Would you consider traveling to India risky or not? Well, let me take you on a journey to the very heart of Bombay. As I love to explore exciting distant places, I asked myself in 2014, why not run a Marathon right where Bollywood movies come to life. So I did a short research and quickly came to the conclusion, yes, I'll do it. It took me 18 months of planning and applying for a Visa to finally make my move, all alone.
Prior to that I've already learned from my family members that it's quite dangerous for a woman to travel there and she'd need to stay in the hotel or to have a bodyguard while I would run the 42k, so I decided to travel alone , which was a brave decision as it later turned out. As soons as I arrived at the luxurious Mumbai Airport, in January 2016, I've already been ripped off by a cab driver whom I needed to pay 5 times the amount of the price I'd normally have to pay to get to the center of Bombay. It was a mistake booking a cheap hotel with low security standards right behind the Chatrapati Shivagi Terminus. The atmosphere however, was very special and full of life, with everybody busily hustling and working to stay alive. The harsh poverty was of course not to be overseen, but it didn't bother me at all as I prefer that over the prosperous, ignorant, yuppies as for example in Düsseldorf or New York.
My most important contact persons turned out to be among many others, Milind Soman, Vivek Soni, Sonia Kulkarni and Venkatraman Pichumani who invited me to the India Running Summit where I met special guests like Scott Jurek for example.
The wonderful thing about India is that people are truly passionate about what they do and in running they do respect every successful runner, as in my case they had already built a tiny Don Marathon fan community who were looking forward to my visit and they even asked me for autopgraphs or signed shirts.
The streets of Mumbai are truly vibrant and full of excitement waiting for you to experience the adventure of your life. The joy in their eyes is however hard work for them as they are working at least 12 hours a day without a day off, except for emergency cases. So in other words, most of them have never been on a holiday abroad, but you wouldn't believe that they are actually happier than you.
Hard work, humbleness and gratefulness is the key not to become a greedy person.
Then there was another flattering incident as Sonia Kulkarni somehow organized an interview for me with Procam International in the World Trade Center, where the Marathon Expo took place. This means she managed to convey them to treat me like a celebrity.
Good mood is in the air and it's contagious. As I've learned from my great friend Vivek who showed me around, that there are of course certain areas which you shouldn't go to alone, plus there are people who will try to rip you off, so you gotta stay alert and literally watch your back. As in my case, when I was driven to my hotel by Sonia as I entered I could suddenly sense a guy in my back who followed me right into the lobby
and he simply didn't wanna go away, constantly begging me for something, mumbling in Hindi and he was obviously on drugs. So I really had to beg the receptionist to tell the guy to go away. Then there was the blood on the street spread all over across a few hundred meters which was more than certain human blood.
On the other hand there was Akash Mall who said: "If you are in trouble just knock on my door" as he happened to also stay in the Sea Lord Hotel.
Every conversation I had in or outside that hotel was truly joyful and unforgettable. I could really feel deep respect when they were talking to me unlike in all other countries I've been to, where I could really smell fake politeness behind their face masks. Then there was the gorgeous time I spent with my dear friend Vivek Soni who even took me to the tiny office of his company where we enjoyed lunch after which he showed me the neighborhood where he advised me no to go to on my own.
The last night before the race something totally crazy happened when somebody suddenly knocked at my door in the hotel after midnight and I was immediately sure this is danger, no joke and not a visitor. So within tenths of a second I knew the heat is on and that my life might possibly be in trouble so I loudly replied, "who is it?". I just didn't wanna show any fear, but there actually was no fear, because I was pumped with adrenaline and some sort of an alerting shock, but not the kind of shock that lets you freeze, it was rather an appeal to act. Luckily ther was an iron swing set and I immediately had the brainwave to disassemble that thingy in order to have myself a weapon as quickly as possible so I can defend myself in case someone would try to storm my room and rob me or whatever. Honestly this was the first time in my life I felt that my life could be over at any moment and I had to be ready to stand up for it and fight no matter what. There was however yet another similar moment to this when I was 9 years old at Christmas, in 1989 during the Romanian revolution when there were gunfights between the army and the police, but I was too young too actually understand what my fear was all about, all I knew was that we were all in big trouble, but here in Mumbai I knew, "oh boy, your life was sweet, but now enjoy the final curtain". It's seriously what I thought as I was waiting there awake for the rest of the night, not sleeping for a single minute in spite of having called the reception to send me someone over to see what's going on in front of my door. After checking them up again a bit later they claimed there was nobody there and in the end I assume they just tried to tempt me to unlock my door so they can get in, but thank god nothing happened until my alarm clock went off at 4 am just in time to toe the start line of the early Marathon start at 5:30 am. This means I hadn't slept a single minute because I had to keep watching my door just in case they would have tried to brake in.
In the morning I told my story to Akash and he asked why I didn't come to his door, but I didn't dare to open the door and leave my room, which might have saved my life, plus I had no internet in my room to get hold of him via facebook.
However, I grabbed my camera, went out to the starting area and enjoyed a fabulous race which was very tough because it was quite hot plus I had only picked up running 2 month prior as I had to undergo a hernia inguinalis bilateralis injury which had been due for a very long time. Against all these odds I managed to run a 2:54:11 h, finshing 2nd in my category M35, making it the Marathon with highest prize money I have ever earned; 30000 Indian rupees, which was around 404 € at that time. This is certainly ironic as there are certainly many other countries around the world that could easily pay a higher prize money for the age groups if they only wanted to, but to know that the Mumbai Marathon pays the best prize money category wise all around the world is something very special, as not even New York nor Dubai can match it, as they in turn reward category runners with 0 $, which is more than shameful. In the finish area I could enjoy the presence of some famous Bollywood actors like Katrin Kaif, Rahul Bose, Tara Sharma, John Abraham and jewellery designer Farah Khan.
In retrospect all I can say is, whuaaaa; boy, you gotta visit India, no matter what. I understand that the threat is ever-present in a country like this because those people simply need to somehow survive. Lucky me, I had made a few contacts via social media in advance so that I had a certain level of safety for myself.
So if you would ask me whether to visit India or not, I would definitely answer yes, but you should at least have some contacts to at least accompany you to where you wanna go and to pick you up from the airport if you wanna be safe. The security measures in India have drastically improved thru Narendra Modi's regulations by the example that I was not even allowed to stay at the airport and wait for 7 hours for my plane, so they drove me to a nearby hotel which I had to pay one night for, just for my own safety, which is of course ridiculous as the airport was safe enough itself, but they really do their best to avoid any harm to their tourists as they are very precious for India's economy. Apart from that they also have a huge heart so make sure to earn yourself a friend over there because that alone will enrich your life in the boring west and it will help you to be joyful by reminding you how simple life can be and how little you actaully need to be happy.