- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 7, 2004

RIMBIK, India — Miles into the second half of the Mount Everest Marathon, I find myself nearly dizzy from running the zigzag trails.

For hours, we have been snaking across the mountainside, dropping from 11,380 feet through lush jungles to 4,000 feet across the rushing river, then along the cliffside trails past Indian and Nepalese villagers back up to 6,350 feet for the finish here.

It finally strikes me that for the past several hours, as we have been passing remote village after remote village and hut after hut, we have been traveling the Beltway of the people of the Himalayas.

Without cars, of course.

I was running only the last 15 miles of the marathon, but most of the other 40 or so participants in the Himalayan 100-Mile Stage Race this week were covering nearly 30 miles today.

My appearance at the 14th running of this five-day Himalayan Run & Trek (HRT) race was by invitation of the government of India and its tourist bureau. The race, with its distances between 13 and 30 miles on washed-out dirt trails, cobblestone paths and broken roads, was won by Michael Wardian of Arlington in 2001.

Never has an event I have covered, in a career spanning more than two decades, been more exhausting and exhilarating to follow.

And I did not even have to run the entire 100 miles. The jeep ride pretty much shook up my kidneys beyond repair.

Over the years, some publications and competitors have put superlatives in their descriptions: most spectacular running course in the world, most difficult stage race, most beautiful marathon in the world.

Possibly.

One certainty is that if you want a challenge of a lifetime and you want to experience four of the world’s five highest peaks up close (Mount Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and Kanchenjunga), you will not be disappointed.

Make no mistake, the HRT 100-Miler is not easy.

Before you even step foot on the starting line in Maneybhanyjang, the trailhead for trekkers at the popular Singhalila National Park in West Bengal (6,600 feet), you must endure three days of air travel to Bagdogra, India, and hours of winding bus rides on narrow mountain passes.

Then the real challenge begins.

The event is the brainchild of an unnamed American mountain runner and an native Indian named C.S. Pandey who approached his American friend to provide a challenging and aesthetically pleasing tour of the hills he had grown to love as a child.

His ability to transform a group of strangers from all over — Europe, South Africa, New Zealand, Argentina, North America, Hong Kong and Japan — and from ages 25 to 63 is uncanny.

Within days, the spiritual Pandey establishes himself as a sort of cult hero, speaking in an endearing thick Indian accent that makes even simple instructions sound complicated, thus achieving his goal of forcing his faithful followers to listen.

His staff of dozens — including Delhi gastroenterologist Neeraj Jain, who treated everything from altitude sickness to blisters to strains — sweats every detail with genuine concern.

It’s guaranteed nobody goes home feeling unchallenged. It begins immediately on Day1 when the first steep, miles-long accent begins less than a half-mile into the stage and climbs some 24 miles along the Nepal-India border from 6,600 feet to Sandakphu at 11,815 feet.

The reward comes the next morning when the rising sun lights up snow-covered Kanchenjunga — simply breathtaking. And it keeps getting better.

There is an accompanying bike rally on the same course, but unless you enjoy biking dozens of miles of cobblestones and eroded yak trails, I would not recommend it.

If you think you are up to the challenge, check out himalayan.com.

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