Marine Drive, Mumbai

On 27th December 2012 by Rachael Woolston
Marine Drive at sunrise

Marine Drive at sunrise

 

As I flew into Mumbai on Boxing Day, the smog hovered over the city like a thick blanket, and the planes wings looked as if they would clip the tops of the corrugated slum dwellings that hug the side of the runway (Read Behind the Beautiful Forevers:Life Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, Katherine Boo, it’s brilliant).

It was far too hot to run by the time I got to my hotel, so my first acclimatisation training run for the Mumbai Marathon, less than four weeks away, was at 6.15am the next morning.

The marathon itself will start at 5.40am, partly due to the  logistical effort of closing the roads in one of the busiest cities in the world. But also because of the heat.

As I left my guesthouse (the backpacker’s favourite, Sea Shore Hotel) in Colaba, the air was already warm and heavy with the scents of a bustling city.

Mumbai has over 12 million inhabitants, making it the fourth most populated city in the world. But it is a city of extreme contrasts, with Forbes-listed billionaires and beggars making up equal parts of this city.

It has one of the largest slums in the world, Dharavi, but rising high above the corrugated huts and plastic street shelters are the ostentatious homes of a rapidly emerging super class,  such as Mukesh Ambani’s 27 storey home with 3 helipads and parking for 168 cars.

Even without a huge bank balance, I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable as I ran past sleeping homeless families, their bare feet dusty and exposed to the cool pre-dawn air, while my own were shod in Nike Lunar Glides, the cost of the Garmin on my wrist probably able to keep one family fed  for a year.

Running should be accessible to all, it  is free after all. But if you are so hungry you can’t run then that is a different matter.

There are many in Mumbai whose primary focus is simply scraping the money together to eat. But for the rapidly emerging middle class, exercising, and running in particular, has arrived with a bang.

As I arrived on Marine Drive, flanked by some of the most exclusive hotels in the city including the Oberoi, it was crowded with wealthy Mumbians exercising even at 6.30am.

Sikh men in turbans and tennis shoes jogged slowly past conducting business meetings, while sari clad women speed walked past, their generous hips swaying. Taxi drivers and office workers meanwhile  practised yoga or push ups on the sea wall overlooking the Arabian Sea.

And the other sign of rapidly emerging wealth?  The number of dog walkers, resplendent in uniforms.

Great Danes pranced while pugs were pulled reluctantly and wheezily past flea bitten stray dogs, who slept on the grass verges.

If you are going to run anywhere in Mumbai though, Marine Drive is a good bet. It has an even pavement and you don’t get stared at. No one bats an eyelid, even at those practising Kapalabhati noisily as they look out over the bay.

My training was 10 x one mile pace runs with 1 minute 30 sec rest periods. It started off easily enough, but as the sun rose into the sky, hitting the windows in the exclusive enclave of Malabar Hill across the bay, it got harder.

At this time of year, the heat can hit 30 degrees, an incentive if ever there was one  to do a quick marathon time.

Rachael is running the Mumbai Marathon and raising money for Martlets Hospice.

 

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