During the Shimla 25k, known as the “ultra-half-marathon”, you run up or down but rarely level. Somewhere in the middle of this leg-battering course, I noticed a langur (big greyish-white monkey with a black face) right next to the road. They usually stay away from people, unlike the more common and smaller bandars. I have a healthy respect for these long-limbed primates and kept to the other side of the road, taking care not to look at it directly.

But the langur had other ideas. As I passed, it came for me in a flash. I shrieked and jumped almost off the road. It is funny what adrenalin can do. I don’t know if it was the shout or my explosive jump that scared it off, but it went fleeing into the bushes as I went flying down the road. I still cannot figure out what prompted its approach.

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Stray dogs
We always have stray dogs around us here in India. They are mostly docile and friendly, but I also had to face many semi-scary encounters with them. Picking up and sometimes throwing an imaginary stone has always been my go-to defence, and it works. Mostly.

One day as I was doing my routine round-the-lake run, I came upon a man who had probably around fifteen stray dogs around him. Maybe he fed them, or he played his magic flute to attract them. As I passed them, two dogs started chasing after me, and soon the whole lot surrounded me, barking hysterically. Some of the braver ones came quite close. I shouted, picked up rocks, and waved my arms. But, it only made them angrier. Until the pied piper raised his voice, and they all went scampering back to his side. Phew, that was close.

Water buffaloes
These gentle giants can be seen in most villages here in Punjab. They are huge and have imposing horns, but they behave more like cows and are indeed kept for their milk. Until that day, I have never even seen one run. But, when I ran past a group of them who were standing in the middle of the road, they may have thought I present some type of danger. The whole herd of ten or so buffaloes stampeded and pushed me off the road. Yes, one of them shouldered me, although I am sure not on purpose. Luckily, no harm was done except to my ego, as I can imagine the locals must have had a good laugh at this funny foreigner.

Tiny bats
One evening I was running at Sukhna lake. The sun set, but it was warm, and there were lots of mosquitos, moths and other insects in the air. Then, these tiny bats appeared. They feasted on the insects as they caught them in mid-air. Some of them came pretty close to me, but they were so agile that I never felt threatened by them. I just enjoyed the performance.

India also has enormous fruit bats with a wingspan between 1.2 and 1.5 meters. We sometimes see them fallen somewhere or stuck in the electric wires.

Cattle can be found in most cities in India. They cross the roads when they want to and will often camp out in the middle of a highway – undisturbed by the rushing traffic. I wouldn’t say I am scared of them, but I keep my distance. A few times, I had to turn around with a cow blocking my way in a narrow lane. Recently as I ran up to Parashar lake, there was a cow with some formidable horns blocking my track between two fences. It was looking at me intently, and I started to speak to it in a calming voice. It took me five minutes before I could gather enough courage to try to pass.
Another time, I was running a half-marathon outside Delhi. I was far ahead of everyone else when I came to a whole herd of cattle lying on the dirt road, covering it from side to side. I lost probably a minute as I had to carefully circumvent them by going off-road.

I won’t bore you with my tales of snakes, lizards, deer, bears, jackals, owls, crows, tortoises, and all the others that have crossed my path as a runner. For me, it is one of the perks of running to see nature and the beautiful variety of animal life that God created.

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