It was supposed to be the Surat Night Marathon (on 24th Feb), but they postponed it by a month on account of the PM’s visit to town. But more on this in the next post. This one is on the Bharuch Half Marathon & I will not digress.
Now, Bharuch has many fond memories for us. I stayed here for over 5 years & still recall those days. Bharuch is also the place the wife landed in after marriage. After the running bug bit her, she often wondered why did Bharuch not have any running event. If you who have never been to Bharuch, let me talk a bit about its geography. It is bounded by the NH-8 on the east, Narmada river on the South & Bharuch-Dahej road (actually a State Highway) on the North. The Broad Gauge (Delhi-Mumbai) railway line divides the town into the old city (western part) & the new city (eastern part). There are two main roads in Bharuch – Zadeshwar/Maktampur Road from NH-8 to Railway Station & the Station Road, that moves westwards from the Railway Station & merges with the Bharuch-Dahej road (BDR for the remaining of this post). The Golden Bridge, constructed some 130 odd years back, connects Bharuch to its twin city of Ankleshwar. In Bharuch, if you move 5 KM in any direction you are no longer in Bharuch.
And this brings us to the reason why I believed that Bharuch could not conduct a decent HM. The Zadeshwar Road is around 5 KM long. The Station Road (up to Jambusar Chokdi) is not only just 4.5 KM in length but also quite narrow. BDR is a busy route with heavy vehicles plying to/from the industrial hub at Dahej. The only probable HM route in Bharuch would have been through the Zadeshwar Road & taking the runners over Golden Bridge to Ankleshwar & back. But the bridge is so old that just 300 runners (maybe even lower) may bring it crashing down.
So it was a big surprise when I saw on Whatsapp that a “Half Marathon” was being organized in Bharuch. Last year (if the memory serves me right) too there was a “5 KM Marathon” conducted in Bharuch. Still, Bharuch being a much loved town, I went to the event website & found that it was really a 21.1 KM Half Marathon. Also that it was the day registrations closed. Also that the option of registering online was not available (unbelievable but true). Fortunately, the organisers were cooperative enough to accept our registration details over email & registered us for the event (wife & I doing the 10K & the daughter 3K).
The organisers planned the HM route very smartly. Starting from Dudhdhara Dairy, the runners moved via Shital Cirlce to Zadeshwar Chokdi, moved to NH-8 & back to the start point via ABC Chokdi, which added to around half the distance. While any other organizer would have gone for a double loop, here the runners were made to turn around & return to the start point. This effectively saved the HM runners from running into the 10K & 3K participants. Flyovers have come up at Zadeshwar Chokdi & GNFC Chokdi & the stretch in between has been fenced off with a Service Road on both sides for local vehicles. Thus, the organisers were able to effectively use the NH-8 for the HM. This event was primarily for the police personnel which ensured very effective route management, something that is never seen in Ahmedabad or Baroda. The 10K runners ran till the Sai Baba temple on Zadeshwar road & turned back. I know this stretch like the back of my hand, having resided along this route during my stay in Bharuch. Of course, the three speed breakers between the start point & Shital Circle have come up after I moved out!
The organisers were an event management firm from Surat which gave some confidence. But I opted to run only the 10K as this was the first time such an event was being held in Bharuch. It was a good decision, as I realized after the event. The organisers had planned for some 250 odd participants but the response (primarily from the schools) was overwhelming & the final tally was 3 times this figure. And they ran out of bibs. But they had them ready the next day & Jagdish was kind enough to collect ours. We reached Bharuch at 5:15 AM & he was soon with us to hand over our bibs on the BDR. While we were waiting on the road, a policeman posted there asked us to move away as there was a “Marathon” taking place. Fortunately, Jagdish arrived almost immediately & the cop was a relieved person. As was I, for this showed that the route management was going to be excellent. Which it turned out to be & I did not encounter any vehicle during the run.
I was expecting to bump into many acquaintances at the event but met only Ashesh Mehta. It was a good 10 years since I had left Bharuch & maybe I didn’t recognize others who were there. I also did not find too many old men (or veterans) at the venue. May be I could end up a respectable finisher this time! Another good part of the event was the late start which helped to achieve a timely flag off. It was a big crowd that had turned up for the 10K, more than I had expected in a small town like Bharuch. It appeared that the event had been publicised very well. It took almost a KM (till Shital Circle) to get ahead of the crowd. Turning around, we come to Kasak where I had a fall long back & fractured my wrist. This run was going to bring back many old memories. A sure sign of middle age!
Climbing up & getting ahead, I reach the GEB office on Maktampur Road. When I first moved to Bharuch I stayed right behind it, in Rachana Nagar. A service provider (don’t expect further details!) stayed across from my house & I had the pleasure of often hosting friends from Baroda here. Bharuch had two other advantages apart from this. One, Bharuch is home to the best Khari Seeng (salted groundnut) & we get it many flavours. Sargam Seeng Centre at Shalimar Complex (Station Road) situated across the road from our office was a favorite. It offered all sorts of masala flavours (to go along with the liquor) as well as fruits & chocolate (for other occasions). Two, while eating out (practically every day of bachelorhood) non-veg was economical compared to the veg option. Mind you, I am not even speaking about the dhabas on the highway (NH-8 being just 5 KM from my place!). No wonder, it was a much liked place (by friends & self).
Shalimar Complex was also where Shalimar Cinema was located. It was a single screen movie hall & I watched a couple of movies here – Saathiya (a really good one) & Tango Charlie which had Bobby Deol playing a soldier. I don’t think a worse movie has ever been made & this includes Sooryavansham (telecast on the Sony network every other day). I could not endure it even up to the interval. It helped that a ticket at Shalimar still cost something around Rs. 10!!!
The town hasn’t changed much except for the roads being widened & the three speed breakers on old NH-8. At least till the end of Maktampur Road. Where I crossed the wife. It is always the same story. I start much later & slower but manage to get ahead of her soon. Crossing her I came across a huge building where there used to be fields. But unlike Baroda, it was not concrete conquering the green. The Navsari Agriculture University has come up with a campus here. There have been developments other than the speed breakers too!
Moving forward we reach Rang Complex, which housed the Rang Multiplex (subsequently renamed Inox). We have watched a few movies here, major reason being it was walking distance from the house. The fastest runners have now turned around & have started crossing us. All of them are young kids going the other way, and none having a paunch & greying/disappearing hair. If I speed up I may end with a more than respectable finish! Picking up a bottle of water (hydration provision at Bharuch was the best I have ever seen), I cross Tulsidham & come across Hill View Apts. We spent almost 2 years here. Wilhelm Singh also stayed here for some time before he moved out of Bharuch. A good & willing cook, we had a good time here (in Bharuch too, dry laws exist only on paper) during my wife’s long absences.
Monsoons were a difficult period in Bharuch with the power supply being disrupted often. It was unbearable during 2006 when the FIFA world cup was being played. The GEB guys would be at work across the road (from Hill View) trying to restore the supply & I would be standing with them anxiously. One of the GEB technicians actually asked me to relax at home with the offer that if the supply did not resume in half an hour I could watch the match at his home!! Later, I was not sure if that was the motivation to finish the task in double quick time…
The Ayurvedic hospital opposite Hill View still exists. Western influence is still some way off Bharuch, despite the multiplexes coming up & the Shalimar Cinema now being a Big Bazaar outlet. But as long as there is Khari Seeng here, all is well. Shriniketan Township too stands where it used to. I stayed here during my last year in Bharuch. I have stayed in 4 different houses during my 5 years in Bharuch. All the time, moving closer to NH-8 and Baroda. But not this time. A little after Shriniketan, we turn around near the Sai Baba temple. I have crossed a few veterans but found no one coming the other way. I have been running faster than usual & not sure whether I can sustain till the end.
Coming back to Tulsidham, I come across the wife which means I have run really fast. Near the Rang Multiplex, a volunteer was standing with a tray filled with Dairy Milk. I can eat a chocolate any time of the day. At a running event where one came across only water being served, I had to have it. I picked up one expecting more further along the route. While hydration was sufficiently provided for, there were no fueling arrangements (except at this point) or any ORS/Enerzal. Even for the HM. This is one area that the organisers need to improve upon. With big corporates sponsoring the event, surely this can be managed within the budget.
I usually wear a cap during the long runs which helps in absorbing the sweat & also keep cool. But not here, this being just a 10K. But Bharuch is not cold even during winters & we had a late start. I poured some water on the head & the first trickle down the neck was very warm. A chocolate inside & a cool head above, I was feeling better. Coming back to Kasak circle, I found that a photographer had been positioned here. Sadly, while scanning the official photographs on the website, I found he hadn’t clicked any of mine. We turn at the Shital Circle for the last stretch & I give it all, finishing in a little over an hour. Fastest I have ever run this distance!
Upon reaching the venue, I immediately reached for the water but the volunteer was insistent on my getting the medal first. Unable to convince him, I queued up for the medal. While receiving the food packed & a bottle of water, I asked for another one but was told that “there’s only one bottle in the package”. Difficult to believe that the organisers were from Surat! But I will leave it to the daughter for the feedback on post-run arrangements. The first thing she said to her mom was “There is no respect for the 3K runners. We got neither a medal nor anything to eat or drink”. While everything else was good, this was the only area where the organisers faltered. Maybe it was on account of participation exceeding expectations. But if you cannot feed the runners or give them some water after they have finished their run, the participants are bound to feel cheated. Hope they are better prepared next time.
I had changed my jersey before proceeding to have a bite & some post-run hydration (arranged by self away from the venue), when they announced the winners of 10K. I checked my Bib No. & found that I was up there too. A podium is as respectable a finish as it can get. And another indelible memory was created in Bharuch!