It was in the heart of Kashmir that I came across my first road tunnel. At the best of times they are a scary thing. Long dark and dangerous. Because of massive security I could not get permission from the military to run through the tunnel. There was only one option left open to me. I had to go over the top. Over 2000m up a mountain and a 5 hour hike. It was now about at the halfway mark that I hit the next one. Here I also hit a problem with access, but I was not going to take the long route so eventually I found a way to sneak past the security and make a dash through the tunnel. A scary run and promised to myself I would not do such a stupid thing again.
It had been a long slow climb for most of the morning. The freeway had now split into two lanes, up it went weaving its way to the top of the mountains ahead. Once again I was climbing up the plateau towards Pune which was situated in the central part of southern India, the old British monsoon capital where they would go to escape the coastal heat and rains. I rounded the bend and there it stood in front of me. There was this wide open mouth just staring at me, another damn tunnel. There was no one in sight, fortunately as it was just sheer rock around the opening and that’s it. The only option was the tunnel. Like the other tunnels I had run, this one was a lot older and there was no walkway with a service rail. There was just a small 300 cm wide shelf that was there to drain seepage and rain water out of the tunnel. This one was scary, trucks were whizzing out of the mouth constantly. I looked up at the mountain above, there was no way over. It was the tunnel or nothing.
I entered the tunnel and almost immediately it twisted and there was a small turn to the right. No lights and darkness fell. The tunnel was very old, the walls were not covered in a smooth concrete lining, but jagged I could feel the rough edges of the rock that just jutted out everywhere. The only light that there was, was from the vehicles. I slowly worked my way down the tunnel, traffic whizzing past me, the drag of the big trucks would suck at me as the vortex of air being them would hit me. I walked with my one hand sliding against the wall, feeling the rock, the other I needed to balance as most of the slabs covering the culvert were broken and footing was disappearing all the time as the broken cement covers lay a meter below me in the gulley.
The deeper in I got the darker and more dangerous it became. I could feel the panic rising in me, should I turn around and go back, when I was going to be swatted off my perch by a truck. Terrified I slowly oozed along the shelf, feeling my way in the dark with my arm on the wall and feet looking for holes in the covers. I rounded the bend and all the covers were now gone, trucks seemed to hit this bend all the time and had crushed the cement. I was now walking on a six inch ledge. There was nothing protecting me now, I had to get round the bend and into a more safe position. Now balancing with both arms I shuffled along.
Suddenly something hit me above my eye, a massive glancing blow. I was dazed and lost balance, falling forwards towards this dark pit and serious injury. I managed to twist and hit the ledge. I bounced out wards and into the road and oncoming traffic. I could feel the vibrations of the massive trucks approaching. Disorientated I rolled around in the dark. I could hear the screech of brakes and the deafening sound of the trucks massive air horn as it steamed down on me. With the reflector strips on my ruck-sac the driver must have seen me. I scrambled towards the ledge crawling, reached out and grabbed it pulling with all my strength I curled up into a little ball and managed to roll out of the way as the truck swerved past, missing me by centimetres, causing a massive shock wave of evasive driving and hooting as the vehicles all just missed each other. I just lay curled up shivering, too terrified to move an inch.