As this journey has unfolded, I have seen quite a marked change when I enter from one province to the next, the style of dwellings change, dress changes, food changes as well as the look and attitude of the people. Kashmir was the start, I probably had the least interaction with the people here, as language was a huge issue. I found the people very friendly, but in discussion there was always a distinct turn to push the conversation in the political direction trying to find out if I had any views, which I made sure that I was neutral. I also feel that I did not get an accurate cross section of the food as the most of the places that I ate were the roadside low-grade truck stop points which served really cheap stews and chapatti – bread. Most of the guys all wore the distinct robe that looked like the dress that you would see in Pakistan. All in all I feel I did not see the best of the province from where I ran.
On these cold misty mornings as I run through the highland villages, I have seen strange things going on, no matter how cold it is or early, there will be women walking out of their small walled village homes with a large metal pan on their heads and this will be full of cow dung. They will then tip this out onto some straw and make massive dung pancakes. Should a cow happen to pass and drop a steamer, the lady will stop and in an instant scoop it up into her pan.
Yesterday we ran into the village of Sailana. Small but bustling little town, ancient buildings surround a central palace of some 300 years old. The palace has a unique bit of history, it's home to the biggest cacti garden in India and the second biggest in Asia. I stopped here to film with Nick. Nick then joined me on the road to the camp. On running out of town, the streets were crazy with the end of the day traffic, bikes buzzing everywhere.
I am sitting in my tent this evening, it’s been another grind of a day, everyday is hard, as the distance builds up so the harder the days become. It’s not only the running, it’s the behind the scenes of the media that I also have to work at in order to share this journey with all following and ultimately to create awareness for the foundation and the Kids.
Finally after 2 hard days of slogging the sandy desert plains I have been spat out of the valley along the Arivalli Mountains and in front of me lies a massive salt lake, shimmering in the dessert. There is a constant drone of labouring tractor engines as they drag over laden trailers of salt across the open dry pan. Little shapes shimmer in the distant haze. Trails of dust slowly drift and hang across the pan like jet streams as rows of tractors enter the desert in search of their next load of salt. I had hit the pan dead centre, a slight miscalculation, which now meant a whole day's run to get around the lake. By some chance, Nick was doing a navigation recheck and found a small thread of a road leading across the centre of the lake. On further investigation, he found that this road had been build to extract salt in the dry season – what a stroke of good fortune.
It was a great camp site, off the beaten track, hidden in amongst the thorn trees, providing us with much needed protection from the prying eyes of the locals. To the one side of the camp there was this massive Tamarind tree casting a nice veil of shade over us as the desert sun slowly flopped down and rested on the edge of the hills heaving its last blast of heat onto us before it quietly toppled off its perch, leaving us to recover in the cool night air. They day always seems to slow and quieten down at this time as we prepare dinner and then collapse into out tents.
Out of all the chaos that goes on around me every day in India, the only real form of any organisation that is clearly visible is in the farming community. These guys really know what they are up to. The rolling farms are neat, well run and clean. You hardly see any litter in these areas compared to the normal village that one runs through. The rows of vegetables are all perfectly straight. The tractors all looked after; the little hamlets in which they live are neat. This community is in touch with nature, they understand the importance and how dependent they are on it. They know that they have to live in harmony with it. Looking at this community in its isolated pockets as I run across this vast country, I worry and wonder, for how long they are going to be able to manage this fine balance that is being eroded from every side.
This run has been so different from the others; but in a way they all the journeys seem to be like that. Out of all of the journeys, this one is about massive distances of hard slog running over vast distances of just flat plains. Day after day there is no letting up on it. If that’s not bad enough, there is my, lets say, re-occurring internal injury that keeps flaring up. There is one thing that I can tell you, there is nothing scarier than when you suddenly pass blood and you don’t know what is going on, hundreds of kilometres from any where, no help and the only option is that you have to keep on going. After my initial medical tests that ended up with me being wheeled into theatre, we thought it was now sorted, then out of the blue its back.
The last time I saw any elevation of any sort was in Kashmir. On entering the Punjab province, the land just flattened out and that’s how it remained for the past few hundred kilometres. It’s been village after village that is interspersed with well manicured farm lands. There is nothing that is harder than running day after day and there is nothing around you that can distract one from the mundane task of knocking down the kilometres. Then came our chance, on the map we spotted a mountain range and with it a detour that would take me into the edge of the dessert, into wild India away from people and maybe a bit of peace and quiet. It took a massive amount of planning to work out this route, it was 3 days of running on instinct and village help, but that’s why we are out here that makes a journey.
It’s been going better every day; I am getting stronger by the day. Andy and Nick have been taking turns running with me especially through the boring areas to help me push through the day as well as get the mileage up, which we have got to over 50km on some days. The road keeps on changing and so do the vehicles and animals on it. Now it’s the camels, and massive ones at that. They are so graceful as they quietly saunter down the road towing their carts with these massive balloon tyres that float over the sand tracks. Their massive padded feet are like slippers silently pitter-pattering along effortlessly in the heat.