So unbelievably I've been in India now for over 3 months - I'm a quarter of the way through. In some people this would probably result in some boring naval gazing blog post. But not me - I've got sport on my mind!
Over the last couple of weeks, there has been a sporting event in India – The 34th National Games – which has been held in my state, Jharkhand. Now, if there's one thing I love, it's sport, so I was keen to take the opportunity to go and see one of the events. We'd originally intended to go as a bit of a group from work, but that didn't work out, so I ended up getting a day off work to go – nice!
Anyway, the majority of the events were in Ranchi, so I got up fairly early for a run to get in the mood and then jumped on a bus for the 3hr journey. I got to Ranchi around 11, then proceeded to have a bit of trouble finding the stadium.
Now, I realise most people's knowledge of Ranchi won't be great, so I'll try and explain this. The day before I was online and I went to the site of the games. It mentioned the “Mega Sports Complex” but nothing beyond that. No location or anything. So I went on Google Maps and searched for that. Nothing. I asked the guys I work with – they hadn't heard of it....hmmmm.
Now, on the way into Ranchi, on the outskirts is a huge stadium. That's not on Google either, but I know it's there. But the events that are still on (wrestling, handball, table tennis) aren't going to be in a huge stadium, so I figure it must be somewhere else. I decide to ride the bus all the way into central Ranchi and ask. It can't be that difficult, right?
Except....no-one has heard of this Mega Sports Complex. People look at me blankly. They put me on auto-rickshaws that tell me I have to get off in places that are quite obviously not a stadium. Eventually I decide to head back to the main stadium on the outskirts – at least I know where that is! So I get on another rickshaw....which then stops way before it and tells me this is where I need to be! I look out, there's two stadiums in front of me – nice!
But, it's never quite that easy is it? I'm not actually at the entrance. I'm round the back of the stadiums. Although there's quite a lot of people trying to get in that way anyway, climbing walls etc. Now normally I'm all for that kind of thing, but I have actually got to do some work this weekend, so I've got a laptop and my camera in my bag – scaling walls isn't really a good idea!
So I walk the long way round. I walk past an athletics stadium that no-one is going into and walk over to a much smaller venue (think Wimbledon Court 2 size) which is heaving. Kind of. There are people all around it. There are people perched at the top of the walls, climbing the walls, hanging off the walls.....yet I can see the far stand has loads of empty seats. Maybe the people hanging around don't want to pay for seats – maybe I can buy one.....?
I can see from the murals on the walls it's the hockey stadium. Now, you might think cricket is the national sport of India. You're wrong. It's hockey. Cricket in India is like cricket in England. Played by the minority. Hockey is like football. It's huge!
As I get closer there is a big gate with people crowding round it and armed guards stopping people getting in. It's not jammed though, so I decide to try my luck. I walk up to a guard and ask if I can go in – he just waves me through....result! So I walk up to the main steps. Uh oh....now I'm being asked for my pass, which obviously I don't have. I say I don't have one. They ask if I'm an “Important Person”? Not really, unless you ask my mum I guess?
They decide they need to check my bag, so now I'm trying to explain why I have a laptop, a camera with a telephoto lens and some spare pants, socks and t-shirts with me to watch a game of hockey. They seem to think I must be a professional photographer (I wish!). Anyway, they won't let me in at first, no-one seems quite sure what to do....they ask me to sit for a bit next to this army guy, who was very pleasant.
Then some senior army man turns up. His English is excellent and on his way in he has a brief chat with me. I explain why I'm in India and he turns to the people I've been talking to so far and tells them I should be let in and found a seat!
So 5minutes later I'm sat in the VIP area of the stadium, to watch Jharkhand ladies in the final of the hockey :-) People have apparently been queuing since 6am to get in (tickets are free – they don't put them on the web as that would be elitist) and I just turn up and walk in! For once, being white is an advantage!
Unfortunately Jharkhand lose the game 3-1. They actually go 2-0 down after only 3 minutes, which kind of put a dampener on the whole thing, but it was an amazing experience. The crowd were bonkers – everytime Jharkhand got into the opposition half they just went crazy!
I was a bit nervous about using the camera in the end. No-one else seemed to be using cameras and when I asked if I was allowed the answer wasn't as confident as I'd have hoped! So I left it until half-time before taking any (after all this I didn't need to get chucked out 5mins into the game!). Hopefully you can get some sort of idea of the way people were literally climbing over the walls to get in!
On another sporting note – I hope everyone enjoyed the England-India game in the cricket world cup? I take full responsibility for that being as good a game as it was. I left Ranchi at 11am to try and get back to H.bag for the 2.30 start. At 5.30 I finally walked through my front door, shattered from a terrible journey, so I decided not to bother heading out to try and find somewhere to watch the game (pubs don't exist here, you have to find a restaurant with the game on!). Had I stayed in Ranchi and watched there, I guarantee England would have collapsed to 170 all
For those of you who are interested.....there are a few more pics on my Flickr stream from the games, along with some pictures from a field trip to Gumla and a couple of a Puja festival with the kids of my landlords