolgirls and enquired about whom they were with, and who was responsible for them. On recognizing that the girls were on their own, they formed a human barrier shielding the girls from the mob; in hindsight, a well-advised act.

© Anant Srivastava.
© Anant Srivastava.

While all this was going on, the traffic had come to a stand still and the protestors had grown exponentially in number. Maybe its the judgmental me, but more often than not, I saw protestors, who claimed to be “frustrated with this sick government” smiling and laughing, asking their mates to take pictures so as to put up on Facebook.

Somehow, this did not feel like a protest. It felt like a “Mela”, a bloody entertaining one at that, full of action, emotion, thrill, and contradiction. A mela dominated by the mob.

On seeing the agitation, the police opened the barricades around India Gate and allowed the protesters inside the monument that symbolizes the “Shaheed”, the ones who sacrificed their lives for this democracy to come about. At this point it was still nice to see minimal signs of violence. However, an unnerving undercurrent remained.

© Anant Srivastava
© Anant Srivastava
© Anant Srivastava.
© Anant Srivastava.

However, after about 60 minutes, it had all changed. The city at its very heart simply broke down. For me, someone born and bred in the city, someone who had come to show support without an allegiance to any specific protester group, something in our society had collapsed.

What I am writing here, is my unbiased opinion of how it all fell apart; not only as a consequence of our actions, but also as a result of our thoughts; thoughts that conceived those actions.

© Anant Srivastava.
© Anant Srivastava.
© Anant Srivastava.
© Anant Srivastava.
© Anant Srivastava.
© Anant Srivastava.

We blame the Government, the Police Force, and the system for mismanagement. We blame “anti-social” elements for disrupting a peaceful protest. So a question comes to mind- who exactly are these people? Are they manipulative aliens who have landed in “laal-batti” UFOs from outer space? Are they criminals who have done a course in human de-sensitization after bribing the board of a University? Or maybe it’s the ever safe bet- Pakistan sent them to obliterate our society.

© Anant Srivastava.
© Anant Srivastava.

Lets wake up. The person who stood in front of you and me, was a government servant later, he was a regular Indian, an “aam-admi” just like you and me first. He was a mirror.

Now, lets go back one step to why these protests began in the first place. They began cause we felt cheated, cause we felt hurt, and most of all cause WE HAD BEEN PROVOKED by the establishment.

© Anant Srivastava.
© Anant Srivastava.

Now, consider this; if you were at a client meeting at the end of an assignment that went horribly wrong and the client team repeatedly hurled stones and shoes at you, spat on you, abused you on your face, and personally insulted you, your family and your upbringing, would you, as an INDIVIDUAL, have the sense to hold your nerve. We can’t even hold our nerves (and not that we should, albeit in a non-violent manner) when a girl, who has no relation to us gets raped.

The Prime Minister, the Home Minister, other Government servants, are simply as good or as bad as we are. It is we who produce the perpetrators of sex crimes, we who enter politics and make laws, we who then protest, and we who finally turn violent.

© Anant Srivastava.
© Anant Srivastava.
© Anant Srivastava.
© Anant Srivastava.

If “You & I” pay a bribe to a traffic policeman, are we not corrupt. If “You & I” litter on the road, are we not abusing the freedom to do so. If “You & I” play politics at office in order to gain a promotion, are we not manipulative.

The people who join the establishment are the “You & I” mentioned above. That “You and I” and its values will innately remain the same regardless of its association. If we want a change, then it is first we who need to change individually.

Coming back to the protests, I would not go into the details of how the people, cops/protestors/anti-social elements, turned a battleground out of a place where we used to go and enjoy an ice-cream with family. Our very-responsible media has documented that well enough. My only plea would be to show some respect, not just for women, but also for one another.

© Anant Srivastava.
© Anant Srivastava.

I want to close with a thought that hasn’t left my mind since the Sunday protests- If we have it in us to turn ourselves into animals at a public gathering with the justification of provocation, then it is we, who also have it in us, to turn into animals against women and commit crimes such as sexual assaults. In the minds of the convicted, they abused the 23-year-old girl to such a barbaric extent only because they felt provoked by the girl trying to fight back; just like “We The People”, feel provoked by the system.

Respect needs to be given a new meaning without classification of one’s sex, caste, race, ethnicity, or in this case, association.

© Anant Srivastava.
© Anant Srivastava.