I do not find it a coincidence that the week I started to run in India was the week I officially fell in love with India. After four months of running on a treadmill at the gym, I was tired of feeling like a hamster on a wheel. I missed running, and the freedom and sense of exploration that accompanies it.

Yet I worried about running out on the streets. Would I be safe? Would the heat be too much? Would I get lost? Would I be threatened by the infamous traffic? Would my family and this society find my running acceptable?

My first run wiped away these fears. With my host family’s permission, and my mobile phone in hand, I set out as soon as the sun rises.

My route is about 10 K, and takes me past a garden, a museum and a university, through a wealthy neighborhood of bungalows and around a large quadrant of agricultural research fields. I run past a “Jogger’s Park,” where there are three to four hundred people walking or jogging every morning. I could run there, and many have suggested that I do so, but running on the streets allows me to explore and witness more.

There are hazards, naturally. The traffic isn’t usually a problem, but I have to be aware and be ready to jump to the side if a speeding motorcycle honks at me.

I have weaved through herds of cows in the street, and stepped in cow dung more times than I’d like to tell you. The pollution and dust often leave me wheezing and red-eyed.

I have been followed by curious dogs and schoolchildren, and am the center of attention wherever I run: I’m American, I’m blonde, I’m female and I’m running. Combine these factors and I am quite the oddity. The mild mishaps and adventures on my morning runs are half the excitement.

I find my way through quiet neighborhoods, and I run by a group of slum dwellers cooking their breakfast over open fires. Every kilometer has something new. I see groups of men drinking hot chai, and wave at buses of school children.

I pass bicycling commuters, and see the milkmen delivering their fresh “dhudh” (Gujarati for “milk”.) I find little parks and quiet spots, and then run along the main thoroughfares. I discover temples and magnificent bungalows, and greet my favorite papaya vendor as I head toward my home.

Running has been my preferred exercise for years, but in India it has acquired a new meaning. I run not to combat the effects of hearty indulgence in food, but to find my peace in India. I might be the only blonde female American out running on the roads, but I am now a part of this community.

ANNA KRAMER is a Cooperstown Rotary Youth Exchange student in India.

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