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Day 56: Congestion

Ludhiana to Jalandhar, 80.5km

The cars had fallen behind. They were caught in a traffic jam that was not moving. Any attempt to go around would result in them falling off the side of the road and into the ravine below.

From the top of our car, as we were running down the single lane road on the way to Beas, it looking like a mass evacuation. The oncoming traffic comprised tens of thousands of cars driving towards a local Holy event in Rupnagar. It was a road under heavy construction and so the ground was uneven, to boot. We had over eight vehicles in our convoy, six of them were armed guards who have been shadowing us since we entered Punjab.

The unspoken rule for Indian drivers is if there is congestion, bikes and small cars loop around the left and overtake everyone – thereby relieving some of the traffic. They couldn’t do that with us, none of the police would let them. Even if Pat was to run right in front of our lead car, the trusty ol’ red Scorpio, a vehicle could come from either side and clip him – it’s why he tries to stay as left as possible.

When the Punjabi police realised none of the cars had anywhere to go and that Pat was still on the move they all jumped out of their vehicles. Our crew vacated the cars and were in quick pursuit.

The police had formed a ring around him as they tried to navigate the tight corridors caused by the overwhelming number of vehicles. Without missing a beat, Pat ran on the narrow edges, between motorcycles, buses, cars and trucks who were understandably more aggressive with their horns that afternoon. Sikh men in bright orange turbans sitting on the top of the buses and trucks cheered him along – they had no idea what the spectacle was about, but it must have been funny from their point of view to see the police run after him like he was a greyhound that had broken free from his leash.

Josh managed to catch up first and put himself between Pat and the dozens of motorcycles trying to ride past the runners. The former footy player didn’t need to know much Hindi beyond the word for “stop” – usually a wave of the hand would stop most motorcyclists from getting too far ahead, but for the more stubborn riders, Josh would stand his ground and tower over them and then repeat himself again. It worked every time.

Katie caught up next and ran alongside Pat, trying increase the pace of the police. The sooner we got out of that situation, the better.

The journalist Kevin, not usually a runner, was a few paces behind trying to get some semblance of order back. He directed a truck off the middle of the road so cars could continue moving on both sides; the convoy was too far away and Pat had no vehicles covering his behind. After the cars begin trickling through again, he caught up to the entourage which was zooming its way north-west away from the chaos.

We took a look behind us and a tourist bus had flown off the sidewalk and onto the main road. It threatened to flatten the four of us until the Kevin threw out his hands and yelled out for it to stop in broken Hindi. The bus screeched to a halt a metre from him and Pat turned around and barked at him to get back into the car, seemingly unaware the vehicles were left behind a few minutes ago.

Once we got out of the construction zone things went eerily quiet – it was a smooth run to Beas, where stopped for the day.

Later at the hotel, we were gathered around Pat’s dining table eating pizza.

“That was great fun, those are the best moments of this run,” Katie said with a wide grin.

Pat nodded and laughed.

Kevin recalled the bus which came close to steamrolling him.

“Admittedly, that was actually quite fun,” Kevin said. “But let’s not do that again tomorrow, yeah?”

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