Thursday morning I dropped Nathaniel at the bus stop and then put in 5000 meters on the running track. My guess is that running for thirty minutes in this thick city air is about as good for my lungs as smoking a pack of Lucky Strikes. But craving the body and mind in motion, there I am, again, out sweating in the lazy morning air. Ellinore and I then shared a few mangoes when I get back. They have been getting sweeter (and cheaper) every day. We then spent the afternoon at the pool. When we arrive the pavers are hot and the cool water feels wonderful. With skimpy suit and swim cap and goggles and white skin, I swim 1000 meters—a little butter, breast, back and free—and Ellinore and Nathaniel perfect their dives and flips and handstands.
Yesterday I was up before the sun to run the Vetal ridgeline: the now familiar route along the streets of Deccan Gymkhana to the base of the hill, climbing up behind the law college and then catching one of the trails that winds through the trees to the base of Vetal Tekdi, where I then head north to the end of the ridge. Then, back the way I came, picking up the pace and breathing deeply, looking across the open hillsides across the city fully convinced of the illusion that the air up here is clearer and cleaner. I’m enjoying being out the woods with other Puneites, most of whom have driven up the back side of the ridge to set out on their morning walk. I notice that someone has scrawled on the side of a cement water catchment, “Don’t just go for a walk. Please water a tree.” And next to the water catchment are hundreds of saplings, stacked in neat rows, awaiting planting. So I take the available plastic water bottles and water the recently planted trees along the edge of the trail.
Today’s high will climb past forty degrees centigrade—that’s about 104 degrees farenheight. With no air conditioning we are like spa guests, every day enjoying the bodily pleasures of cleansing our pores with copious sweat. For the past two weeks, we have timed the opening and closing of windows, make strategic decisions about when to raise the humidity each day as we boil our drinking water. We bucket shower often, most evenings before bed, and we give thanks for the electricity that turns the ceiling fans. Yet despite the warm air pouring over our bodies, we all awaken once or twice each night thirsty, with sweaty necks and sticky thighs. We appreciate all that the heat brings, too, most notably the much heralded arrival of the best mangoes we’ve ever tasted: deep orange flesh, an earthy sweet flavor that is, as we say, “to die for.”
After our fill of morning mangoes two of Rebecca’s students drop by to take the kids to see a movie. We actually are facing two or three hours together. What to do? What else but head out for a three hour walk on the hottest day of the year. We have been wanting to walk the streets further north, and Rebecca has not completed the ridgeline to Chaturshringi. So what the hell, we say, and head out into the mid-day heat with hats and water and that wonderful thing called just being together. In contrast to the mornings, there is virtually nobody out on the trails. We stop to water some trees on the way up, and continue on to one of the small temples at a junction in the trail where a small group of boys offer us coconut.
We then stop to talk with Sami Makki and his friends. Sami is a mountain bike enthusiast, promoter of mountain biking and BMX and all sports extreme. As someone who used to do extreme and adventure sports (before I knew that that was what I was actually doing), I enjoyed this pack of young adults and kids outside getting some exercise in the mid-day sun. They told us that many walkers on the ridge don’t like bikes, and so they take to the ridge during the day to avoid the hassle. (You know, the skateboarding is crime crowd.) It is worth checking out what Maki and his friends are up to, and see photographs and vidoes of their bike tricks and adventures, at Ride2006.com.
Our walk takes us to the end of the ridgeline, and Chaturshringi temple. Thanks to the Google Sattelite Map of Pune, you can click on the higlighted text and have a look at 18° 32′ 20″ north, 73° 49′ 41″ east. (Have a look at the the location of the mandir and use the cursor and the controls in the upper-left hand corner of the window to track along the ridgline road and trails above Pune. You’ll see the route to Vetal Tekdi. the image shows more green that this time of year as well as some water in the old quarry.) We walk through another area with this winter’s tree plantings and then drop down the steps of the temple to the road where we sit in a shady metal shack and sip cool sugar cane juice with lime for seven rupees a glass.
We wander the shady streets on the return home, crossing to get out of the sun when we can, stopping to catch a couple of overs in a mid-day cricket match, buying a bottle of cold mineral water, and finding our way back to F.C. Road. We walk through the semi-shady campus to Spencer’s market, where we order fresh pineapple and watermelon juice from the vendor out front. A delightful summer walk in Pune. Sun, sweat and sweetness.