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Hills’ first marathon a success
Run for peace brings Darjeeling on road

Darjeeling, Jan. 12: Darjeeling came to a standstill this morning, but this time 17-year-old Raksha and her mother Asha were not confined indoors.

They were out on the streets at 7am and running in the first-of-its-kind marathon in the hills.

After the prolonged statehood agitation that had crippled the hill town last year, Darjeeling put on its running shoes for peace and harmony.

Raksha and Asha Tamang were among the 2,000 participants from the hill town and around the country who braved the cold — 10-12°C — and lined up at the starting point of the first Amway Darjeeling Police Marathon — Let’s Run for Peace.

The 13km run was held in association with The Telegraph.

As the run was held on the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda, Swami Nityasatyananda, secretary of Darjeeling’s Ramkrishna Mission Nivedita Educational and Cultural Research Centre, was present at the prize-giving ceremony at Chowrasta. “On seeing such enthusiastic participation, I am reminded of a quote of Swamiji. ‘Be a hero, always say I have no fear’,” the monk said.

Toddlers to teenagers, homemakers to honchos, athletes to the aged, schoolchildren to soccer stars and the odd starlet, everyone was there for Sunday morning’s run to “give peace a chance” as The Beatles would have put it.

About 2,000 people ran and an equal number cheered them. The weather gods allowed for a clear, sunny sky.

“We just had to be here today. My mother and I wanted to be part of this historic run together,” said a beaming Raksha, a Class X student of Sukhiapokhri High School.

Some came wrapped in mufflers, others in thick woollens and some came in just T-shirts.

But everyone was in sneakers and brimming with enthusiasm when they assembled at Ghoombhanjyang, just outside the Ghoom railway station.

In August, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha had called stay-at-home protests and the people had stayed in.

While the seasoned runners did their stretches in a corner, the late-risers were seen trying to get alert with steaming cups of tea.

Ministers Madan Mitra and Gautam Deb were not there at the starting line. But Bhaichung Bhutia was.

At 9.15am, after the Darjeeling police band played the national anthem, former Indian football captain Bhaichung let loose a bunch of Tri-colour balloons to loud cheers and flagged off the marathon.

Although 13km is much shorter than the official marathon distance of 42.19km, the organisers felt that a 42km run on hilly terrain would have been daunting.

Each participant was given a white T-shirt. The route was lined with tourists and local people who clapped and cheered the participants.

Bhaichung, in a navy blue tracksuit gifted by the police, did not run but encouraged the runners. “It is great to see such a massive turnout. I hope the marathon spreads to Sikkim and other northeast states,” he told Metro while posing for photographs.

The behind-the-scenes team was led by Kunal Aggarwal, superintendent of police, Darjeeling.

Dressed in a tracksuit identical to Bhaichung’s, he made sure the run was completed without a glitch. “We are overwhelmed by the response. We were hoping to attract about 800 people but the turnout of 2,000 has taken us by surprise. This has motivated us to organise the marathon next year, in a bigger and better way.”

In all, 1,500 men and 500 women from Bengal, Assam, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Sikkim and Karnataka participated.

The runners started from Ghoombhanjyang and passed Ghoom station through Sukhia Road, Tenzing Norgay Road (NH55), 18th Lebong Cart Road, Birch Hill Road, Mall Road, past the zoo and ended the run at Chowrasta — the main square of the town.

Hari Shankar Sharma, 30, from Rajasthan was the first to cross the finishing line among the men. He completed the run in 41 minutes. Shyamali Singh from Asansol was first in the female category.

Sharma wrapped himself up in a thick blanket as soon as he finished, taking it off only when he was called to receive the medal. He ran the marathon in Calcutta on January 5. It is there that he learnt about the Darjeeling event and took a train to the hill town.

“In recent times, Darjeeling has been in the news for all the wrong reasons but I hope today’s marathon sends a strong signal that the people of Darjeeling want nothing but peace,” Bhaichung said after the prize distribution.