Darjeeling, Oct 23: The challenge: Negotiating 128 kilometres of lung-busting terrain in the Singalila National Park through four days.
The event: The Himalayan 100-mile stage race and Mount Everest Challenge Marathon with 33 participants from across the globe vying for top honour.
The draw: Quaint villages, vistas of green, unspoilt wilderness and the panoramic view of some of the highest peaks—Mount Everest, Lhotse Kanchenjunga, to take their breath away — that is, if they have any breath to give.
The sylvan circuit from Maneybhanjang to Rimbik via Sandakphu will be pounded by the feet of athletes and trekkers from October 27 when the Delhi-based Himalayan Run and Trek group flags off the race. Into its 14th year, the annual event has always drawn in a fair international participation.
A briefing on the race, to be attended by all the participants, will be held at Mirik on Thursday. “The brief will stress on the importance of leaving the circuit as clean as they found it,” an official said.
Concerned about the impact such a contest might have on the “unspoilt wilderness”, volunteers at regular intervals will ensure participants do not litter. “Anyone found throwing empty bottles or the like will be disqualified immediately,” the official said.
The volunteers have been instructed to comb their respective areas and collect all non-biodegradable items and bring them back to Maneybhanjang. “The objective of the event is not only to promote the sport, but also leave the place cleaner for future,” the official added.
The four-day itinerary will afford little scope for smelling the rhododendrons as the participants, from New Zealand, Japan, Korea, Britain and the US, race 30 km from Maneybhanjang, nestled at 5,000 feet, to Sandakphu at around 13,000 feet on the first day.
An overnight rest at Sandakphu later, it will be another gruelling 44 km trek from Sandakphu to Moleton and back. The third day will be the ultimate test of endurance for the competitors. Eight kilometres through undulations to Phalut and then down a knee-wobbling descent to the roadhead, Rimbik.
The last day will be comparatively mild with a bus reaching the participants to Pamla, from where they will jog another 40 km to come a full circle to Maneybhanjang.
“Speed is only one of the yardsticks to identify the winner,” a tourism official said.
The night halts will be at rest houses, and transport and accommodation will be provided by the state tourism department.