Before leaving for my vacation, this is the exact visual I had in mind (helped by my past visits) when I decided to sign up for the first 5k of my life. A perfect setting for a beginner runner - on vacation and with no stress of a work day. No morning rush, someone else taking care of the cooking and the cleaning and the best part, training to run right in the middle of nature. Perfect! Can’t get any better! At the beginning, I run in fits and starts but get better surprisingly quickly. The cool morning air helps keep my exhaustion level in check and I can run longer without stopping for a break. Every 50 yards or so, I try to spot something that stands out and set that as a marker, mentally, so I can run just a bit longer to reach that mark before I take a breather. Anything would suffice for a marker - a farmhouse, a lamp post, a bunch of potholes, a bend, a farm gate, anything. Anything to keep my gaze ahead and to keep running. I don’t listen to music during my run, not out of choice entirely. So I observe the surroundings and take in the sights, sounds and the smells.
All around me and in different stages of growth are the sugarcane fields, mangroves, coconut groves, vegetable crops, banana groves and corn fields. And something new I noticed this time, a brick kiln. There is a bustle of activity in some of the farms - a crop harvest, irrigation or preparation for the next round of cultivation. But most of the farms are quiet this time of day, when the vegetation is left alone, to do its part.
I pass a few people who are actually heading back from their morning walk just as I am starting out. I also pass people who are on their way to work (in the farms). But walking to work seems to be a rarity nowadays. People prefer to commute faster and so use mass transportation. They go packed in autorickshaws, motorbikes, tractors and vans with music blaring. Maybe all that noise helps them wake up. Some still go the old-fashioned way and are riding on bullock carts and bicycles. For the first kilometre or so, I have to move aside and give way for the vehicles on the road. Thankfully as I go further along, I hardly come across any. Some passers by cast a curious glance, some stare, some stop and say hello and inquire as to who I am. Once, I even got a suggestion from a stranger on how to walk effectively without resorting to running and getting all out of breath. I nod and agree with a polite smile. I try to follow the advice about the walking, but I certainly didn’t stop running :-)
I notice other sentient beings around - turkeys, chickens, goats, dogs and cows. Every time I pass a farmhouse with the turkeys wandering about, they seem agitated and aggressive. I see them rush and peck at the chickens with their feathers all spread out. They seem like such bullies and they scare me so. A couple of times, I stop and move around them making a wide arch just to increase the distance between myself and them and to avoid eye-contact :-) I wonder who is more scared - them or me. And then there are the dogs, plenty of them. The minute I see one, I freeze. They bark at me and in the quiet of the morning, their barks make me feel like an intruder. After the first few days though, I get bold enough to shoo them off. They halt, look at me, then just turn around and get back to the farm. Or they would just get off the path and into the farm even as they see me approaching. Maybe they are getting used to seeing me or maybe I don’t seem all that menacing anymore.
Further down the path, I take in the scenery without being distracted by the people, the animals or the traffic. The fields are framed all around by mountains. When the sunshine hits the ranges, the mountains have a beautiful orange-brown glow to them. On most days though, it is cloudy and the mountains have a grayish-blue hue with patches of green all over and these turn into tall trees as I get closer.
I am also acutely aware of the smells around me. A few of them are strong and offensive, like the vehicle exhaust. But some are earthy and fragrant even, like the smell of sugarcane, wet soil, sugarcane juice, smoke from burnt sugarcane stalks, almost ripe bananas and mangoes. Although, I have to tell you, I still haven’t made up my mind about one of them - I can smell it about 100 yards ahead. It is a big mound of organic fertilizer (a nice way of saying manure), by the edge of a banana plantation. I am glad that it is not a big mound of bags of chemical fertilizer, but I still try to hold my breath until I am way past it.
I am constantly glancing down the road so as to avoid taking a tumble over the obstacles strewn all over the path - dead coconut branches, coconut shells, sugarcane husks, potholes and puddles of water. And of course, I can't help scanning the ground for snakes and other unseen-but-never-the-less-existing crawlies. My suspicion gets a firm hold when I hear the sound of something scurrying between the tall sugarcane stalks. Now my ears are all perked up.
It gets much quieter except for the sound of birds. I don’t see them as much as I hear them - crows, ravens, mynahs, cuckoos, peacocks and other colorful birds that I don't know the names of. Once a while, I hear cowbells, a distant motor pumping water from the farm well, dogs barking, insects chirping, loud chatter of people working in fields afar and water gushing from irrigation pipes (another of those things that are a rare sight, signifying changing times, but this time for the better. It’s giving way to drip-irrigation - a popular and effective system for water conservation). But for these sounds, it is just the scrunch-scrunch of my shoes on the gravel and the sound of my breath. I wish I could capture the stillness, the wonderful sounds of nature and a sense of quietude that arises from such an idyllic setting. It is so easy to forget that I am just a few miles from the madness of traffic and the hustle of a busy town.
Just past the last coconut grove is a jackfruit tree. I see some ponies tethered to it, grazing. It is the end of the trail and there is no other option but to either climb up the mountain or to turn around. For now, I turn around. It feels good to have reached the end of the trail and the feeling of accomplishment spurs me on to run longer on my way back.