Trying to do a Half Marathon in Delhi

4th March

Today was long and hard work. We left the hotel in Shimla at 9am and did not arrive in New Delhi until 11.45pm.

Our local guide was a woman – that was a surprise. Smaller than me, big beautiful brown eyes and smudged red lipstick. She told me that she would not eat anything all day because her stomach hurt. She even refused the boiled sweet that I offered her. I think she said her name was Charylee. Whatever it was, it sounded pretty.

Charylee escorted us onto the Toy Train. It was old, small and quaint, moving very slowly and showing off the panoramic views of the Himalayan mountains. The old railway had many twists and turns and took us through over 100 tunnels on our journey Shimla > Solan, which took three hours. Something about travel seems to make my bladder weak… never have I been so desperate to use a stinky, filthy hole-in-the ground. And never have I been so desperate for hand sanitiser.

We’ve had some incredible culinary experiences on our trip so far. But today, it was a disaster. I wanted something bland and so ordered boiled eggs on toast. It was vile, disgusting, and resulted in a terrible sense of humour failure on my part. If you’ve read previous posts, you’ll know that I’m a spice lover. So why pick something so tasteless? I’m hoping to do a half marathon tomorrow… that’s why.

Two hours of bumpy roads and mad over-taking left our tummies feeling very turned – probably not helped by my bad eggs and Mum’s deep-fried cheese. (Why on earth did she choose that!?)

The train food was ‘interesting’ let’s say. In an attempt to protect my little stomach for tomorrow, I stuck to pre-packaged food. Mum ate a couple of fried things and a few mouthfuls of suspect curry. STOP!!! I told her. She reluctantly stopped. The only unpackaged food that I did eat was a huge naan, wrapped in foil (in an attempt to carb up for tomorrow). Due to the hectic journey, I’m worried that I haven’t fuelled up enough for tomorrow’s race. My carb loading today has consisted of cereal and porridge for brekki, two dodgy eggs, three slices of toast and jam, two slices of banana bread, cereal bar, muffin, four bread sticks, a huge naan and three bananas. Will that be OK? We’ll soon find out…

When arriving in Delhi (late) as you can imagine, the traffic was hellish. After near death Mario Kart experience number sixty-eight, we finally arrived at the extravagant Maidens Hotel. The men were dressed in white and gold and had the kindest of smiles. After checking in, booking a taxi for the race tomorrow at 4.15am, guzzling a complimentary hot cocoa, my head hit the pillow at midnight (too exhausted to even change my clothes). I set my alarm for 3.30am. What am I doing?

5th March

It’s dark. We’re lost. The taxi driver is lost. Nobody knows where the Yamuna Half Marathon start line is and I’m buzzing off my tits, at 4.30am, thanks to very little sleep, an energy drink, a power bar and pack of jelly beans with added electrolytes.

In broken English, the taxi driver suggested we call the race organisers. He offered me his phone. I didn’t think that there would be any point calling – it’s 4.30am for goodness sake! Who on earth would be in the office? Once again, India surprises me – a man answered.

“Cancelled.”

No explanation, just: “cancelled.”

Annoyed, deflated, but still wide-eyed from sugar and additives, I sulked back to the room.

I tried to go back to sleep, but couldn’t. I had stomach cramps instead. “Oh no!” said Mum, trying to be sympathetic. She was about to put her arm around me, but then ended up barging me out of the way instead, so that she could be violently sick in the loo.

My stomach pain passed as quickly as it came on. Mum on the other hand, wasn’t so lucky. Delhi Belly has struck. I repeat. Delhi Belly has struck. This is not a drill.

This meant I was to explore Delhi by myself. Poor Mum, she would have loved to experience it too. I was shown around by a local guide – Bubbu, who looked after me ever so well.

My hopes weren’t all that great for Delhi. ‘Smelly Delhi’ they call it. But wow, it was so much better than I imagined! Even with no sleep and feeling a little lonely without Mum, there were moments where my jaw would ache from smiling ear to ear, feeling so lucky to be seeing this colourful chaos, the madness of it all.

Bubbu and I rode on the back of a Rickshaw (a cart lead by a bike) through tiny backstreets and through the bustling spice market. We rode along a main road too and almost got clipped by other vehicles, including a bus. At first it was a little scary, but then after each near miss, I laughed out loud, feeling truly alive. It was electric. I could feel my heart beating in my head (although that could be due to no sleep). Who cares.

It was a surreal experience to wander around India Gate and see the President’s House. But it’s more of a palace than a house. In fact, it’s more of a city. The President has over 7,000 workers and the house has its own post office, school, hospital, tennis courts, football pitch… and in the garden, it is said to have every type of rose on earth.

I finished off my day by treating myself to an Indian head massage. The coconut oil that they used made my hair greasy for days, but the wonderful experience was worth it. Although, questionable at times. I closed my eyes in sheer relaxation, but then my eyes widened as there was definite boob cupping as he massaged my chest.  I’m pretty sure that’s not allowed, but I was too exhausted and relaxed to care. I thought what the heck, it actually felt quite nice.

Hurrah! Mum was feeling brighter and was going to attempt to join me for dinner. I couldn’t get over how beautiful she looked, even though she had been so sick all day. We ate outside on the garden terrace. The candle lighting and the warm evening air made the whole place feel like paradise.

I can’t believe our Indian adventure is almost at an end.

Before visiting, I thought it was a bit of a cop out when people said, “words cannot describe” in their response to, “so what is India like?”

Now I know what they mean. I don’t think we have the language to describe such decadence and such dirt, such beauty and such pain. My experience of India has been a constant, fighting juxtaposition between heart-fluttering madness and inner peace. It is a country that makes you feel alive. It is a country that makes you feel everything and nothing.

 

 

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The severe dedication to avoid Delhi Belly

1st March

I’m squatting. For once, not squatting over one of India’s famous hole-in-the-ground-toilets, but I’m squatting next to an open fire, helping a lady who is dressed all in blue. I’m helping her make chapatis.

I’m outside the Judge’s Court Hotel, situated in the Heritage Village of Pragpur. My rolling-pin technique isn’t quite as speedy or efficient as the lady in blue, but her white smile is warm and her kind eyes tell me that she is grateful for my help and my company. She doesn’t say much but her aura is peaceful and content, so much so that it is contagious – whilst throwing raw dough onto the orange flame and sitting (squatting) by her side, I feel a calm happiness in my head and through my entire body.

Our dinner that evening was incredible and I definitely over did it. I waddled up to the bedroom feeling like I was about to give birth to triplets. Triplets cushioned by garlic naan and swimming in a platter of vegetarian curry.

2nd March

7 hours drive to Shimla. It’s only 200km away, but it’s all narrow, twisty roads, heading up the mountains. Jesus Christ the driving was hairy. It truly is the real life Mario Kart experience – who doesn’t love over taking on bends? But each time we overtook, we beeped the horn three times so we’ll be safe, right? My knuckles were white for most of those 7 hours (made worse by one too many coffees this morning – stay strong little bladder. Stay strong!) I feel really bad that I don’t know our driver’s name. We’ve been with him these last 5 days, but it would be too awkward to ask now.

Good lord, Shimla is cold. Much colder than I expected. Wearing practically the entire contents of my backpack in an attempt to keep warm, fashion has completely gone out of the window. I currently resemble an unfashionable 14 year old that would be found in a French GCSE text book.

Shimla is beautiful though. It’s much cleaner than any of the other places that we have previously visited. Smoking is prohibited and there is a ‘no spitting’ rule. The roads are steep, the forest trees are tall and the glowing sunset resembles an acryclic painting, painted by a talented optimist.

3rd March

Today I saw a girl get attacked by a monkey. She wasn’t hurt, so it’s OK that I laughed, right?

A temple visit and then some more monkey shenanigans, I later purchased the best thing since sliced bread – a Yak wool scarf from a kooky little Tibetan charity shop. #FreeTibet !!!

After mopping up my plate of black dahl with fresh chapati, both my tongue and my stomach reached a level of satisfaction so much higher than is possible with the foods back at home. I’m being daring with trying new flavours and spices (I love hot food), however, I’m being extremely cautious of all uncooked foods – especially fruit and veg. And even though I’m the gelato queen, after reading up on food safety in India, I’m staying away from ice-cream too. And it goes without saying – bottled water, always bottled water (and make sure it’s sealed! Sometimes they have been sneakily refilled and sold on).

Upon recommendation from a local, I went to Baljeet bakery to try one of their famous ‘Barfis.’ I opted for ‘coconut barfi.’ It was sweet and delicious but unfortunately the after-taste took a dramatic turn, resembling what I can only describe as ‘sour milk.’ I quickly rummaged for a soft mint to try and mask the taste of stale vomit in my mouth. Note for next time: BARFI = BARF. (Although I would like to brag that for someone who usually has a sensitive stomach, I manned it out, wasn’t actually sick, and therefore feel like an invincible warrior).

7 days in. Touch wood, Delhi belly has not yet arrived. However, my intestines are having a new experience. For example, they love love loved a fragrant pea, yogurt and cashew nut curry that I ate on March 1st, they loved it so much, they did not hesitate to remind me of that fragrance all throughout March 2nd. And the 3rd.

BUT I’M NOT ILL YET SO YAY ME.

Time for rest. Tomorrow is a full travel day to New Delhi. And then the next morning, I might do a half marathon. Because, well why not?

A beautiful old man, stray dogs and snow-peaked mountains

I paid a grand total of 10 Indian rupees (about 12p) for a roadside chai tea masala (with extra ginger please!) The cardamom circled my tongue and went down a treat. As we drank the sweet tea in little paper cups, under the star light – we were joined by an old man, who proudly told us that he was 70 years old.

His smile was crooked and his voice was soft and sounded like a nightingale’s song. After speaking with us for a maximum of 30 seconds, he touched my head and gave me his blessing. He then said, “tomorrow, you be here.”

“No, I’m sorry. We leave Amritsar tomorrow.”

“No, tomorrow, you be here.”

“No, sorry. We leave and go to Dharamshala tomorrow.”

“No, tomorrow you be here.”

He really wasn’t getting it, was he?

But before the 70 year old man got on his scooter and rode off into the moonlit side road in central Amristar, he touched my head once more, blessed my precious life, and said for the final time, “Tomorrow, you will be here.” He tapped his heart whilst saying this. “You will always be with me here.”

27th February

Today we venture further north to Dharamshala. It is in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains and it is a place both Mum and I are struggling to say. It is supposed to be Dar-am-shall-ah, but so far it has been Duh-haram, D-haram-salla, Daram-sall-shalla…

Yesterday Mum told Gobind, “We’re going to Dar-am-shlow-mo tomorrow.” — That is definitely not correct.

Dharamshala, Dharamshala, Dharamshala. We practice and laugh.

After a five hour drive, we arrived at our hotel in between upper Dharamshala and lower Dharamshala. I guess you could call it, ‘middle’ Dharamshala. (Man, I’ve said Dharamshala too much). It’s almost 3,000ft above sea-level and apart from the loud, barking dogs, it’s rather quiet. The place we are staying at seems more like a house than a hotel – it’s old Indian style – quite grand but in a ‘could-definitely-do-with-a-lick-of-paint’ kind of way.

We spent the afternoon hiking to upper Dharamshala. Mum got a bit cranky and did not appreciate my springy, hiking enthusiasm.

The nights are cold. Freezing in fact. After an Indian feast I returned to the chilly room to find that a kind member of staff had put a hot water bottle in my bed. Ah, they know the way to my heart.

***

February 28th saw us trek a different, more beautiful way to upper Dharamshala. We walked amongst yellow mustard flowers with splendid mountain views, admiring their snowy peaks. We were privileged to visit many temples and learn about 3 million facts regarding His Holiness The Dalai Lama (who lives in exile there). Our guide liked facts. He liked facts a lot.

***

Ever had rice pudding but instead of rice, it’s noodles? I have. Dinner was an intriguing, triumphant feast once again. The staff kept coming out with more and more, loading your plate with fabulous flavours. I thought it was fabulous anyway, however, a British man who sat opposite me would disagree. I soon learned that his name was Stan (his wife Barbara enjoyed saying his name after every sentence).

“I want fish. Where’s the fish?”

“There’s no fish, Stan.”

1st March

It was a silly idea to attempt a run really. After about 6 strides, 4 stray dogs were jumping up at me. They were skinny and looked hungry. I had a mild heart attack but did my best to stay calm. It took me right back to last year, in Indonesia and Thailand, when I had some awful experiences being alone with stray dogs. Breathe. Breathe. Close the gate. Of course, they jump over the gate. Breathe. Breathe. Back in the room. Alive. All good.

We venture to Pragpur today and will be staying in a place called The Judge’s Court. It’s in a Heritage Village and has a rich history. Founded about 3 centuries ago, Pragpur has held onto the essence of an earlier era – unchanged shops, cobbled streets, ornamental village tank, mud plastered and slate roofed houses. I hear that The Judge’s Court will be grand and have that ‘croquet on the lawn’ and ‘more tea Ma’am?’ kind of feel.