Assam state surprised me with it’s roads. A four lane divided highway, just like in Thailand this is going to be great I thought….
How wrong can you get… A divided highway means two parallel roads in India! Can you believe that sometimes a truck, bus or car would drive the wrong way against the traffic up the highway, even in rush hour or at night and not even get a honk, whereas I am constantly honked off the shoulder, that is when there is a shoulder.
Confusingly restaurants are called hotels here, even though they don’t offer accommodation. Hotels as we know them are called Lodges, Guest houses or Residential.. Enough problems and hassles I have i will just call a hotel as we know it as a hotel.
It took me a while to figure this out, even after many people laughing at me when I asked if I could sleep in the restaurants. Ironically many of these restaurants out on the highway do allow the traveller to sleep on rope beds, called a ‘ Charpoy ’ which are used for sitting on or eating off in the day time. A bit further west thankfully about 50% of the so called hotels started being called ‘ Dhaba ’
The people all eat with their fingers, picking up rice and even messy curries with their fingers in a fast mixing motion stirring the food first with their fingers in a rapid motion before picking it up with their hands. Nobody uses any form of utensil.
People come in and pick jugs of water off tables drinking from the spout, admittedly never making contact with their lips, just pouring the water into their mouths
Even though I don’t see them washing their hands I am assured Indians, like many people from poor countries, where as they may live around dirt and thrash the roadside when it comes to personal hygene they are more hygienic than us westerners. It has been pointed out to me on more than one occasion that we keep our streets clean but they keep their bodies clean, something many of us have in reverse.At least that is what I am told. One man also told me that when it comes to trash that Indians are blind. I spoke with one seemingly intelligent boy who assumed that every country in the world is equally as dirty as India. India is the dirtiest country I have ever set foot in. He asked me why I was looking for a litter bin, a rarity!
I miss the great food from Myanmar, this part of India the food is poor, many times it is slop. However it was soon to get better over the next couple of weeks. Up to now when asked what was my favourite Indian dish I would answer Chicken Chow Mein! Gradually the curries got tastier. However it seems everything in India, that is except the population, (1,2 billion) is small. Even tea comes in a small shot glass which can take 10-15 minutes to prepare as its made with milk and sugar and stewed away. Giving some of the stuff they serve to an Irishman, and Ireland being the worlds greatest tea drinkers, is akin to serving up a bottle of Moldovan plonk on the Champs Elyse in Paris. If you want a decent amount of tea you have to ask for a full glass and even then they just pour a half glass calling it full, all 100ml of it. Indians seem to be nervous about filling up containers, I have often held the kettle down when they try to pull it away! I discovered why the coffee is often tasteless, because many places just spoon out a quarter spoon of coffee! It’s hard to get coffee as Indians don’t seem to drink it. I often just pour in my own sachets of Nescafe and use my own plastic beaker. I am told the reason for the small portions of everything is because people can’t afford larger. One morning I waited patiently at a shop while four men had the shopkeeper weigh out four portions of Bombay Mix out of a 100gram bag. Each portion was wrapped up in a piece of newspaper. That image will stay with me for a long time.
I ran on through Assam State clocking up some big days, a 47 followed by a 55km day. That day I had three incidents of harassment on the road, the worst when a man came charging after me on his bicycle telling me he was going to call the police. It was now dark and I wouldn’t want this since the very next question from them would have been where I was sleeping and perhaps try pulling me off the road.. This man was persistent, probably thinking I was up to no good. Eventually I gently pushed him into a ditch when we both stopped! He then cycled away.
I slept in a field in my bivy that night, it was a cold night, I picked up a bad cough.
The coldness had me up before 6am the next morning. I warmed up at a restaurants fireplace where they would boil the water and cook the food for the day. I sat outside and had a pleasant time talking to the family as I warmed up for the day, all 50km of it.
A few more heavy mileage days followed. I ran through an area called Bodoland where yet more people are looking for separation from the Assasm state, India doesn’t seem to be a country at peace. As one police officer said to me.. We got too many people, religions, cultures and beliefs… Too many people wanting too many different things, we are not a happy country.
I was told by many people that the areas I had run through over the last couple of weeks were a bit on the dodgy side and I was lucky to get through. However another man told me the kidnap targets for the insurgents are usually people that own large factories.
20th January day 900 on the road and my log book recorded that was 937 marathons run. Out of Assam and into my 4th Indian state West Bengal and you guessed it they are not happy either, That’s four states all the same. Here graffiti with their demand statements painted on the roads, government and private buildings, anywhere there was a place to vandalised, they painted their demand messages. Anyone that asked me where I was from that day my reply was….
” I am from Sundrive an enclave in Dublin! We want independence from Dublin but want a special relationship as we still want to be the world champions of Gaelic Football… ”
Hey Perhaps my doctor back in Dublin as mentioned in my previous blog posting has a point!
People from some La La land place want their own kingdom! So ridiculous they were they had a road blockade, which I enjoyed. giving me a traffic free day. But I did not enjoy it when some buffoon vigilantes ran after me, I shouted my head off at some poor idiot until a cop came over and escorted me to the towns only hotel, thank goodness for that!
41km the next day but I ran out of energy as I hadn’t had a dinner last night due to the hassle with the dorks, only a small breakfast and then no lunch. The road was very bad here and no shoulder, just clumps of weeds and roots making it difficult and dangerous to run on a tired mind and body, so I stopped early, sleeping in a field. Thought I heard some strange animal noises, just what is Bengal famous for… Oh! Yes Tigers!
No I don’t think it was a tiger. It was a very, very cold night and I did not sleep too well.
Then a very good 49km which got off to a very slow start as I spent too long over breakfast. Before I got into a proper stride two men on a motorcycle got very abusive and aggressive when I told them the road was too narrow, busy and dangerous to chat with them. I didn’t want to stop, I could spend a whole day talking to people here. I find so many people to be very demanding, only interested in themselves and not caring about my concerns.
Then at lunchtime when I stopped at a photocopier shop to have a couple of copies of my passport and Indian visa a crowd followed me into the shop. They are needed for some hotels, once I was asked to go out and make a copy so I learnt that lesson to have a ready supply very fast. One man started examining my copied documents I had put on the table. Then he wondered why I gave him a hard slap on the wrist!
Next door in a restaurant I shaved over at a sink in the corner while waiting for my chicken curry to arrive. As usual a large crowd gathered. The mirror over the sink was an old truck mirror. Smiling to myself I read the inscription ” Objects in a mirror may be closer than they appear! ” Very true in India, I wonder if there is a word for privacy in the Hindi language, as Indians certainly don’t respect it.
Two more tough days, 59km and 42 took me to Siliguri where my next pair of OC running shoes have been mailed to my host Paul. Paul’s family have a sports centre which has a couple of guest rooms, so he kindly gave me one for the night. We went out to dinner with two French women who were also his guests. I contacted Paul through Couch Surfing.org an organisation where people can either host a traveller. Or travellers, usually backpackers can request a stay. Many host have not travelled themselves but love to host foreigners for a bit of variety to their lives. Paul is only the fourth host I have stayed with. It’s also a good way to find a local contact out of basically thin air for sending on running shoes or whatever.
I got a nice send off out of Siliguri as many people showed up at the Siliguri Club that Saturday morning. One of the lads gave me a data sim as I have been having trouble getting internet on my new smart phone, it worked a treat.. Thanks Mate!
There are many runners in the area but due to race commitments only one of the runners ran with me. They had the Siliguri marathon only last weekend, so some were still in recovery mode. Still it was nice to have one runner run even if only for a couple of kilometres with me.
Almost every village, small town and even city have ongoing daily power cuts. They seem to survive by running generators, candles or solar lanterns.I have been told the reason is because the power sub-stations are too small and cannot cope with the huge power demand. Another man told me that all over India corruption is a huge problem, it’s hard to get anything done without offering a bribe. I have been told by many people that one of the reasons for power shortages is that factories pay illegal bribes for an uninterrupted power supply.
This man was a journalist and when I asked him if all local government officials are corrupt he said yes, they don’t understand any other way, it’s normal for them. Our police force is corrupt too.
Then I asked him about the Parliament, the Senate,
” Yes they are all corrupt too! ”
So I asked about the President and the Prime Minister. Lets just keep his opinion off the blog!
Many people are hoping and are confident BNP Prime Ministerial candidate called Narendra Modi will win the next election. He is seen by just about everyone I talk to as India’s future saviour, a man unscrupulously honest, who seems to have the respect of everyone, Except for the American government who denied him a visitors visa as he has had a previous background for his involvement in demonstrations which turned into riots.
That night I stayed in a filthy lodge, got robbed really as I was told the only room was a large room with two beds. I would have to share the managers room! 500 rupees for this, when 200 would have been about right for a regular room in such a place. I just didn’t want to go further that night so reluctantly agreed.
Over my bed hung one of the workers laundry! He was surely kicked out for the night onto a couch. Then the manager came in and lit up a cigarette! I told him to put it out, for I was annoyed. I didn’t sign any register here, so you can guess where my 500 rupees are going, they actually tried to stitch me up for 1,000, Clearly people think foreigners are walking atm’s!
The Irish Foreign Office have been trying to put pressure on me not to run in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I have been hearing a lot of stories lately about NGO’s, K2 mountain climbers, aid workers, travellers being targeted in kidnap attempts.
Then the Foreign Office sent me a copy of an article printed in the Irish Times in which a Spanish round the world cyclist was ambushed in the Baluchistan area of Pakistan, near Quetta.
The cyclist had a police escort. They were ambushed and in the resulting shootout six police officers killed, five wounded, the Spaniard had a minor wound and was detained and later discharged from hospital.
Because of this and the other incidents I have decided not run Pakistan and Afghanistan. After finishing my across India I will fly to Iran and continue the run from Mashad, close to the Iran Afghanistan border. This is very disappointing for me but what can I do. I have at least three people scrutinizing my route. All three have sent me messages of support.
This will be the second road gap in the run, all be it the first was only 1km at the Myanmar/India border.I am obviously not happy about this, but what can I do as I got a duty to finish the expedition safely.