Friday, October 12, 2012

Lions, and Tigers, and Bears! Oh my!

Many of you have been wondering, where's SeekingBostonMarathon been?  Since recapping a great race at the Denver Rock and Roll Half Marathon and getting the news that I'm heading back to the dance (for my third Boston Marathon,) I'm fallen off the map.  I didn't exactly fall off the map, but fell to the other side of the world.  SeekingBoston sought out SeekingIndia.

Here at SBM, we span the globe looking for stories and new places to lace up my shoes (dive in the pool, or hop on the bike.)  Last week took me to Gurgaon, India for work.  Not Indiana...not Indianapolis, but India, India.  An American Indian traveling to Hindu India.  Talk about a stranger in a strange land.  I've wanted to keep some level of training in my supposed "off season" (there is no such thing.) Even though the trip was for work, I packed my run and swim gear expecting to log miles on another continent.  From Denver it's a 20 hour flight and an eleven and a half hour time zone difference.  My day is their night.
Mr. Ty at Taj Mahal

This was a once in a lifetime experience, I had to share.  Prior to heading out the door, my wife casually asked, "don't you have to get some shots or something for that?"  "No," I muttered either not hearing the question or subliminally thinking it was just another plane trip.  I left Denver's airport early evening on a Sunday and arrived to Delhi around 12:30 AM early Tuesday morning.  After grabbing my bags and a routine trip through customs, I walked outside looking for my name on a driver's sign.  My sleep was mixed at best on the two legs to Frankfurt then onto Delhi.  On the first hop, I sat next to a free-spirit gray-haired pony-tailed hippie from Hawaii.  He didn't believe in bathing or deodorant...perhaps preparing me for the culture I'd encounter, but not great for sleeping. 

He spoke about peace, Karma, and happiness but contradicted himself by repeatedly punching his video monitor for not working.  Thanks dude for the peaceful flight.  Back to the arrival part of the story.  After finding the driver, we worked our way to the car and outdoors I saw soldiers with serious weapons (my Playstation-educated teenage boys would know
My bathroom at the Leela
what kind of guns there were.  I did not.)  The thick evening air had a sense of heat and an odor of wood burning.  I'd later find out that some of this was certainly attributed to the poor who cooked outside their shanty tents.  I assumed it was for cooking and not "smores" or trying to stay warm.  India is Africa kind of hot.

I arrived at the Leela Keminsky Gurgaon hotel around two in the morning.  I quickly found that the hotel (and later throughout the trip) that English was a common language and the rest of the check-in process was not much different than any other trip except that the Marriott Courtyard does not wait on you "hand and foot."  The room lived up to the "five star" billing.   I would later get upgraded to an apartment due to veneer construction on my floor.  I mention veneer because that requires hundreds of tiny nail taps which interfered with my Tuesday afternoon nap.
They must be Democrats

My first day was spent mainly trying to adjust to the timezone, checking out one of the hotel's restaurants, and heading over to the Ambience Mall.  The mall was massive and could have been a mall anywhere in the U.S. with many of the same things I could buy at home except I dont' wear Van Huesen or Levi's (not that there's anything wrong with that.)  The two most apparent differences were the couple hundred people in the atrium tuning into the Pakistan Cricket game (India had already been eliminated in the tournament and apparently the two don't like each other) and the absence of meat.  Yes, there was a McDonalds, but this was "veggieland."  The mall was also packed as it was Gandhi's birthday--a national holiday.  Just like the U.S. families would flock to the mall on holiday--India was apparently no different.

As the sun was getting close to set, I checked with the desk for possible run routes from the hotel.  With a smile as big as the Ganges River (but not nearly as foul,) she proceeded to offer suggestions, but something told me she didn't know what I was asking for.  "Why would you want to run Mr. Ty if nothing were chasing you," was the cartoon bubble above her head sharing her unspoken thoughts.  Pulling into the hotel were more men with guns and the locals outside the hotel and mall didn't look like the safe comforts of suburbia U.S.A.  I put the notion of an outdoor run on hold and opted for the dreadmill in the hotel.  The gym was awesome and had a great panoramic view of some Gurgaon farmlands and trees.  My first eight kilometers on my third continent.

Amarvilas hotel in Agra
As I started my first of three days of meetings in our development offices in Gurgaon, I shared the fact that I got a "run in" with my CEO.  He got a shocked look on his face and said, "you didn't run outside did you???"  He explained the the plethora of stray dogs in the city would no doubt have chased me.  I am somewhat fast and can run far, but I don't want to know what they'd do if they caught me. #rabies  There were few sidewalks near my hotel and the traffic and driving is insane.  The roads were not designed for cars and apparently, they've only shown up on the landscape in the last ten years.  There is no concept of lanes and I counted perhaps five stoplights in the massive cities I visited. This put the "running outside" notion to bed.

Mopeds, rickshaws, three wheelers, motorcycles, pedestrians, and cars all start and stop inching along within inches of each other...with lots of honking.  The craziest thing is no one gets pissed.  In America, if half the stuff that happens on the streets of Delhi happened there would be yelling, thrusting of the middle finger, or worse.  The first indication that this is a very calm and happy community. #noroadrage

Aside from the craziness on the road, my other observations about the city;
Look closely and you can spot a monkey

1)  Massive poverty.  Wealth seems to be a very small percentage of people.  Families build makeshift homes consisting of branches and tarp on any piece of sidewalk they can squat on.  They cook over an open fire.
2)  #WildAnimalPark  I've seen monkeys at the zoo, but not scaling buildings wild in my neighborhood.  Cows and buffalo roam the streets or graze on roadside grass.  Wild pigs were eating garbage outside the conference room window below where we slung through powerpoint and heated discussions (I'm sure there's a metaphor there.)  Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh my!  Except it was Monkeys, and cows, and pigs, and stray dogs! Oh my!
3)  Freakishly nice people with (slumdog) millionaire smiles.
4)  Amazing food.  I ate well and have a new appreciation for Indian food.  Just like Mexican food, I don't think I could eat it too many days in a row.  Three seems to be my limit.
5)  Don't drink the water.  Two of my travel mates did listen to their wives and had shots, swallowed malaria pills everyday and still got sick.  I did not.  Knock on wood.  No "Delhi belly" for me.
6)  Conservative culture.  This is not Vegas or Tel Aviv.  One of the guys I was traveling with was from New Jersey.  "Mr. Mike" went to hug an employee with appreciation and she jumped three feet away.  It looked like she was hit with a cattle prod.  They have a very serious definition of "personal space."
7)  They like their American music.  I captured some big video of an Indian band's version of Pink Floyd. The odd part is the same set would include a John Denver tune.  They got it half right.

Wanting to get in at least a duathlon, I ventured into the Leela pool for a mile (or kilometer swim.)  Keeping the "no water" rule in mind, I pursed my lips as much as I could to try and avoid ingesting the pool water.  It reminded me of my step dad, Bob.  When he was a kid, he and his buddies built a "cocktail" out of anything that could find in a bottle.  They were going to send it to the German Kaiser during World War I.  As Bob corked the juice, it squirted right into his mouth. I've carried around a mental image my whole life of some kind of black tar bug juice that he spit out.  It was a great pool and great to notch some water kilometers, but don't drink the water.
The hotel pool

After three nights in Gurgaon, we headed out in a small bus to Agra to visit one of the seven wonders of the world, the Taj Majal.  Arriving late, we stopped for dinner at the Amarvilas in Agra which is ranked in the top four hotels in Asia.  Asia is a big place, so I'm thinking this might be kinda nice.  Once again there were armed guards walking along the walls. 

Between the poverty streets crawling with monkeys and this palace, I couldn't help but think I was either in a movie (Indiana Jones and the like) or one of my son's video games.  Sticking with the James Bond theme, I ordered a Gin (I know he drinks Vodka) Martini along with the others.  At this point, we started to feel guilty our wives were at home dealing with teenager homework vs. gazing at the $1,000 a night hotel or grazing on the succulent salmon.  This part did not suck.  We did NOT plunk down the money to stay there, but stayed at the more reasonable (yet still nice) accommodations at the Trident hotel.
Your typical Delhi Bike

I can't say I knew what to expect when visiting the Taj Majal the next day other than to say it's bizarre seeing an image in real life you've seen hundreds of times over your life no larger than four inches by four inches in print.  I can only compare this to seeing the Statue of Liberty or Mount Rushmore for the first time. While it was October, it was still quite hot and we all commented how we were glad we didn't visit in July.  The mainly marble marvel was massive up front and I couldn't help but wonder how they built this 400 years ago.  Our tour guide would tell us it would take over 22 years and 20,000 workers for this gift from the Shah to his wife.  I felt like crap as the "Crate and Barrel" gift certificate to my spouse seemed to pale in comparison.  (Note to self, step up the gift game.)  I tuned in my Garmin for a mile "walk" around the Taj.  Much to my disappointment, the Garmin upload "failed"  Apparently, they can track my neighborhood, but it's confused with another continent.  Damn you Garmin!  I felt fortunate to have been able to witness this.
Joe Tourist

We spent Saturday night back in Delhi looking for night life to entertain the client, but there was none to be found.  A pool party at a hotel had nothing but drinks and a pool. Our host was able to talk our way into the hotel's bar which required  "couples only" entrants.  Locals looked at us with curiosity or didn't look at all.  The clients had fun consuming adult beverages and dancing.  At one point, someone chanted "no Americano" from the top of the crowded bar...we left shortly after that.
Dogs everywhere without owners, but never saw a cat

A tradition at our office in Gurgaon
We played "tourist" on Sunday checking out a few more local sights in Delhi, snapping hundreds of pictures and shopping for gifts to bring back home.  Being "alpha males" we started to long for the comforts of home and NFL Sunday that would be starting by the time we boarded our plane Sunday night around 11 PM.  Just like Dorothy quipped Lions, and Tigers, and Bears! Oh My! she also quipped, "there's no place like home."  Glad to be back and glad to have had the experience.

By the numbers:

I don't have plans for 50 marathons in 50 states, but I do have runs (not mary's) on three of seven continents.  That leaves me with six other continent marathons and only four other continental runs to go.  More closer to home?  Six weeks and I begin the 500+ mile plan to run 26.2 in Boston.  Mr. Ty is going back to Boston.

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Average guy w/ an above average appetite for marathon racing and triathlons. Ran my 5th Boston in '15. 3:21, 1:29, 19:21 PR;full/half/5K Opinions & wit are mine