Sunday, December 18, 2011

Running in India - The Public Perception

There are those who run and those who don’t. It’s been almost two years since I retrieved my dusty trainers from the back corner of my shoe rack, cleaned them and went for my first run. And this single act opened up a new world for me.  And that was the day I became a runner. It did not matter that I hardly knew the technical details of the sports - What type of clothes to wear or shoes to buy, whether I should take walking breaks when running and how many kilometers I should run to avoid injury and lose weight. All that knowledge would come later but on that day, I just wanted to run. And that’s all it takes for any person to become a runner. No need to spend money on equipments or enroll in pricey coaching camps to master the sport.
         Running has given me this opportunity to change and influence lives of a few people for the better. I have had people who I have never met message me asking how they should go about preparing for their first 10k or half marathon. Once during one of my long runs in Hyderabad, a company watchman decided that he had had enough of watching folks run and joined me for a mile or so running in his uniform and sturdy boots. Forget the health benefits of running for a moment, the joy you get when you run your first mile is something to behold.
        Most things in social science can either be explained or blamed on perception. And how society perceives running is going to determine the future of the sport in India. Here are a few of my interactions with society as runner:

  • The incredulous looks that folks give when they see runners with water belts, GPS watches and fancy gadgets huffing and puffing when common sense dictates that they take a break. The first thing I learnt on taking up running is to ignore these looks and comments like “Why do you have to put themselves under such pain?!”. No one becomes a long distance runner without pushing past perceived limits of pain and endurance.
  • An overweight constable in Bangalore once warned me that my running shorts was too short and asked me to wear full length track suits during running. I pretended not to understand Kannada and kept running.  Some people lack the imagination to think of a world beyond their own. 
  • A few folks from the forest department in KBR Park terming runners as a nuisance to walkers and warning the Hyderabad Runners group that they would arrest all of us if we ran as a group. We raised our voices and aggression to match theirs and dared them to arrest us on our next run there. Of course they backed off and nothing happened on our next run.
  • The print media in India is currently enamoured with this concept of ignoring all news-worthy stories and focuses mainly on sensationalization of trivialities. And everything is fair game for reporters/journalists without depth and understanding – check articles like this and this. I do hope that such couch potatoes with half-truths and inadequate journalistic skills do not turn the general public away from the sport – but such hope is misplaced. People are influenced by what they read and unfortunately such shallow articles always hurt the sport. This is the most difficult and insidious of the issues that runners have to deal with. I have had relatives and friends read up some random article on the internet and advise me to take up a “normal” hobby like gardening or walking.  
  • I have run quite a few marathons and mostly found lukewarm response from the general public to marathons and other running events.  In an international marathon like say New York or London, people come in droves to support runners. Of course the sport is still in its infancy here. In comparison, Mumbai Marathon draws good crowds and public support but whether they come out to cheer runners or drool over Bipasha Basu is anybody’s guess. We are not there yet but someday the crowds will come for marathons. Until then we might have to make do with Bips...
  • For all the talk about India being a modern society, it is not easy for women to take up running in our country. Even when running in a group, women are subjected to lewd comments and unwanted advice. I recently attended a workshop by an ultra-marathoner/tri-athelete named Anu Vaidyanathan who began her presentation with a question somebody had asked her when training for a triathlon – “Why don’t you go get married?”  Unless attitudes change, it is very difficult to ensure women take up long distance running either as hobby or a passion.
        One of the first things I learnt in my corporate life - The world does not run on truth, it runs on perceptions. Likewise with the sport of running. And one of the things we can do for running is to be its ambassadors. Let's motivate a few folks to run. Let's tell them the story of how running changed our lives and get them to join the local running club. Let's convince them that if they run today, it does not mean a painful knee replacement surgery down the line. Above all, let's be the change that we want to see in the other person – Let's run...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Redemption – 50k Ultra-marathon at the Bangalore Ultra 2011

                Now why would anybody run an ultra-marathon (in which runners run beyond the regular marathon distance of 42.2k) and willingly put themselves under such pain? When asked this question, I end up providing a simplistic response like “it’s fun”. Mainly because it is not very easy to explain it to a “normal” person (generally people don’t run or those who say- I can walk for a whole day but don’t ask me to run). “It’s not like you’ll win the prize money or anything!! So why bother” they say signaling that any further conversation on my part would serve little purpose. So in this blog entry I will try to analyze the answers to the question – “Why run an ultra”.
Before you read any further, let me warn you that this is a long blog post. So here’s the gist of the entire post:
                Bangalore Ultra 2010      - 37.5k category  - DNF (Did Not Finish)
                Bangalore Ultra 2011      - 50k category     - 5 hrs 31 mins.
                Overall score => Bharath- 1: Bangalore Ultra-1.

Let me now continue with the Charles Dickens’ version of the post:

                The Bangalore Ultra in 2010 humbled and beat me into submission (read sordid story here). I realized that lack of training and preparation was what beat me and decided not to fall short on that account this time round.

                On race day, I reached Hessarghatta around 30 mins to start time and headed to the room of my friends who were staying at the ONV hotel near the start point. First shocker of the day: My racer kit was missing. Meaning even if I run the race, my timings would not be recorded. For some reason I remember being calm in that situation as I knew that running chip or no running chip, nothing was going to stop me from hitting the red trail that day. Rajesh or Chief as we like to call him picked up another backup racer kit and we ran to “Runners For Life” Organizer stall with 5 mins to start and programmed the running chip for the 50k run. Ended up at the start line just before flag off with no warm-up to speak of.

Early morning start at Ultra
                  The 50k and 37.5k categories were flagged off together. I initially ran with the lead group of the 37.5k runners. After around a km or so I realized that they were running too fast and I had to slow down. One of the toughest things for me is to let people overtake me because I am generally competitive when it comes to running, but this time I told myself that it was important to stick to my overall plan of running 50k in 5 hours. The trail was the toughest I had ever run on. I always had to keep an eye on the ground for fear of hitting either roots or getting my foot stuck in some rock. Add in some loose gravel here and there and you have a perfect recipe for a fall. Fortunately I fell only once during the run and knew how to fall to avoid injury.

                I stopped at the third aid station and noticed that it was well stocked. I helped myself to a decent treat once in a while at these aid stations – peanut butter and bread, potato chips, oranges, bananas etc. The organizers even had common salt at the aid stations. A few runners take salt tablets once every 15 kms in such ultra-marathons to ensure that the salt level in their body does not drop drastically. But you do not get them in India, ergo substitution with common salt at the aid stations. Since I did not know what to expect for my first 50k run, I ensured that I ate more than required and was well hydrated. Considering my intake during the run, it’s surprising I did not gain weight at the end of the race. 

Completing first loop of 12.5k
                 At around the 8k mark, an American woman cut across the trail and overtook me. Up until that point, only Athreya and Honda San, two accomplished ultra-runners, from the 50k category were ahead of me. Determined not to lose my position, I kept up with her and finally overtook her after two kms. Lizzie turned out to a determined runner as well and I ended up maintaining a decent pace just because I knew she was on my heels.

                Before I could complete my first loop I ran across the 12.5k runners. Though I hate to be labeled an elitist, I really do not understand where or how a 12.5k run fits into an ultra-marathon. Is it the money? Most probably... The event organizer - RFL is after all a commercial organization that needs to make money to survive. Is it about encouraging new runners? Nah. I am not sure I would have stuck with the sport if I had started my running career in an event like Bangalore Ultra. Runs like these are, deep down, are about a certain degree of masochism though most would not admit it. We were there to see our rigorous training come to fruition, celebrate our strength and challenge our bodies. In a treacherous trail like this, the newbies are ones most likely to hurt themselves, either due to lack of knowledge or training or both.

Third Loop done. One more to go...
                I had slowed down at around the 32k mark. The American runner was long left behind. We had formed a partnership of sorts with one of us leading the way for a certain length of time. But she cramped up at around the 20k mark and asked me to move on. Met a lot of other runners that I interact with on a daily basis on the internet but hardly ever get a chance to meet.

                At around the 44k mark, I noticed Bhaskar Sharma overtake me. Though I did not know that point in time, he had just moved into the third place in the 50k category. Being my first run beyond Full Marathon distance of 42k, I don’t think I was in a position to chase down a runner who had been running ultra-marathons years before I had even started running. I was totally spent. The sun had come out and I was reduced to taking walking breaks more often than planned.

Mission accomplished. From left - Steve, Venkat, Me and Ashish
                With just a km to go for completion, another runner, Srini, overtook me. I really could not understand where he found the energy from but he started putting in some decent pace. After the race, I caught up with him and only half-jokingly warned against overtaking with such a short distance left as it leaves one heart-broken.  He laughed it off. Seeing Srini put in good pace this late in the race, I realized that however good your training level is, the desire to succeed is what drives you in the final miles. You need to run the second part with your heart not your strength because of you have very little of that left anyway. I finished my first ultra-marathon distance of 50k in 5 hours and 31 mins. It was undoubtedly the toughest thing I had ever done in my life. I realized what this race meant for me – Redemption. And it tasted sweet despite all the pain I was in.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Villager Road Tax

                Loki worked from sun-up to sun-down on the two acre land he had managed to wrestle from his brothers after their father’s death. He had been saving for two years to buy a new motorbike but the rain gods had proven fickle and middle-men who bought his crops stingy and thieving. He was stuck with the rusty bike his father-in-law had given him on the eve of his wedding. His reverie was interrupted by a huge black car coming to a screeching halt trying to avoid a dog on the street. A bulky guy got out of the driver’s seat, checked his car tires, found them satisfactory and drove off leaving the mutilated body of the dog in the middle of the national highway. Sometimes goats and chickens owned by the villagers were victims of the high speed roads. Loki never understood the arrogance of city folks- trampling livestock with their cars and bikes, not in the least bothered about how it affected the livelihood of poor villagers.
                Loki considered the recently built national highway a curse. It cut across the middle of the village making even crossing the road a hazard. Once the villagers had got together and paid a private contractor to build a speed bump at both the ends of the village. That helped until a few officials from highway development authority leveled the road again warning the village council against building such barriers. The council denied everything, claimed innocence and feigned outrage at the accusation.
                In the initial days after the road was built, villagers accepted any small compensation given to them by errant drivers for harming their livestock. But all this changed when Loki’s friend’s cow got mowed down by an SUV.  Yogesh demanded an exorbitant amount and the entire village had gathered to argue with the driver and his wife. The villagers finally managed to extract more than their pound of flesh.  Loki knew that the old cow had stopped producing milk a year ago. Yogesh could now buy a new jersey cow with what the driver ended up paying. The village council of course took a cut. The men had a good laugh about the entire incident that evening under the banyan tree. One of them called it the “road tax”.
                From that day, Loki stopped scolding his children when they let the chickens and goats out near the highway. He did not have to wait for too long for what he had secretly been hoping for but would not admit even to his wife. A couple in a two wheeler had crashed into a post trying to avoid his goat. Somehow the goat had managed to limp away without much injury.  Loki’s first thought was that the couple were grievously injured. He did not want to rush onto the highway to demand payment for his goat only to find the couple dying or in need of help.
                Meanwhile a few cyclists had stopped to check on the fallen couple.  Why men ride cycles this far instead of using motorbikes, he had no idea. Masochists most likely, he concluded. The cyclists had managed to help the couple with water. Loki saw that the rider, though bleeding was now standing and about to climb on his motorbike and drive away. Fat chance he thought.
                Loki managed to stop the couple from speeding away to a hospital and straight away demanded payment for his injured goat. The couple looked speechless and the cyclist decided to speak up for them “Let them first go to the hospital man, the guy is bleeding”. All Loki knew was that if he let the couple go now, he would never see them again; “No, now”, he insisted. He claimed that his livelihood had been ruined due to the loss of his goat. As if on cue, a lot of folks from the village were suddenly with him taking the same line. A few other cyclists and folks from a car had stopped as well and took the side of the couple. The villagers accused the cyclists of rowdyism while the cyclists insisted on taking the couple to a hospital. The cyclists also claimed that the goat was not injured at all. Words were bandied back and forth.
                Suddenly before Loki knew, the cyclist who had initially assisted the couple was coming at him angrily. Loki knew that there was no way the villagers would let a city-bred funnily clad  cyclist beat him in their own place. One or two of his friends helped as they beat up the angry young man. Soon the rest of the villagers and cyclists managed to break up the brawl. Seeing bloodshed had the desired effect on the injured couple, they offered to pay up, just as Loki knew that they would. In parting, the beaten up cyclist calmly spoke up “One day I hope a car runs you over and there is nobody to help”. Loki pretended to not hear the cyclist. Neither did he care. His dream of a new motorbike had just got a little bit closer...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Almost there - The Mysore Half Marathon 2011

                The clock showed 6:55 a.m., 10 minutes more than the scheduled start time of the Mysore Half Marathon 2011. All the runners were waiting patiently at the start line - The imposing Mysore palace. Okay, the “patiently” part was a lie. We had all warmed up for a 6:45 start but apparently Chief Guest Javagal Srinath does not mess with his 8 hour sleep cycle. We greeted him with a loud ‘boo’ when he finally ambled along to the start line. I was targeting a finish of 1 hr. 40 mins, which meant running faster than 5 min/km for 21 kms. My friend Bala from Bangalore was targeting 1 hr. 45 mins but he gamely agreed to run with me for the entire distance.
                The elites simply took off as soon as the start gun went off. Not sure if it was the pace the elites set or our own stupidity, Bala and I decided to give them chase. Big Mistake. We ran the first two kms in around 8 mins, way faster than what I had planned. Any distance runner worth his salt would tell you that you should not run somebody else’s race. And here I was disobeying the most basic tenet of long distance running. I settled into a nice breathing pattern, slowed down and let Bala compete with the elites!
               My plan was to finish the first half of the race in 50 mins. But realized that I would get there about a minute or two early at our current pace. The route meandered into Kukkenahalli kere, the best running place in my beautiful hometown. We ran into the elites returning from the midway point. And the three in the lead were blazing. Their coach was on the sidelines and screaming at them to pick up pace. Hah! That is one coach I hope to avoid for the rest of my natural life.
              At around the 8k mark, the effects of chasing the elites caught up with Bala and I ran alongside him for the new few kms.  My lace came untied twice and I wasted sometime getting it right. My hands were unsteady and my fist and jaw tightly clenched – a clear sign that I was trying too hard. Stopped for water at the 12k mark aid station. With little humidity and cool breeze, I decided that I could manage with only one stop for water. And that certainly helps.

The Celebration Mysore Half Marathon
                I checked out my GPS watch and found that I had to run the last 8k in 39 mins to finish within my target of 1 hr. 40 mins. My usual running pace at that point in time was 5 mins/kms meaning 40 mins for 8 km. I just had to run a couple of kms faster. Sounds easier when I put it on paper but the second half had a few up-hills and increased traffic which meant that saving that one minute was not going to be easy. My mom had promised to come to the route to cheer me, but I missed her as well due to my decision to go for glory.
  The final push never came. Somebody on the road shouted “Boss you are 28th… Run faster, so many people have gone ahead”. That brought a smile to my in spite of all the pain/pressure I had put myself in. Finished in 1 hr. 41 mins and Bala finished a couple of mins behind me. Missed my running season target by around 1 minute. Almost there but not there. Story of my running life really.
  Soni Mathew finished in 1:09 mins and took 1st place in men’s division and Kavita Raut in 1:20 took 1st in the women’s division. As for me, I have time until the Auroville 2012 to reach my season target of 1 hr. 40 mins. With all the arrogance and confidence I can muster, I declare myself good enough for a 1:40 HM in the coming months. Only time will tell!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why I started running?

A few days ago I completed the Kaveri Trail Half Marathon in 1 hr 45 mins. During the run, I overtook quite a few slow, tired and struggling 10k runners with a smirk of superiority and disdain. I was running as per a plan and saw these slow runners on the narrow trail as an obstacle. After the race, it was time for introspection and I realized that there was no reason for me to look down upon these slower runners – after all I was once one of them. There is no better lesson in humility than to remember one’s own humble beginning. Let's rewind to around one and a half years and start from there.

It had been four years since moving to Bangalore. Four years since I joined a start-up and realized that programming was something I enjoyed.  As the years went by, the time I spent at work increased and so did my waistline. I told myself I was too busy to spare time for exercise. Gradually, I realized what I was all set to become - one more fat slob working in IT and heading into middle age working away my life and health 12 hours a day for six days a week. 

It was at this point in time that I saw an article in the newspaper regarding the Bangalore Sunfeast 10k run with Sachin Tendulkar exhorting the people of Bangalore to run. Somewhere it struck a chord. Never having run before, I immediately registered for the 6k majja run believing that a 10k was outside the realm of possibility. The very next day I put on my discarded running shoes and headed out to the park. I told myself that I could walk for a day if required since I had done a couple of treks the previous year. Yeah. A blatant lie if there ever was one! You got to lie to yourself sometimes and if it were a matter of mind such bravado might even have worked, but the body always speaks the truth. I could not run more than two rounds – all of 700 meters. It was simply too tiring.

I kept practicing just because I had already registered for the event and did not want to give up so easily. Come race-day, I ran those 6 kms stopping at every aid station to replenish myself. I struggled and my legs were sore but I managed to cross the finish line. I promised myself that the run was the first step of a long journey.

These days I run almost a half marathon a week. I have lost around 8 kgs since I started running, completed three full marathons, get withdrawal symptoms if I don’t run for more than a few days and am preparing for my first ultra marathon distance of 50k. But I will never forget what those SIX kilometers meant in the grand scheme of things.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Hyderabad Marathon – The Replacement Pacer

          It was race day. I felt stupid with a floating helium balloon tied to my shirt. The number “4” was written on the balloon in big letters indicating that I was the pacer for folks wishing to complete the marathon in 4 hours. Somebody asked me if my previous best full marathon time we lesser than 3:30 and I truthfully replied that it was more like 5:30. I was supposed to be part coach, part friend, and part mentor at least for four hours apart from being an experienced long distance runner who sets a steady pace. Instead I was anxious and doubt constantly gnawed me.
Me at starting point with balloon
           I had always wanted to complete the Hyderabad marathon in 4 hours and during Bib collection asked Steve (one of the organizers) for more information about the 4 hour pacer. The pacer had not turned up and we set about the arduous task for finding a replacement pacer. And they are as rare as a pig in flight.  Anybody who can comfortably do a 4:00 hour marathon would rather push harder and aim for a better finish instead of herding newbies. Steve decided that we would have two pacers for the 4:00 hour bus with me running the first half (21 kms) and another fresh-legs runner starting from the midway point till the end.
Ever since I moved to Hyderabad from Bangalore a few months ago, I had started running with more discipline. I put in intense quality workouts instead of just adding more miles. I started running with the “Hyderabad Runners” group and was taken in by the camaraderie and support of its members. Not only did I run with them, I also attended shoe clinics and weekly fitness sessions with them. Somewhere along the line I realized that I could run much faster than what I thought I was capable of. And that’s when I decided that I should run a full marathon within 4 hours. And how I planned to do cut off more than 90 mins from my previous best marathon distance, I had no idea! I just knew I had to do it. I choose the Hal Higdon’s advanced 1 marathon training program and stuck with it. I lost weight and was fitter than I ever was. But I had no pretensions about being able to successfully lead a group of runners along with me at the finish line.
Majority of the runners in the 4 hour bus (group led by pacer) were Tamilians from Bangalore- Suresh Seshadri, Nari, and Vasu and we had a blast during the run. Gopal, Brajesh, Dr. Umesh and Neera Katwal also joined in. My job was to lead the group until the 21k mark in around 1:58 mins. A few kms into the run I could clearly see that Neera was more than capable of a 4 hr FM but was holding back only because it was her first Full Marathon. Around 12 kms into the run, Suresh came down with cramps but was still running if only to give me company for some more time. I took a few breaks here and there but maintained the speed as indicated in the pace band I wore on my wrist. The flyovers soon took their toll on Suresh and he slowed down. I realized I could not slow down for him and neither did he expect me to. We hit the 21k mark in exactly 1 hr 58 mins and Raju was waiting to take over my balloon. Neera and Brajesh were ahead of us and Nari, Vasu and Gopal were a few meters behind me. My job as pacer was done.
Now I was running for myself. Dr. Umesh kept running with me while the others sped ahead with Raju. When I hit the 32k mark, I noticed that I had to run the last 10k within 58 mins for my dream finish. I realized that I had underestimated how tough the route was. I kept chugging uphill after uphill and there was always one more round the corner. Dr. Umesh had fallen back and I was running alone now. Thankfully a few cyclists from the Hyderabad Cycling Club and my friend Madhu from Hyderabad University paced me for a few mins. When I hit the 38k mark, I still had to cover 4 kms in 20 mins. That’s when I realized that my dream of finishing within 4 hours would remain that – a dream. And that’s right about the time when the body does not want to go forward and your spirit is already crushed. I started walking in agony and pain for the first time in the race.
Picture with Elaine at end point. The photographer jumped the trigger before we jumped!

After a km of run/walk, somebody from behind shouted – “Don’t walk. Do a slow jog instead. It keeps the blood flowing” and I did as instructed. A few hundred meters into the run, I understood that there was nothing to feel let down about. All expectations were of my own choosing and I could still be proud of finishing a few minutes outside of the 4 hour mark. Somehow I found the energy to sprint the last hundred meters and overtake that gentleman who had egged me on. Time on my garmin watch showed 4 hr 7 mins and 12 secs, exactly 81 minutes faster than my previous best. The marathon distance is indeed a microcosm of life – full of little joys and disappointments. When you finish one, you realize the person at the end line though temporarily down on energy is a stronger person than the one at the start line a few hours ago.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal – A Journey through history- Part 2

           My friends and I had travelled to North Karnataka seeking the cradle of temple architecture of India. Here's part  two of my blog on our journey through the ages. 

Badami was the second capital of the Chalukyas and was founded by Pulikesi-I in 540 AD. Badami is called so because of the colour of rocks is the same as the nut Badami (or Almond). The main temples have been hewn out of sand stone on the precipice of a hill. Cave style is the most difficult form of temple building because there is only one opportunity to get the sculptures right. No second chance to replace a broken statue with another one built elsewhere.

Anantasana - Vishnu on a nagasheshaShiva Thandava

There are four cave temples, three Hindu and one Jain. The first cave is the oldest and has a stunning sculpture of Shiva with 18 arms in a dancing posture- the apocalyptic Shiva Thandava. The Ardhanarishwara (half-Shiva, half-Parvathi) and the Harihara (half-Vishnu, half-Shiva) are the other main sculptures in cave 1. Caves 2 and 3 are dedicated entirely to Vishnu. Cave 2 has a sculpture of Vishnu sitting on a lotus- The Anantasana, the image that is ubiquitous in every reference to Badami. Cave 4 has images of Digambara Jains, Tirthankaras and Mahavira and goes some way in showing the secular nature of the Chalukyan rulers.
Front view of the Badami caves
These caves also served as shelter houses at lean times and you can also see carvings of board games like Pallanguli(Many-Holes) and HuliMane(Lion House) indicating the presence of young children. There are no palaces in Badami (unlike Hampi) to show that the rulers lived in splendour and research shows that the rulers resided in wooden houses while building these majestic caves temples for the Gods to reside in.

                Pattadakal is situated on the banks of the Uttara Vahini River and is supposed to be the pinnacle of Chalukyan architecture. It was established in the later stages around 7-8th century AD. Pattadakal literally means rock of coronation in Kannada. It is also called as Shilapura or the place of sculptures. All the temples here are Shiva temples (unlike Badami and Aihole) and all of them face the East. There is also a Jain temple built later by the Rashtrakuta rulers.

Mallikarjuna (Dravidian)  and the Kasi Visvesvara(Aryan)

View of all temples in Pattadakal
                Pattadakal is a UNESCO world heritage site and has ten major temples, a co-existence of Dravidian, Aryan and hybrid style of temple building. The textured carvings on the pillars are full of stories of Ramayana, Mahabharata and the DashaAvatars of Vishnu. We could also find a rich trove of stories from Panchatantra carved on the pillars. In 1565 AD, the Bahamani Sultan ransacked the place, but let the temple structures remain intact. I imagine that perhaps the conqueror recognized that such a fusion of art, architecture and skill is rare and deserves its place in history.

P.S: The link to my Picasa web album with pictures from the trip:

Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal – A Journey through history- Part 1

                 Be it a metro dotted with skyscrapers and malls or a dusty little village in the hinterland, you can be sure that you are never too far away from a temple in India. Some of these majestic structures have withstood the ravages of time for centuries and still stand tall and proud. Have you ever wondered when and where our ancestors discovered, honed and perfected their skills in art and architecture thereby permitting us to gaze proudly at these temples today?  To answer these questions and also have some fun along the way, I set out to North Karnataka with a few of my friends hoping to travel through the ages into the very beginning of known Indian History.
                Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal form the historical trio of places where the art of building temples and rock carvings flourished right from 5th century AD. Badami is located around 500 kms from Bangalore and is accessible by train and bus. Aihole is around 40 kms from Badami and Pattadakal is midway between them.

Durg Temple
                Aihole was the first capital of the Chalukyas and was called Aryapura in its earlier days. It was supposed to have been renamed Aihole after a woman found Parashurama, the Kshatriya(warrior clan) killer, washing his bloody axe in the lake and exclaiming “Ayyo-Hole”(the lake)!! Doubtless we will never know why and when Aryapura became Aihole since in our nation mythology is sometimes indistinguishable from history.
Aihole is supposed to the “Cradle of Indian Architecture” and has around 125 temples and a few caves. At the entrance of the complex is the horse-shoe shaped durg temple. This temple is supposedly the inspiration for the famous Konark temple in Orissa. Aihole has temples for both the main Hindu deities- Vishu, the protector and Shiva, the destroyer. Even though the Chalukyans worshipped Vishnu, prominence was given to Shiva as well indicating presence of both Shaivism(Worship of Shiva) and Vaishnavism(Worship of Vishnu) school of thought.

TriBangi ShivaHariHara - Vishnu/Shiva

The Tribanghi Shiva, Vijaya Narasimha, Mahishasure Mardhini and Harihara(Half-Vishnu Half-Shiva) are some of the notable sculptures. The Ladkhan temple in the structures dates back to the 5th century. Interestingly the sculptors were given the freedom to paint a true picture of those times. One sculpture shows an elephant crushing a condemned man to death. Another set of carvings show a couple cozying up before marriage and fighting it out after. Clearly the sculptor must have drunk deeply from the cup of life!

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Traffic Signal

The traffic signal ahead turns red and I slowly ease my car to a halt, squeezing it in the gap between two other cars. My car window is generally up, mostly to avoid the dust and smoke in the roads of Bangalore. It also helps avoid bothersome hawkers, groping eunuchs and old women with crying babies. But tonight it is down and before I know it, there is a kid beside my car, with a bamboo basket full of what can only be described as plastic junk. He says ‘Anna, 10 rupees only. Will you please buy one?’
My first instinct is to pull up my car window. After years of driving on Bangalore’s roads, I had pretty much become inured to such sights and had taught myself to ignore such things. I generally persuade myself with the usual arguments – ‘Of course the crying baby clinging to her neck is rented’, ‘I don’t want to encourage begging’, ‘This crossing is so busy, this woman makes enough money to manage a savings account in the bank across the street’ etc. But something about the little kid peering expectantly at me stops my hand.
The boy seems to be around 5-6 years old and the first thing I notice is his grotesque lips split till his chin leaving his disfigured for life. There is a misty glaze in his eyes that shouts out that he does not belong to streets. Perhaps he wants to go home. I wish that he has one and somebody to take care of him. But I know there is nobody since the kid would not be hawking toys in the streets at night if somebody really cared about him.
In spite of my refusal, he continues to plead. ‘Please anna, it’s only 10 rupees’. I think that maybe he has a ‘pimp’ who would beat later him until he handed over all the day’s earnings or else maybe he has not yet sold his quota of toys for the day, which could explain what he was doing in the street at 9 in the night. But one thing I know for sure. The kid led a tough life; one that folks like me in air conditioned cars cannot understand or seldom bother to. I empty all the change in my wallet into his outstretched hands and even refuse the plastic toy that he hands me in return.
I know that the kid will probably not get to keep the money. All I could hope to do is give him ‘hope’. I look into his eyes and give him a gentle and reassuring smile as if to say ‘Everything will be fine kiddo’. His response to the smile shatters what little hope I harbor for the little boy. There is none. Perhaps both of us know that my smile serves no purpose and does little to alter his predicament. As if on cue, the traffic signal turns green. He seems ready to burst into tears at any moment. But instead just turns his head away from me and hurries along to the pavement, anxiously waiting for the signal to turn red again.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

So who’s got your back?

In most gangster/cop movies, you have probably heard the line “I’ve got your back”. These are words everybody likes to hear, the feeling of comfort that there is somebody out there who can come through when it really matters. Before I get round to answering that, let me present my take on running 42.195 kms.

The moment I registered for my first full marathon at Auroville, my initial thought was “Now why did I do that!” If I had learnt anything from my previous unfortunate experience at running 37.5k at the ultra marathon (a disaster well-documented in previous blog entry!), it was that I was far from ready for a full marathon. Sometime later I shot off a letter to the Auroville organizers pleading extenuating circumstances and requesting them for a change of category to Half Marathon. “No way” was the unequivocal reply. So I was stuck with a full marathon marathon I really was not sure about doing.

Some how convinced myself to give it a try and run for the joy of running. The night before the marathon in Auroville, a ritualistic initiation into marathon running awaited me. It starts with eating like you haven’t eaten for days and ends with eating some more, all to avoid hitting the dreaded wall. With unlimited pasta and lasagna on offer, I gleefully indulged in the world class fare. The dinner was all about meeting and catching up other masochistic people from all around nation willing to risk limb and knee again and again to earn the sobriquet of “Marathoner”.

My only strategy on race day was run slowly to avoid injury and stick like gum to my running partner. He was running his second marathon and planning to complete in 5 hours; just the ideal pace setter I was looking for! The race started at 5 am in pitch black darkness and we stumbled along until our eyes adjusted to the darkness, hardly aided by the inadequate torch provided by the organizers. This first half of the marathon was most enjoyable and we completed it in around 2:30 hrs, all as per the Plan.

A few kms later, my friend started feeling some pain in his knee and slowed down. I doubled up as his physio, gently stretching his leg muscles with the hope I don’t leave him with a permanent injury due to my inept ministrations. Soon he said he was feeling comfortable and I led both of us at a much reduced pace from then on.

The maximum distance I had done in training was 30k in the “Strides of Hope” event and once we crossed that, I had to fall back on determination and grit to run the rest of the race. At around the 32/33k mark, a long trail of loose sand awaited us. Had not struggled in that stretch during the first loop, but covering that under the sun pretty much blew the winds out of me. We ended up slowing down further.

Until the 35k mark, we hadn’t walked even once, just slowing down once a while when we got tired. This had helped us overtake a few faster runners doing a run-walk-run routine. Ever km from then on was progressively tougher and I was ready to start walking. My friend took the lead and goaded me to get back into running stride. I grudgingly obliged and thankfully we never looked back from there. He encouraged me to keep up with him, just like I had done in the first half of the marathon. We somehow found the strength to sprint the last 200 meters of the marathon. Time taken: 5:30:00. Yeah, I can definitely live with that timing for my first marathon. Couch potato geek to marathoner in 9 months!

At the toughest times, my friend and I motivated, cajoled and pushed each other to complete this marathon. Thank you Nitin Kumar Jain, fellow runner and marathoner, you truly are a fabulous person to run with. So getting back to the first question- “Who’s got your back?”

Friday, January 28, 2011

An Ode to Egypt

Broken from the shackles of fear,
Behold wondrous Egypt's righteous ire;
Revolution is brewing,
Hope Hosni Mubarak is leaving.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Bandaje Trek

Every since I started trekking there are few places I wanted to trek in more than Bandaje( Also called/spelt Bandeja, Bandajje etc). And when finally I got a chance to there, there was no backing down in spite of hearing from folks that this is a tough one.  When one of my colleagues pointed his hand towards the evening star and said “The uphill climb is like this”, I convinced myself that he was exaggerating. My trek buddies Lenin and Yogesh were game for this as they would be for any crazy trek I had in mind. I also managed to rope in my roommate Subbu promising him an initiation into the world of trekking in this two day sojourn.
The Bandeja Falls
Bandaje is a tiny village around 350 kms from Bangalore and home to plenty of coffee, tea and rubber plantations. We caught a bus to Dharmasala on Friday night and reached there by 6 am next morning. Completed the morning ablutions near the rest rooms beside the temple lake and headed to Bandaje via Ujjire in a jeep( Consider yourself conned if you paid more than 250 bucks!). The trek begins at the home of Narayana Gowda, a pot bellied politician who arranges guides and helps out trekkers with food/water etc. Since only two guides turned up that day and 4-5 groups turned showed up, we had to stay put for an hour or so before starting off.
The first day’s trek is amongst the toughest climbs I have ever done. I felt guilty at having dragged Subbu into this. Even-though I had cajoled him to start running a week or so before the trek ostensibly to toughen up, there was no way I could prep him for this tough an ascent. I stayed with Subbu encouraging him at times but mostly pushed him harder. . Yogesh and Lenin, on the other hand, were in their elements and were leading the trek right from the beginning till Bandaje falls. When you are fit and trekking with others of similar physique, you attitude changes – you put on a facade of a body that never tires and ensure that you are never the one to suggest rest thinking others would consider you the weak link. Bringing up the rear-guard gave me extra time for experimenting and having fun with my SLR camera.

Sunset at the peak

After around 3-4 kms of climbing steep hills, we came across the grasslands. It was already afternoon when we reached there and the sun beat down on us without mercy. I realized that these grasslands would be infested with leeches during rainy season and probably just as tough to cross. This was the toughest part of our trek and I avoided looking Subbu into the eye for some time!  A few kms into the grasslands, we glimpsed the Bandaje falls from a distance. It seemed to be very near but I always under-estimate distances from far away and it turned out to a good 2 kms away.
Ballalarayana Durga Fort
We reached the top of the Bandaje falls by around 4.30 p.m and were totally exhausted. Just the right time for a dip in the cold waters. A few folks informed me that a k.m. or two upstream there is a place that bisons and elephants come to quench their thirst. But we were too tired to check it out that day. Took some snaps of the sun going down and ate bread/jam for dinner constantly glancing jealously at the other groups that were cooking maggi for dinner.  Then we set up the tent that we had hired at BMC. Unfortunately it had a few holes in it and I suggest you inspect your tents properly before hiring from them. The sky seemed to hold more stars than I had ever seen and we had a good night’s sleep.

Lenin and Yogesh at a 100 year old temple on the way to Sunkasale

Both Lenin and I woke up early for different reasons. Him to catch sight of wild animals and I for the sunrise. The second day’s trek is relatively easy and we headed to the ancient hoyasala fort, Ballalarayana Durga. We had lunch in the dilapated fort, ruins that remind trekkers like me about the once mighty hoyasala empire.

Some nice perspective shots on the way to Sunkasale
 We also met Mr. Chandrasekar from the Youth Hostel Association, an enthusiastic trekking group from Bangalore. Best thing I liked about them was that they also cleaned up all plastic and non-degradable stuff on the way, ending up with three or four ruck-sacks of waste stuff. In our group, Lenin took on a similar responsibility. Join this group at Totally worth it. The remainder of the trek was pleasant and when we ended up at Sunkasale, we were just in right frame of mind for eating bhajjis and vadas there. You can go to Gottigere to get back to Bangalore. But we ended up spending an additional two hours travelling to Horanadu as KSRTC tickets were only available from there. Had dinner at the famous Annapoorneshwari temple and got into the bus waiting to take us back to Bangalore. Mission Accomplished.

Somewhere on the way up.
P.S: Subbu has now completely recovered from the after effects of his first trek and is eagerly looking forward to the next one...(I hope!)