Arriving in India

Stepping off the plane into the Sunshine of Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport , it seemed i’d come a very long way since signing up to run in the 100 mile Himalayan Stage Race six months ago and I don’t just mean the 30 hours of travel it had taken to get there.

I’d put in over 1000 miles of preparation and been through the highs and lows and ups and downs of training and injury…but now I was actually here.

Nothing really prepares you for arrival in India, the luxury of the new terminal 3 building with its plush carpets and high tech systems, is in extreme contrast with the iconically old fashioned taxis waiting outside.

Business men in suits stand side by side with sandled travellers and the locals with their brightly coloured bundles wrapped in  fabulous fabric and tied with the most complex and elaborate knot work, waiting for the transfer bus to terminal one.  When it finally arrives there’s a rush to climb on board, its standing room only at the front while the back is piled high with the colourful packages.

Terminal one is a short ride away and after checking in, there is just time to find somewhere quiet to enjoy an iced raspberry tea and get my journal upto date before joining the other runners. At our gate it seems that half the flight are runners and they are already trading stories of other running adventures.

As I take my seat, I see the familiar face of Henda Salmeron a few rows down. We’ve never met in person, but have sent each other the odd email about the run and I get the oddest feeling that we are going to get on fabulously.

I’m on the wrong side of the plane to fully appreciate it, but during the flight we are treated to our first glimpses of Mount Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and Kanchenjunga towering above the clouds.

Three hours north of Delhi, we arrive in Bagdogra, where our bags are loaded onto the roofs of 3 ancient and rusting coaches that will take us further north still into the Himalya. (Side note: We’re told in India, it’s not ‘the Himalayas’, but instead, Him-a-lia, meaning “abode of snow” in Sanskrit.)

The road up to Mirik starts out about 3 lanes wide and is unmarked, yet at times we have 5 cars spread across it, sometimes all going one way other times other going in opposite directions. And most of the time there are not just individual cows but whole herds of cows slowly wandering along the roadside. These ‘holy cows’ seem oblivious to the traffic, noise and people around them, as if in a world of their own. I’d sat down next to Henda on the bus and she doesn’t seem too bothered by the traffic madness around us either, but then she tells me she’s been in India a few days and assures me that this is all quite normal.

When we arrive in Mirik there is warm tea and soup to meet us and now that the travel is over, i can finally start to think about sleep. I’ll be sharing my room with a runner called Paul from Newbury, he’s about the same age and seems to be a really nice guy.

Maybe tomorrow i can start to turn my mind to running…

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