I got my Iran visa extended by 30 days yesterday, Sunday a business day here. Thanks to a letter of introduction from Irish honorary consul to Tehran Mr. Alireza Feizollahi for dispatching his driver to help me through the loop and hoop nightmare it would have been on my own. Yes Yousef was wonderful. We must have went to about ten offices and hatches in the building. However I almost had a problem as Iranian immigration were at first only going to give me one week then said 15 days saying they ignore all the stuff about 30 day extensions on the internet. Even though the twin identical forms I filled out were in Farsi with an English option, after filling them out in English we were told to fill them out in Farsi! Thankfully there was a very new nice woman that kindly obliged and translate both As they say it all depends on the mood of the clerk you get as later I talked to a French man who zoomed through in half an hour for his extension. The nice lady came back over to assist when I was arguing that the letter of introduction from the consulate was not a commercial letter as different rules apply for a business visa. This immigration officer had first told me to come back next day and talk to his boss. But when I was querying if the 15 days started from day of issue and if all remaining 7 days on my current visa would be lost, as I had read this. If issued a 15 days extension would I have 2 or 3 weeks. I could finish Iran in 3 weeks but would have a very tough time with 2 weeks. Suddenly this man playing God told me to come back in the afternoon. So we went to the consulate for tea and returned a couple of hours later. Back at the immigration office that afternoon I was greeted by a very nice man who I assumed was the boss. He was interested in the run saying he would like to help and duly gave me the 30 days I requested. Delighted we returned to the Irish Consulate and Alireza treated me to a delicious lunch in a very posh restaurant called Nayeb. We had a very interesting conversation about Iran and world affairs. Alireza, an Iranian has been working for the Irish companies for about 20 years and presumably was well known to the Irish government as they asked him to take up the position of honorary Consulate a couple of years ago. He speaks fluent English having been educated in Oxford and later Kansas. We talked about the Iranian revolution which was really a relatively bloodless revolution many people may be surprised to know. Yes I remembered when I crossed from Turkey in December 1978 on my world cycle trip while the shah was still in power. The Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s spiritual leader then called for civil disobedience from his exile in Paris. This meant the borders were closed and I was effectively trapped there for 6 weeks. I only had a little money and survived by selling my blood plasma twice. That was till Shah Pahlavi fled to Egypt. Many countries did not want him. Later I believe he went to Hawaii. Jubilant crowds gathered in the city centre square and hacked down a horsebacked statue of the Shah. Soldiers who days earlier were loyal to the Shah smiled as people put flowers into the barrels of their rifles. They were on guard at the British embassy and would never again point their rifles at their people. Today behind that same British embassy is a street names after Bobby Sands, the first of the IRA hunger strikers to die in a seperate struggle in Northern Irelands H-Block prision a couple of weeks later. At the beginning of February 1979 Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran greeted by much jubilation. The borders opened and I left very fast for Afghanistan! I asked Alireza why I do not see many satellite dishes as in have been looking out for them and have seen only about a dozen. They have been banned by the Islamic government but later that day I read some 70% Iranians have them which they have disguised. It is also illegal for women not to wear the hijab, or head scarf. Even foreign women travellers have to have a head covering on their visa photo. Always asking strange questions I wondered how women manage here when they go to their hairdresser! It is also illegal for men to wear short pants. I am told Iranian men go crazy at the very sight of a woman’s hair, yet many women wear their scarfs but with their hair dangling down. Covering the outline of their boobs doesn’t seem to be as important an issue. Obviously Iranian women are not happy, On the ski slopes high up on the snow covered Alborz mountain towering up into the clouds. Looking down like a giant head on Tehran, home to an estimated 12/15 million people – about 20% of the countries population – women continue to ski alongside men and are dressed in sleek ski wear. The Islamic guard have failed to curb or control this. I am told there is a lot of resentment against the current government. Iranian women account for most university places and possess 62% of engineering and scientific degrees. In my hostel dorm a man from Singapore rushed in to put his socks on as some old men had given him a boloking for not wearing them with his sandals. They are modest people. I never see them going to the toilet bat the side of the road and often wondered if they do go at all! Last week I ripped my running tights and was very conscious of the modesty law for my hairy left leg was showing. Nobody said anything , I guess they thought I was a tramp! I stopped on Tehran’s Amir Kabir Avenue for a burger and fries. I also ordered tea but tea wasn’t available. Upon hearing my request a man who had a tea shop next door brought me in two cups and refused payment telling me in an almost comical manner that… ” I have more money than I need! ” Apparently he made it under the former Shahs reign. For some reason he left a book titled Technical Readings For Helicopter Mechanics by Thomas Tinkham on my table. Facebook is also banned in Iran but I am informed most government ministers have their own Facebook accounts. The people have ways to circumvent restricted sites. I was advised to install a vpm on my smart phone before entering Iran, I didn’t so I can’t log onto Facebook or refresh my BBC world service app, strangely I can get the New York Times! Indeed it is not only the women who resent the government men talk of their dislike openly to me and the older ones talk of how things were so much better during the Shah’s reign.As mentioned before Iran is under pressure from the international community who have applied sanctions against the country. I have not seen any evidence of Iranians living in hardship, the contrary being my experience. They are great outdoors people come the weekend, Thursday and Friday here they are off camping for the weekends pitching their tents in small town parks, at the side of petrol stations and even mosques. I don’t see much local govt cut back either, I see teams of city workers patrolling the highways, planting flowers, painting and all general maintenance work. Even electricity in the desert area rest stops. People come up to me all the time wanting to offer their friendship, so unobtrusive and always leave me when I would rather be on my own or busy running on the road. Not a moments delay for they are gentle people – All have one question, almost a paranoia. They always ask what I or the world thinks of Iran.I can’t help reflecting on India where obtaining a ministerial or local government position is viewed more as a personal wealth achievement rather than as a duty to their citizens. I can barely remember seeing a city park or.any other facilities there, just broken roads and pavements and rats.living in Agra train station where people seemed unconcerned as they slept. Also rats.on the train tracks and on the luggage racks nibbling at passenger bags I am told! Yes Iran is the very country I need after India. The sanctions against Iran – that included blockades of oil and overseas bank accounts – helped push the Iranians towards the negotiating table to agree to inspections of their nuclear programme. The Iranian economy had suffered from the sanctions imposed in 2012. GDP fell by nearly 6% last year and ilnflation hit double digits, averaging some 39% Current President is Dr. Hassan Rohani. Rohani has promised a whole load of social reforms but the system has made it difficult for him to deliver. The government is made of three branches: Legislative, Judiciary and executive branches. However according to Iranian constitution the spiritual leader can play an important role in the overall decision making process. Many thanks to Roshni Rai for sponsoring my two night stay in Tehran’s wonderful backpackers hostel called Mashhad Hostel. Anyone that wants to sponsor a night, meal etc. Please feel free to donate on the PayPal link on the side bar. Thank you.
View larger map at Tony's Spot shared page
Sorry it has taken me almost a week to get this posting up! For this run I have had to dig very deep into my endurance base and mind games which as I have said on many many occasions has made a very ordinary runner a two time world 48 hour record-holder in addition to many Irish records. Mind strength, tenacity and a lot of dumb stupidity being my only really talents in life I have somehow found an outlet to channel this and succeed with what in other walks of life may seem so meaningless. Anyway thank you to all those countless people who have helped on this world run. I would like to single out Michael Gillan who was my brilliant crew man on the Australian mainland leg of the run from near Melbourne to Darwin, I think about 3,800km of patience and kindness by a true gentleman of the sport. Michael gave up 9 and a half weeks to help me. He has since told me of a very serious illness he had at the time but still dedicated himself to my Australian success. After helping me he crewed for two New Zealand ‘ raw vegan ‘ runners on their year long run around Oz as mentioned in my blog last May. Unfortunately Michaels health suffered at that time and he had to leave the run for medical attention. Just last week he sent me a congrats message and though battling his own personal battle and by no means out of the woods he was off to the Coburg 24 hour race to he’ll out, such is the measure of the man. The 1,000th marathon was reached in 962.8 road days on April 5th when fittingly I ran a marathon. I hear by dedicate my 1,000Marathon in under 1,000 road days to Michael Gillan.. Thank you Michael for your inspiration, encouragement and much needed patience through Australia, we had a blast! I will be forever grateful. Goof luck and a healthy recovery Michael By the way I tried to run the 1,000 Marathon on April 1st but ran out of time! Some fool! Okay here is the plan literally going forward! I am announcing for the very first time that I want to hit the 50,000 kilometre on the finish line of the Dublin marathon on October 27th with my very last step across the finish line Today April 11th 54km were run for s grand total of 42,464km. It is 2,450 to Istanbul about 3,100 across Europe to Calais and my recently revised UK route from Dover to Stranraer, Scotland dropped Wales from the run. However I am now hoping to include Wales, a special country for me as I ran many half marathons races there as a much younger runner. My UK route should be about 1,000km starting there about the beginning of September. From Stranraer I plan to take the ferry to Larne. N.Ireland perhaps first week in October. Estimated north/south Ireland route about 900 km, so it may be tight for the 50,000kilometers. Places definitely penciled in are Belfast, Galway, Kilkenny and Sally Gap. There are one or two places I may include. So all this means that on the penultimate road day I will finish on the marathon start line in Dublin’s Dawson St, I think it is.. Can’t remember for sure, have run a lot of marathons since I was last there! When I finish that day I will have to have my run total at 49,957.8km so as to finish the run with the dream 50,000 kilometers on the nose!
I am also thinking of making one final big push for Istanbul to arrive by end of May. This is about 50km per day for 50 days. This would leave me the must sought after 1,000km a month for five months which at that stage of the run will seem like an enjoyable canter, I hope.
Many thanks to Kevin Scanlon for helping me try to arrange the finish. Also thanks to my Irish running club MSB for agreeing to facilitate and help out. Also for Dublin marathon race director Jim Augney for agreeing to allow what I promise will be a spectacular finale to the run. Will keep this quiet for now but am sure it will leak out!
I stole this idea from Stephen Neuman, a friend of mine who walked around he world. Upon reading
the ending of his book titled World Walk I said..
” Wow! What A bloody brilliant idea!
Anyway, thanks for reading. Its nearly 2am.. Gotta sleep and run
Many people thought it couldn’t be done! Tomorrow Saturday after running 32km I will have run a total of 1,000 marathons in 963 road days
I will set the ” OK ” button on my Spot tracker and hope it will register as sometimes it doesn’t like tonight, when I reach this ‘ kilometre stone ‘ No it doesn’t sound as good as milestone!
That is kilometre 42,195 or about 26,200 miles.
Yesterday I stopped early after 36km as there was a place to stay at a truck stop and nothing else for the next 40 km. I didn’t want to stop but decided it would be sensible especially as burger and chips was on the dinner and breakfast menu! So today to make up I ran 63km to finish on the outskirts of Ardestan where I am staying in a mosque.
I am managing running the Iranian desert with my backpack very comfortably. It is not so hot now as I run further north.
Today four lots if people stopped to give me tea, bread fruit sweets and water. The Iranian people are such lovely people. Thank you all so much.
Total after today is: 42,163 km.
Thanks to everyone for their support. Talk tomorrow, gotta sleep and run
As mentioned before Pakistan was not run due to increasing violence especially in the south of the country. So I finished running India on St Patrick’s Day at the Pakistani border. To cut a very long story short I decided to run Iran and Turkey with my backpack. I flew to Iran for the restart. I was advised very strongly not to restart the run too close to the Iran Pakistan border, so I decided on a city called Kerman as it was on a similar latitude to where I finished running India. Many thanks to Ali an economics lecturer in Coventry, UK. He was returning to Iran for the Iranian new year, 1393 it will be. Ali got my Iran internet sim sorted also helped me get the correct rate for my euro cash in the airport money exchange as opposed to the bank. Due to the international sanctions on Iran atm machines do not do foreign transactions. Recently sanctions have been eased as Iran has started to cut back on its nuclear program by diluting its uranium. There is no way to make foreign transactions in Iran other than cash or or very rare occasions a carpet vendor may have a foreign account. It is not even possible to book a backpackers hostel on hostels.com So for my 300 euro I was given two huge wads of 50,000 Iranian rial notes. The two wads were a thick as a brick, no kidding. This was a very strange transaction as I didn’t even get a receipt. I was more interested in getting a picture taken of my 12 million plus brick of rials. 40,000 to the euro, Iranians call 10 rials a Toman. I then tried to get a flight to Kerman and Ali even went back through the security check for the airline office was on the other side. No luck as they were booked out. Ali’s bus went from a different station to mine but we shared a taxi to mine, then he sorted my bus ticket before taking another taxi to his station. He could have easily missed a bus and have a long wait for the next, such is the calibre of the man, thanks Ali, a genuine man and I think of all the Indian ” how may I help you ” shallow offers. As one man on the bus said to me.. Iranians from the cities are high class. Writing this a week later I would say yes and in all the towns and villages too, beautiful people. I had only a one hour wait for that bus which took about 13 hours including meal breaks for the 920km run to Bagheyn. At this town I was told to get off the bus and I understood it was Kerman, It was a small town and not a big city and what the people were trying to tell me was I needed to change bus and there was no bus that night. So I had a cup of tea for it was also lashing rain and slept that night under a leaky gazebo in the local park. I figured I may as well start Iran from here, Kerman is about 15km away and a hassle to get to, besides s gap is a gap and I could have started from Mashad, 100km shorter In the morning I had only run 200 metres when I stopped to take a photo of a signpost ‘ Tehran 920km ‘ when some garage workers asked me in for tea, it was a chilly morning so I accepted. The roads are wonderful, 4 lane divided highway with about 100m between the east and west bound roads. Very good signposting in Farsi and English with a u-turn every kilometre, just like in Thailand. No need to watch your back non a divided highway as in India as the police are out in high numbers enforcing road rules. They even tried to get me off the road as they clearly didn’t know what to make of me. I resisted a passport check pleading it was too difficult to get out of my inside pocket and they let me run on for the price of a photo. Just as I was going he asked me if I had a gun, dont know what that was about! I was told to run on the right side of the road with the traffic to my back, but felt safe as the drivers are civilised here and there is also a wonderful two metre shoulder to run on. I struggled for my 37km that first day in Iran and slept in a concrete culvert with a gravel base under the road. Next day a decent 46 to the west side of Rafsanjan. A closed shop opened that morning so I could buy food and milk for my breakfast and only ten minutes further down the road a lovely family of nine invited me to join them for breakfast picnic. So I was enjoying my lovely road, no dorks or honking and then I heard a voice from within asking… ” What’s that Tony? ” What I don’t hear anything! ” Yes that’s what I mean! ” Ah so peaceful running through the Iranian desert even if the road is very busy, it could be like Patagonia in Argentina. I am struck by the similarly to Argentina, so much is similar, not only the landscape but people also carry around thermos flasks to fill up water from steaming hot burcos at every shop or restaurant for free, just like the Argentines filled up for their mate. Ah yes no shot glasses or tea rations here as in India, I am loving Iran already. That night I got to the are side of Rafsanjan, stopped for a burger and when I went to pay was told it was on the house. A man also told me there was an economy hotel about 2 km away but the directions seemed a bit complicated. By luck I stumbled upon it, called Alamos. I needn’t tell you I was shocked by the US $27 basic room posted on the wall. Iran seems to be very expensive for hotels but most other things are pretty cheap. The reception was huge with about 6 sofas I asked if he would accept $10 for a sofa sleep! He said he couldn’t and as I was on the far side of the city I planned to go another couple kilometers and rough it in the desert. I went into a shop to buy water and the hotel manager followed me inside telling me I guess he took pity on me and gave me a nice room for my ten dollars offer breakfast included! A Marathon day followed by a 40km day, I am struggling to get into my stride. One day three lots of people stopped to give me huge bags of oranges, nuts,bread and of course water. I was refusing one man as I had so much and he just continued stuffing oranges and courgets down my hi-viz vest. I was glad of this extra food next day because after I ran through the pretty town of Anar there was nothing for almost 50km, I got caught by surprise as there was usually two places to feed per day. As always the magnificent Iranians helped me out That night I slept in a very warm mosque and next day aided by the free alarm call! I got off to an early start and managed to thump out 62km finishing 10km before Bahadoran. I was delighted by this run as the previous day I felt like a slapper trying to run in high heels. For my reward I slept behind sand dunes in the desert. The heat is dry, and not too uncomfortable. I needn’t tell you when I ran into Bahadoran next morning I had a huge breakfast and loaded extra supplies for the road. I can carry three half litre bottles of water under my hi-viz vest held in by my pack straps and if I need to can stick another in my pack and a litre and a half in one or both hands. As mentioned a long time ago my wrists are very sore from 41 months of carrying water bottles or pushing Nirvana.. Then today a 51 with another 60 plus at my mercy. A cop car pulled up for as the Americans would say a welfare check. I was low on water and 14km to the next town so asked him for some but he hadn’t any. A dew.minutes later a man stopped to buy nuts from a rare roadside vendor gave me 2 and a half litres and a bag of nuts. The Iranians like their nuts,oranges and thankfully their tea! A few minutes later I run by the same cop car again as he is doing speed checks. He hands me a large bottle of water and a fruit drink. I am embarrassed as now I have too much ,too much to run with. Literally across the road I am surprised to see an unexpected truck stop restaurant for there was no signage on the highway. I stop for dinner, I really had eyes for a sleeping place at an adjoining mosque. Price for this some persistent gawkers, I didn’t think this happened in Iran! March 28th 41,837km have been run in 955 days.. I feel like a running machine again , all be it with a weary pair of legs. Next week the thousand marathon of this global run beckons. I am now thinking of ripping through Iran and Turkey.
This particular day I used my gps and ran on some backroads. A pleasant change from a busy highway but you can never be sure about road conditions! I reckon I saved about a half week in India using my gps to find more direct routes than some of the meandering highways. Despite what I have said on the blog about smart phones and gps devices, I am now a believer! I just don’t know how I would have gotten through India and plan for the future with it’s lack of internet cafes.
I have been busy these last few days trying to get set up for the next leg of the run.
That will be from Kerman, if all goes well for my last bit of route checking around the Eastern Iranian city and I can get there over the booked out Iranian New Year holiday season. You may well remember I mentioned that Iran will start from Mashad. Well I got thinking that Kerman is a better ‘ match up ‘ almost perfect on the map from where I finished running India at the Sulemanqi Border post right on the Pakistan border.
Press > HERE To see this segment.
Also by restarting in Kerman I am eliminating Afghanistan from being skipped as you can see it will now be more or less just Pakistan which will not be run for security reasons.
The big news now is that I have decided I want to run Iran and Turkey with just my backpack. This will probably be the most difficult backpack section of the run, at least the Iranian part will be due to wide open, almost desert areas. So I decided at huge expense to move Nirvana, my cart on ahead to Istanbul. I probably should have just posted her home at this stage but at the same time I hope to get some relaxing months in in Europe and it will be a nice change to do a bit of camping.
I have sometimes pushed supplies and camping gear through remote or cold areas. I had her stored in the Irish embassy in new Delhi.
In Istanbul another new running friend called Caner will mind her till I run into the Bosporus city in June. I got this idea on my last day in India and put out a call for contacts and these lads answered, thanks lads!
I decided to fly to Istanbul and deliver her personally and got hammered by a late change to the flight and crazy excess baggage charges. Tonight, Thursday I am Istanbul. I arrived via Doha, Quator this evening and hope to get a flight to Teheran tomorrow night.
Doha was an interesting place, even if I was only there for a few hours. On the descent the city seemed to be all lakes, marinas in the middle of a desert with man made roads criss-crossing the lakes, very picturesque, Haven’t seen anything pretty in a few months now!
No transit visa required we were just corralled by bus into a transit terminal. A lot of rich looking sheikhs with snow white robes, but they were travelling in economy with their burka clad women.
And an expensive place too for a coffee or tea was US$5 and a club sandwich $7
As I said I will make my way to Kerman and start running from there towards Istanbul.
Remove Sulemanqi from the above Google map link and that will be my actual run route, 3,800km.
Tonight I was picked up at the airport by another runner called Ercan, We had a delicious dinner in the plush Timeless gourmet bar. Ah! Yes beef at last, real food for the already small Indian portions got even smaller as I ran closer to the west of the country, gone was rice off the menu, thank God for chapatis! And yes real tea, Turkish chai, no shot glasses of tea here!
Thanks to the Irish embassy staff for their help in New Delhi and especially to Damien from Dublin who brought me back to his place to chill out and have a TEAriffic time drinking all his Lyons teabags. He is married to Louise also from Dublin and they have a lovely two year old daughter Eliana. Then he got up at 4am to see me off at the taxi – that is after making a return journey to the embassy to pick up my gear.
The flight here was very stressful as I didn’t make the flight I was booked onto as Air India screwed up. And the one I eventually got at 9am with all that money paid out I only made with minutes to spare.
Also thanks to Manish who helped me out in his village a few days ago when I had an audience outside a Sikh temple with about 40 locals before sleeping there that night. He speaks very good English as he worked in Australia for five years. Next morning they gave me a turban which I ran withfor two days right to the Pakistani border.
I had a very pleasant time in this small village. Manish is 2 places to my left wearing the striped tracksuit pants.
So that’s the plan, I am very excited by this segment, then it will be Europe as we all keep on saying. It was nice arriving in the airport today, All those shapely beautiful blondes! haven’t seen any these past couple of months.
And yes, civil people not running you over on the road or street. I love the Turks, and the Iranians too. Am away from all that filth and dirt back in civilization and as a friend said to me in a private email. ‘ Yes Tony India is the ultimate head-trip!` There were times there when I wondered if I was going mad!!
Now for some Turkish Delight before I Ran!
Friday night I stayed in the home of Baris Aksahin a triathlete. A very interesting man as he was born in Turkey but moved to England when he was six years old where he lived for for 35 years. He has a very strong English accent working for a change in the Turkish political system. He returned to Turkey 8 years ago to discover his Turkish roots.
He set up a political party that is the first in the world…a “Leaderless” party called the Gezi Party (www.gezipartisi.org.tr) Where the party assembly makes all the decisions and the media only sees the party representative that is chosen by the party assembly to speak on their behalf. They do not focus on the political differences, but instead uniting people along core values of Individual Freedom, True Democracy, Universal Human Rights, Justice for All and Independence. To bring all people of all ideologies to the table under one roof and working to find common sense solutions to today’s problems. Their motto is: Gezi Party is a new beginning…a grassroots movement for change, by the people for the people.
Many thanks to my great friend Greg Havely for some vital help at this crucial stage as I prepare for my transit to Iran. I am hampered in my preparations by the Iranian New Year celebrations starting on 19th and lasting a week!
Also thanks to Greg for his research on this article as no travel blog on India would be complete without a reference to the so called caste system. The Caste system in India today
There is much to be said about the caste system in India (now declared illegal), but for this entry suffice it to say that it is (was) a system of social stratification. Historically it separated various endogamous hereditary groups called “Jatis”—Today, the usage of Jatis and caste are somewhat synonymous.
The “Jatis” are separated into 4 categories called “varnas” which are ranked in hierarchical order (originally, the system wasn’t to have a hierarchy based on occupation or birth but purely on personality; this has been skewed somehow over time), which determines the behavior of one member of society over another.
The levels are as follows:
Brahmana (now more commonly spelled Brahmin): Consist of those engaged in scriptural education and teaching, essential for the continuation of knowledge.
Kshatriya: Take on all forms of public service, including administration, maintenance of law and order, and defense.
Vaishya: Engage in commercial activity as businessmen.
Shudra: Work as semi-skilled and unskilled laborers.
The most common problem with this system was there was no ability to move between castes, i.e for lower castes to rise to a higher level caste–thus restricting economic progress amongst the populace.
Mahatma Ghandi added a fifth class to the system—that being called Harijan or “Children of God”. These are the so called “untouchables”—the very lowest rung on the class ladder.
Rooted in religion and based on a division of labor, the caste system, among other things, dictates the type of occupations a person can pursue and the social interactions that she may have. Castes are an aspect of Hindu religion. Other religions in India do not follow this system.
Castes still rarely intermarry and are definitely not changeable. In urban India, though, people of all castes meet socially or for business. Discriminating against anyone because of their caste for things like club memberships and so on is against the law.
Today if you asked a person who lives in the city what caste means to them, you would get a very different response than that of a person who lives in a village. It can be argued that in India’s emerging middle class, consisting of about 50-75 million people, many would say that there is no longer such a thing as caste. However, it soon becomes evident that though in many respects caste is diminishing, in many others it is still an important part of Indian society. In the villages especially, caste dictates marriage, rituals concerning birth and death as well as occupation which all in turn have a large role in economic status. In this way the impact is tremendous although subtle and varied.
Warning….. Not to be read before eating!
Over another Indian state line to Bihar and it seems they are happy enough with their state, thank goodness one Indian state in five. I am not happy though as Bihar is perhaps the poorest place I have ever been to. Very much underdeveloped, perhaps one of the poorest in all of India, perhaps a bit like sub-Saharan Africa.
Why do I write this blog… Perhaps in the hope that Indians may read this and be ashamed of what the world is reading about their country and react in a positive manner by asking their government to get the preverbial finger out and start fixing their country. One expat woman only this morning said to me that despite the problems India still is able to operate.
I wonder how a country of 1,2 billion cannot have proper services or infrastructure what with the huge tax intake there must be but later it was explained to me that only 3% of Indians pay any tax. It is a belief that the poor are not liable for taxation. I remember that in Latin America there was a way of taxing the trashy businesses and those on the breadline.
No I am not talking about taking the needy but I have read that 20% of the Indian workforce works in Government jobs, so surely they must pay a considerable amount towards the exchequer.
From state line to state line from West Bengal to Utar Pradesh the roads in Bihar are literally lined in shit, buffalo and cow. As disgusting as this is its also very sad.
Women, always women with their bare hands collect and mold the dung into patties or sods to be used for fuel. They moisten it by pouring water over it, shape it and stack it to dry out before stacking it in huge heaps in their fields or along the roadside. I do not see any sales of it, I cant imagine a rickshaw driver allowing a heap of this stuff into his precious overloaded three-wheeler in which passengers are hanging out the side and even on the roof. I understand it’s a community fuel effort for the villages.
The men have the easy jobs working in the dhabas or driving like lunatics down the highways.
Cows and Buffalo’s eat hay and grass outside houses, almost up as far as their door ways. Then they do their business all over their gardens and as I have said right up to the houses where the children play. It is then duly collected for stacking.
I am told there is a shortage of wood for the large population as the north of India is so congested where most of he population is located. So dung is a natural recyclable fuel source. Because of this shortage people don’t bother to boil water to purify it as in Indonesia and other Asian countries.
I wondered many times if India could possibly be even more primitive than even Myanmar. I think so. I not it’s not a test of modernity but even in Myanmar tissues are provided when eating, usually in the form of a toilet roll in a specially designed holder for restaurants. In eastern India they give you pieces of paper cut from a newspaper, each piece the size of a paper back page. Then they stopped giving them out, and remember everyone eats with their hands, they say it tastes better, I don’t know about that and I don’t want to sound like a pampered tourist but I can’t do this. Sometimes when I ask for a spoon they have to search, occasionally they laugh and on one occasion there was a commentary going on about me eating my meal with a spoon as yet another crowd looked on! Toothpicks are rare, I have asked and been given a match. They don’t even have the ramshackle toilet, or hole in the floor anymore, just a large field, makes things a little easier to recycle I guess!
When I asked an American NGO if the women washed their hands I was told not to think of these things in India!
There was so much of it on the shoulder of the road that I had to run out on the road! And yes just like road dust gathers on my feet and running pants, so too did this stuff
One day there was so much of it on the black tarmac, about 50/50 I thought of it as a roulette table. Ladies and gents, I thought, Take your pick brown or black, throw your dice. So I threw a coin, Let’s just say I didn’t retrieve it!
The women made huge bales of it like Irish turf stacking it in the fields, on the crash barriers or at the side of their houses.
I have read that in parts of India and Pakistan these sods can power generators. The dung doesn’t stink or attract flies and even houses are constructed from it just like mud houses.
One day when the road was particularly very bad, heavy traffic and narrow I noticed a trail parallel to the road so I started running on it. I ran on and on through these bales. I passed shocked women, one screamed and another picked up a big stick. I ran till I got as far as I could till the bales blocked the trail before reverting back onto the road.
Many Indian people don’t seem to care about modesty, several times a day I see people squatting down for a number two right at the side of the road in full view and they mix it with all the cow and buffalo stuff. One man then ran over his pants still down to a puddle and splashed his bottom from the rain water! People don’t seem to bother looking for a hedge they just pee and crap in full view. Even when traveling in a vehicle they don’t seem to bother shielding themselves from the public, they just pull it all out!
I tell you I have seen more male genitalia on the highways of India than a lifetime in the changing rooms and showers of gymnasiums, football clubs and running clubs!
Yes Bihar state was such a filthy place I was genuinely worried of picking up some kind of airborne infection. All this and the roadside litter and huge rubbish dumps at the entrance to every village,town and city.
One day I was running and saw four dogs attacking a lamb which was tied to a second terrified lamb by a short rope. They had ripped the poor animals throat and no doubt would have started on the second afterwards. I rushed from the road and chased away the dogs. Soon a crowd of Indians gathered and did what Indians do best…. Just stand and stare. I searched for my razor blade to cut the rope to free the second lamb while the attacked one died in front of my eyes.. I will always remember the sad terrified look in its eyes.
Next night I slept in a dhaba/ restaurant and watched a dog chance a mouse having let it slip out of his mouth four times. Funny I did not have the same sympathy for the mouse as I was glad it was rid from my sleeping area. There is hardly a place I stop for refreshments where I do not see mice.
I ran on through this horrible state of Bihar through filthy villages with pigs wallowing in the muck and mounds of plastic bottles. Cows wander the crowded roads and drivers honk and honk their vehicles with the most annoying sirens, often long and loud tunes or the sound of an emergency vehicle, which I would have thought to be illegal, but this is India, like most of the developing world, very little law is enforced.
Hindu Indians believe in life after death, I wonder what sins people committed in a past life to deserve this Hell on earth. The more I travel the more I appreciate how lucky I was to be born in Ireland, all it’s problems and all. I remember when I worked in construction back there I had many Romanian friends working with me. They told me about the real hardships in life in Romania and laughed at the pampered Irish that even in an economic meltdown Ireland was a Heaven and earth to them.
A thought occurred to me, perhaps a controversial one.. Leaving health hazards aside… Why should we in the west care if these people insist on thrashing their villages.. They are dirt blind it seems.. Should a priority be made by their local governments to spend their small funds on a clean up when people could use that same money for food? Even if it the roadsides are cleaned up you know what’s going to happen to dispose all the tyres, plastic bags and bottles.. They are going to be burnt and I remember what that was like in Indonesia.
My point is this… Is it better for the environment if trash rubbish garbage call it what you like is just left there… After all these people don’t care and how many western eyes will never set sight on their mess. I remember when I ran through Singapore, in a few hours!! The sight of the rubbish and weed burn off which was drifting over from Sumatra, Indonesia to Singapore. Singapore, just to be neighborly puts up with a small amount of this pollution but recently it was so bad they lodged an official complaint to the Indonesian government.
Many people are poor but few are time poor and can clean up outside their houses and villages if they wish.. Clearly nothing is ever taught about this in schools.
The further west I run in India the less English seems to be understood much to my surprise. I am told the less populated south of India is more affluent.
On I ran towards Delhi clocking up my 40,000th kilometer of the run. I continued sleeping in the dhabas for often there was no other possibility. I can not remember even one pretty vista since leaving the mountains of Manipur over 1,500km ago. This route across India is without doubt the first ugly country I have ever visited in my life, always some eyesore in the foreground or background ruining what could be a pretty sight. I am sure if I was to take the time and explore many of the small towns and villages that the interiors of many old forts and buildings would have some dazzling architecture, but I don’t stop to explore for I am just a highway man.
I wonder will the Taj Mahal over1,000km away be the next and only pretty sight in all of my north Indian route. I wonder how far from the Taj will the crap all begin again.
As mentioned in last blog comments I am now in Delhi. I left my passport into the Iranian embassy and will pick up my Iranian visa on Tuesday afternoon. I expect to visit Agra and the Taj Majal afterwards. I will then return to my route in Aligarh to run the last 530km in India.
Tonight I am staying in a really nice,clean and comfortable hotel called the Crown Hotel. I had a very nice dinner downstairs. Thanks to Ed Bateman for sponsoring this, very much appreciated as I enter the home straight of my global run. 41,016km for 937 road days.
So 40 months have been run and only 8 to go. As strange as this may seem my 48 hour experience is of great help to me now! I know very well from my days of competition the feeling of pushing through that never-ending second night. Yes soon the sun will be up, its 2am so to speak – I can smell the finish. By the way I was planning to run right through the Crimean peninsula from Russia to the Ukraine where all that trouble is now.
I have as mentioned recently decided to run from Iran to Turkey and into Bulgaria and Europe. Please see comments on last blog for details.
since Tony began his World Run on 25th October 2010
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Anything is possible! I didn't start running till I was almost 30. Then I dreamed of running around the World. I got delayed for over 20 years for many reasons. One reason was to establish my pedigree. I am the former WORLD RECORD-HOLDER for 48 HOURS INDOOR TRACK 426km/265 mile. I previously held the WORLD RECORD FOR 48 hours on a Treadmill 405km/ 251miles. Now I am retired from competition I can finally live my dream. I hope you will travel around the World with me. This World Run will take 4 years and over 50,000km. I started with the Dublin Marathon on October 25th and am on schedule to finish with the Dublin Marathon on October 28th 2014 at 2pm! Read more...