15 ways how I ran a marathon differently

On my way to work last Friday morning I realized with alarm that I had not yet started to feel the usual excitement about running a marathon. At previous times I had experienced the intimidating pre-race anxiety already a week before the event and at that moment I was only 48 hours away from the kick-off in Amsterdam. Strange as it may seem, I felt relieved when the panic finally hit me at lunch time on the same day.

After all, running my 3rd marathon had become kind of important to me and when going through the inevitable agony that accompanies those 42 195 meters of pavement, then you actually need the mixture of fear, confusion and self-doubt as well as all the opposite to get you through it. I had prepared for this day for a while, having run for more than a thousand kilometers and a hundred hours over the course of 6 months. This was more than I had ever invested into this endeavour before.

I had witnessed the beginning and end of every season. The first patches of grass with tiny flowers emerging from the snow, the wonder of the blossoming forest in the spring and the sweet temptation of wild strawberries in the summer, the gush of wind by the seaside and the sound of dry leaves under my feet in the autumn sun. I had struggled with the heat and the cold. I had suffered a number of showers. I had seen more rainbows than ever before. And all of it for this purpose.

As every other runner, I was facing a fight against myself, wanting to prove myself that I can reach my goal. First marathon was about finding out if I can do it, afterwards it was about if I can do it better. In the middle of my second marathon things rapidly went wrong for me and I finished with a worse result than the first time, despite having actually trained harder for the second time. Only later did I understand that I was running with a wrong mindset and for all the wrong reasons.

Sometimes it is necessary to fail before you can succeed. This time I managed to improve my previous record with 29 minutes, finishing with the net time of 3:43:09, which was actually 2 minutes better than the maximum that I had hoped for. The most important victory over myself was not the time, however. It was rather the fact that for the first time I ran with a good feeling, minimum pain and sufficient energy level until the end. For the first time I didn’t collapse after the finish line but walked out of the Olympic stadium with a smile on my face.

I have come to think that running a marathon is a lot about finding the best strategy for yourself. There are some universal truths about what you should and shouldn’t do when preparing for the event and going through with it, which you can easily find with the gracious help of some googling. But there are also suggestions based on personal experience, which can prove to be helpful. With this marathon I decided to do a number of things differently and whether it may or may not work for anybody else, I guess it worked for me. Here are 15 ways how I ran a marathon differently this time.

1. Have less to carry

Before I took up running again I went to India and lost a few kilos. It was certainly not my goal since I felt pretty fit before but I discovered that it instantly became more comfortable to run and that it was much better for my knees. Even though I wouldn’t advise the same kind of extreme measures to anybody else, weight loss in general can make it easier to run.

2. Develop eating habits that work for you

On that same trip I also discovered that I don’t need to eat meat anymore. Since I always allow myself to eat a lot after a run and have never managed to deny myself anything sweet and full of carbs no matter what the hour is, I found it much easier to stay on the same weight level during the period of hard training when eating more vegetables and seafood along with all the desserts.

3. “Want to” instead of “have to”

To develop the right way of thinking over what I was doing, I mostly went running 4 times a week but I never forced myself. I tried to keep to the number of times and set myself weekly goals of kilometers but I chose to go on the days when I felt like I wanted to run, not on the days I had to. I never “punished” myself with a run. In my mind I said “I want to” instead of “I have to”.

4. Run longer distances

Another thing that I did differently was that I ran longer distances than before. Previously I ran about 7-8 km per time and one longer distance per week. Now the average run became about 10 km and the longer run about 12-15 km. Before the marathon I ran 20 or more kilometers on 7 occasions, one of which was 30 km. Long distances became less of a big deal like this.

5. Change running routes

I varied my running places. I ran more up- and downhill to train my pulse rate. I ran on the streets with less traffic, rather than driving somewhere outside the city centre. It took me less time to train even though I ran longer distances. I also found it more motivating to go running when I didn’t have to drive anywhere, let alone sit in a traffic jam.

6. Track your runs

I used Endomondo to track my runs. Never before has it been so easy to trace my general improvement in running. The most helpful thing about using one of those sports trackers is that they tell you constantly how much you have run and what is your average speed. I found it especially helpful at competitions. I used my watch only to check my pulse rate.

7. Vary the ways you run

Unlike previous times, I did more interval runs this time, varying the intensity of running from low to medium or high. Mostly it was for example 3 km with 140 pulse rate, 3 km with 150, 3 km with 160 and 3 km with 140 again. Again the Endomondo Pro app that enables you to create your own interval training proved especially helpful.

8. Find whatever motivates you to go for a run

I started to listen to podcasts in addition to music when training. It became more interesting to go running because I was looking forward to the next podcast. Music helped me more at the times when I needed to run really fast. After another long day at work, for example. For the marathon I made a special list with the most energetic music I could get hold of. I can only listen to it when I run.

9. Have your own goal, don’t follow others

I thought through why I train and what is my aim. The right kind of mindset is more crucial than to run mindlessly as fast as possible. It takes practice to choose the right strategy and pace for yourself and stick to it, instead of following others. That is why I went to a number of competitions to find out what suits me better and to prepare myself for “doing my own thing” at the final event.

10. Learn to know your limits

I realized that my true limits came out at competitions not when training. But of course without training I wouldn’t get to see the limits. That is why I chose to prepare for the marathon for a longer time – 6 months instead of the usual 3-4 months. I guess if I could stick to running without the breaks I keep making after the marathons, I could achieve even more.

11. Load as much energy as you can

One of the reasons why I burnt out on my second marathon in Tallinn, was that I had no energy left after the 34th km. This time I took my pre-marathon carb loading quite seriously. For the whole week before the event I ate chocolate and cakes along with pasta or rice almost every day. I drank a lot of liquid to keep myself hydrated. I only denied myself alcohol on the 3 days before the event.

12. Accept all the help you can get

The one thing about this whole undertaking is that you really need all the help you can get. I realized this before the marathon when I asked my former trainer to give me some advice on running as well as at the event itself where I had the best partner in the world who took my warm clothes before the race, handed me an energy drink on the 30th km and cheered me on at other times. It made all the difference because I already knew when I would need it the most and the result may not have been as it was without this help.

13. Appreciate the onlookers

Actually, all the people standing in this brutal cold and windy weather deserve some gratitude from the runners. It was great to finish in Amsterdam because after 38th km there were people standing and cheering you on at both sides of the track. I had not experienced it even in Copenhagen, at my first marathon. I wish that some day it will happen in Tallinn as well that the general public gets a bit more involved. After all, thousands of runners passing by is not a sight one can witness every day.

14. Run as fast as you think you can

You can really run as fast as you think you can. What a cliché but how true. If you think you can run a marathon with 3:30, you can. You just have to train a little harder. I didn’t want to focus too much on wanting to run less than 4 hours, however, because I was afraid to be disappointed in the end as I was after my second marathon. And I didn’t want to feel disappointed because this was not the reason why I decided to run a marathon in the first place, this was just a numeric goal. The journey is the reward as they say and it goes for running a marathon as well.

15. Have a new goal on the horizon

I have a strange relationship to running. I take it up, immerse myself into it and work for it to achieve the goal I set for myself. After the moment of truth that the marathon brings I let go and take a break. Well, sometimes quite a long break. By now I’ve discovered that I actually really like running and I don’t want to take a break anymore. That is why I have already chosen a new marathon for next year. You need a new goal on the horizon.

The only tangible thing that I remember myself thinking about when I was running these 42.195 km a week ago, was that if a marathon would be compared to climbing a mountain, then from my own experience I can say that 21st km is like reaching the base camp, 33rd km is like getting to the high camp and 39th km is like the last 100 meters of technical climbing parting you from the top.

When climbing a mountain you have to think about coming back down and when running a marathon you have to live with your aching legs for the next few days. The feeling of complacency and triumph is similar though.

Just finished

The colours and patterns in Vietnam

Following my previous post about a long forgotten trip to Laos, below are the photos from the few weeks I spent in Vietnam in 2010. I started out from the hot and humid South, amazed at the variety of food and the number of motorcycles that could fit in Ho Chi Minh City. I continued my way up to the dunes of Mui Ne by the seaside and spent a short while in the lovely tailoring town of Hoi An. It offered me a moment to relax from the few months of “life on the road” and from the nasty illness I had managed to catch somewhere in Laos.

After a short stop in Hue, where I didn’t really seem to find much of interest, I took a long bus ride to Hanoi. I marvelled at the Ha Long Bay, even though I wasn’t blessed with the weather. It was a pity because what must be breathtaking in the sun was kind of grey and gloomy with the clouds. Not to mention that it was really cold and ridiculously crowded with tourists. Still, there was something really beautiful about the karst isles in the misty bay and I guess if you’d go solo and stay the night on an island, you could avoid the hordes of people too.

Next I arrived to the Sa Pa area in the North of Vietnam, a place I had long yearned to see. I went trekking in the villages for a few days, enjoying the breathtaking vistas and the quiet village settings. I loved the clothes the village people were still wearing on a daily basis. The bright colours sown together in intricate patterns and the wide, mysterious landscapes offered some good possibilites for shots, especially the Bac Ha market close to the Chinese border. I really enjoyed taking photos over there.

I have to say that a lot of the area in the close vicinity of Sa Pa has gone quite touristic though, and it was hard to make the same kind of personal contact with the village people that I had been able to make in Myanmar or some places in Laos or even Thailand. It was more about money in this region. But then again, I had also not seen other highland tribe villages in South-East Asia that took their culture with such pride and dignity, even if some of it was for the tourists’ sake. Perhaps a certain amount of reluctance towards foreigners is a good thing if it helps retain the cultural unity of a certain community.

I would go to the North of Vietnam again without a doubt. Next time, however, I would hire a personal guide to take me to more remote spots or get on a motorcycle myself and drive around the area. I would also go at the time of the year when the rice fields are the soft green colour and the weather is a bit warmer. And perhaps I would also connect it to a trip to the Yunnan province in China, where a lot of the tribes that live in Vietnam and in other places in South-East Asia actually originate from. In any case it is worth seeing now rather than later.




There’s something about Laos

Approximately 2 and a half years ago I spent a few weeks in Laos trekking in the villages of the Northern part of the country, then flying from the sleepy Vientiane to the sizzling hot Ho Chi Minh City and continuing my way up to the Sa Pa area in Vietnam. Somehow I never came to publish the photos I made from Laos and Vietnam, except the ones I took with the Holga camera. But better late than never, I like to think, so here is Laos in photos.

Laos was an interesting country in many aspects. Most surprisingly it was the one country about which travellers didn’t seem to agree upon. Some said they couldn’t wait to cross the border from the landlocked Laos to its more fascinating neighbours by the seaside, some were puzzled how anybody could not simply adore this country. There’s something about Laos which is really “same-same” as they like to wrap up more or less everything in Asia but still something completely different that is hard to pinpoint.

Laos is full of contrasts and I guess that your opinion about it really depends on where exactly you go there. The country as I had imagined it to be, I found in the North of Laos. Looking back I saw some pretty amazing villages there where the ethnic minorities still reside as they did hundreds of years ago, living in their bamboo huts and depending on slash and burn agriculture to get by in their everyday life. One can only hope that the road to China does not affect their way of life too soon, since otherwise it would inevitably leave a mark on their cultural identity.

The photos below bring back the memories of these particular moments captured. The market in the early morning. Cycling around near the Chinese border and ending up going to a funeral in a hmong village. Admiring the small hills and the caves they hid inside, the lush green landscapes with water buffalos lounging in the river, the endless watermelon fields and the pink sun setting in the smokey sky. The French baguettes and the monks in their orange robes. And all the people in the rural villages and travellers I came across. It was a good journey.



Meeting by the stables

Anyone who knows Catlin, knows her infinite love for horses. She has been riding them ever since she was a child, that is almost every other day for the past few decades. That is why I wasn’t too surprised when she suggested that we take a few photos of her together with her dark brown companion in the fields by the stables.

I must admit it was not too easy taking photos of this duo. The majestic horse kept staring at me rather dubiously, annoyed with the flying insects as well as the reflecting light that our helpful assistant was trying to project on the model’s face. Followed by some moments of patience, the imposing creature made a point of showing that she had had enough and started to make her way to the meadow.

With some rather impressive moves the little blond girl managed to convince her giant four-legged friend to stay and we continued. I was hoping that the clouds would take over the sky to avoid the stark contrasts of the afternoon light but instead of staying put, the sun kept creeping out from behind the grey curtains, ignoring my plans for most of the time.

But then again, who could blame the sun – perhaps it was only nature’s way of reflecting the vibrations of happiness that our protagonist was feeling on that particular day 🙂


That mellow evening light

What better way to pass time on a hot summer eve than to spend an hour or two outside by the sea, enjoying the last of the day’s soft yellow sunlight? It might just be one of the best times to go shoot some photos. And it certainly is one of my favourite times.

It was almost 19 already but the thermometer in the car was still indicating 30 degrees, which is extraordinarily hot for Estonia. My model Elina and I drove away from the city, looking for an inspiring setting. We ended up in the vicinity of a cliff close to Tallinn that seems to attract people for a view and a little romance.

We went for some simple beauty shots with that mellow evening light. Since Elina is all about colours, I couldn’t imagine to have the setting and her clothes any less colourful. The green of the forest in the background and the playful glimmer of the sea accompanied by the mild wind blowing in randomly seemed to add on to that concept.

Apart from the heat and the merciless mosquitos, it was all fun. This is a selection of what we got. I must say I am deeply amazed by the leap in quality that my new camera Nikon D800 allows and can only hope that my skills keep improving to be fully worthy of the upgrade.

A glimpse of Venice

Even though this has been a blog in Estonian and for Estonians for some years, I recently found myself from a thought – what if I sometimes write here in English as well? The more I considered it, the more it started to make sense, given that many of my friends (and, indeed, some of the closest ones) can really understand nothing of what I’m writing about for one simple reason – they do not speak Estonian (yet).

I have to say, I’ve always been sceptical of people writing blog entries in English instead of their mother tongue. Sooner or later you’re making a mistake that you wouldn’t perhaps make in your own language and I’m sure it can be rather annoying to read any text if you feel like correcting grammar. Still, despite living in Estonia, I’ve grown accustomed to speak and write in English at least half of the time at work or after work, being fully aware that it doesn’t come error-free. So, I guess, I might as well give it a go here too.

When brooding over the above-mentioned thought, I happened to be in Venice for a long weekend. 7 years ago I used to live in Rome for 5 months, in the course of which I picked up some basic Italian. Sadly, not a lot of the language has remained with me from that time and even though I could still make out a lot of what Italians were saying to me, I couldn’t bring myself to respond in proper sentences. I was left dumbfounded by their miraculously sounding language, so smooth, fast and full of emotions.

Not surprisingly though, the best way of experiencing Italy is through speaking Italian, and the array of other languages you may also master does not really make up for it. Language is defining this country and its people, just as the sweetness of looking at life, along with good food and good wine. After some time I gave in trying to be considered as part of the inner circle of Italian language speakers and blended in with the crowds of thousands and thousands of tourists visiting the city claimed to be one of the most romantic in Europe.

As Italy is one of my favourite places to be in Europe, it is a country that I have visited most in this part of the world. I had been in the North by the Swiss border, seen the colourful Cinque Terre, witnessed the undefinable beauty of Tuscany and its surrounding regions and crossed the Southern part of Italy as well as Sardinia and Sicily, but for some reason, I had never been to Venice. Just like everybody else, I wanted to go there with someone special and was secretly hoping that the city would be every bit as charming as I imagined it to be when the opportunity would finally present itself. And it was.

Composing of more than a hundred islands in the Venetian lagoon that are separated by narrow winding canals and united by beautifully arched foot bridges, Venice seems to be floating in the sea. The rich and outstandingly well-preserved Gothic architecture has had influences from the East, characterized by a certain lightness of style. I was fascinated by the tall windows surrounded by oriental details and the abundance of colourful flowers decorating the majority of houses along the canals. Sooner or later you cannot help but wonder how did they manage to build it all on wooden piles?

What I loved most about Venice, is that it is so peaceful. In the central area, the only means of transportation is offered by boats in different sizes and the rest has to be managed on foot. Only later did I find out that apparently it is Europe’s largest urban car-free area. Staying away from the Grand Canal and the tourist buzz that has conquered the Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge area, it becomes a whole new city. Escaping the harsh afternoon sun wondering along the narrow alleys, you may easily become disoriented but unlike any other place in the world, in Venice it is a nice pastime to get lost.

No doubt it can be romantic. Especially if you’re willing to pay the price for the “one thing not to miss in Venice” and take a ride in one of those traditional rowing boats. Even if you may witness some serious gondola jams in certain places, it is really quite nice to cruise around the quiet canals, bathing yourself in the soft evening light and sipping a cool Bellini. And contrary to what I had heard, the canals did not smell at the time I was there.

It is probably not the same thing when the weather is cold and damp and the streets are submerged under water with the autumn rains but it is hard to think about that at the moment when the sun is shining in the clear blue sky. For me Venice was such a pleasant surprise that I could even imagine myself living there. If anything, it is not so easy to find good eating places serving the food that Italy is really famous for in the centre. And after a while I would probably grow weary of all the tourists walking around. But other than that, the city of Marco Polo, endless number of masks and Murano glass kind of won me over.

Matk mägede südamesse

Sel kevadel Nepali nõlvadel matkates täitsin ühe oma kauaaegase soovi – näha Annapurna piirkonda. Endises kuningriigis veedetud kahest nädalast tervelt kaheksa päeva investeerisin ma retkele, mis viis mind pikkamööda otse Himaalaja mägede südamesse, kuni 4130 m kõrgusel asuvasse Annapurna baaslaagrisse.

Looduse poolest oli matk ootamatult ilus ja mitmekesine, pakkudes lisaks rododendroniõites metsaradadele, trepjatele rohelistele orgudele ja idüllilistele koskedele ka võimast panoraami üle 7-8 km kõrgustest tippudest, eesotsas Dhaulagiri I ja Annapurna I-ga. Kõige eelneva kulminatsiooniks kujunes varahommik Annapurna baaslaagris, mil seisin omaette, lummatuna sellest vaatepildist ja lõputust vaikusest.

Pildistamist väärivaid momente oli tegelikult sadu kordi rohkem, kui hetki, mil ma hoolimata väsimusest ja mägede heitlikku ilma trotsides siiski kaamera järele haarasin. Tuleb tunnistada, et ei ole lihtne teha fotosid ja samal ajal oma 10 kilost kotti ja kaamerat kanda ning mäest üles-alla rühkida. Ent mingeid hetki ongi parem lihtsalt kogeda ja mäletada, mitte jäädvustada.

Nepal jättis südamesse hästi hea tunde. See on üks nendest riikidest, kuhu läheksin veel ja veel tagasi. Nepali fotod: Annapurna Sanctuary/ ABC matk (läbi Poon Hilli), Kathmandu, Pokhara.



Teekond, umbes täpselt selline

Jätkuks viimati avaldatud Varanasi fotodele, umbes täpselt selline nägi välja mu teekond Fatehpur Sikris, Agras ja Delhis. Need olid kohad, mida nägin, inimesed, keda kohtasin, ja hetked, mis mingil põhjusel mu kaadrisse jäid…

Sel korral Indias tunnetasin eriti selgelt seda, et pildistamine pakkus mulle võimaluse vahetu kontakti loomiseks kohalike elanikega, hoolimata sellest, et me üht keelt ei mõistnud. Läbi kaamera õppisin ma nendega suhtlema, tundma neile iseloomulikke liigutusi ning tajuma nende meelestatust minu, ülejäänud maailma või siis pelgalt nende fotole jäädvustamise suhtes.

Ma jalutasin tundide kaupa, rahvamassides ja üksipäini kõrvaltänavatel, tundmata end kuidagi ohustatuna. Vastupidi. Eneselegi üllatuseks tundsin hoopis uutmoodi sidet selle maa ja inimestega, milleni ei olnud ma jõudnud oma esimesel reisil. Sellisena lasi India mul end sel korral avastada.

India niidab jalust

Ainuüksi paar meetrit pärast India pinnale astumist oli maailm mu ümber tundmatuseni muutunud. Halli tolmupilve sisse mähkunud tänavad, maas vedelev praht ja muu läga, mootorsõidukite katkematu lärm ja varjamatu uudishimuga mind kui lähikonna ainsat valget inimest ainiti vahtivad näod… Hetkeks tekkis küsimus, kas ma siia olingi tahtnud tulla. Tõdesin, et olin juba unustanud, milline India olla võib.

Gangese kallastele

Paarile hingetõmbepäevale Pokharas järgnes võrdlemisi pikk ja väsitav teekond lõuna poole Gangese kallastele. Pärast pool ööpäeva kestnud bussis loksumist ületasin Nepali piiri ilma eriliste vahejuhtumiteta Sonauli nimelises asulas ja jõudsin üha kõrgemale ronivate soojakraadidega higise ja hingetuna India läbisõidulinna Gorakhpur.

Loivasin esimesse ettejuhtuvasse hotelli ja olles vaevu oma kotid hallitavate seinte ja pudeneva krohvi sekka visanud, viskusin pikemalt mõtlemata voodisse. Tollel hetkel oli mul sügavalt ükskõik nii vannitoas toimuvast elutegevusest kui ka tänavalt kaikuvatest helidest. Hommikul ärgates tuli aga tõdeda, et pimeduse laskudes olid kohalikud vampiirsääsed endale minu arvelt korraliku õhtusöögi saanud.

Kuuldes, et 5 minuti pärast läheb valitud sihtkoha suunas rong, tormasin üle tee asuvasse raudteejaama. Sarnaselt tänavatele oli seegi kõikvõimaliku läbuga kaetud. Nii hoone sees kui vahetus läheduses vedelesid maas rongi ootavate inimeste hordid ja siin-seal levis nende loomulike vajaduste rahuldamisest tulenev kirbe hais. Hinge kinni hoides jõudsin mingi ime läbi oma kottidega rongile ja 7 tundi hiljem juba hindude, budistide ja džainistide püha linna Varanasisse.

See koht jääb mulle ilmselt eluks ajaks meelde ja seda mitte ainult linna enda pärast, vaid ka sellepärast, mis seal aset leidis. Olles jõudnud päevakese kohaneda ja Gangese kuulsatel ghattidel ringi vaadata, tabas mind keset ööd see, millest Indias vähesed puutumata jäävad. Kahtlustan, et sel korral oli põhjuseks kohalik jogurtijook lassi, mida ma suurema söögiisu puudumisel endale sel päeval mitu klaasi sisse olin kallanud.


Ärkasin üles, tundes kummalist iiveldust. Järgmised hetked möödusid katkendlikult. Ühtäkki olin toast väljunud ja seejärel võõrastemaja squat toileti põrandal pikali. Hetk pärast seda avastasin end aga trepimade allpool kivipõrandal maas lamamas. Mul ei ole õrna aimugi, kuidas ma sinna sattunud olin või kui kaua ma seal lebasin. Tean vaid seda, et olin vähemalt kaks korda minestanud ja sealjuures ka trepist alla kukkunud. Võttes kokku kogu oma tahtejõu komberdasin tuppa tagasi, ent märgates, et olen oma pead vigastanud, ei jäänud enam muud üle, kui kedagi appi kutsuda.

Mõne aja pärast saabus terve kaadrivägi teisi reisijaid, kes vedasid mu jõuetu ja krampides vaevleva keha hotelliomaniku tillukese valge Suzukiga haiglasse, mis pidi olema Varanasi parim (kellelgi oli raamat, mis seda väitis). Seal pandi mind tilguti külge, tehti peast CT ja rindkerest röntgen. Kummalisel kombel olin pääsenud vaid paari kriimu, välja väänatud kaela ja peahaavaga, mis oli hindude arvates nii tühine, et ei väärinud muud kui pisut joodi. Mul oli vedanud. Nii õnnetuse enda kui ka nende võõraste inimestega, kes mind mõtlematagi aitasid.

Varanasi haigla oli aga mälestus omaette. Nii vastuoluline kui see India kui ajurveda maale ning sealsete inimeste läbivale läheduse vajadusele ka ei ole, siis haiglas ei soovinud mind puudutada ükski meesarst. Autost kanderaamile, sealt uuringute lauale, sealt tagasi kanderaamile ja lifti, mis nägi välja nii kurjakuulutav, et hetkeks ununes ka kõhuvalu, ning sealt edasi voodisse pidid mind tõstma teised reisijad, kes olid muide naissoost. Lisaks anti neile veel teisigi ülesandeid, mis oli kõik seda veidram, et Indiale kohaselt seal abitööjõust puudus ju ei olnud.

Varanasi ja püha jõgi

Järgmise päeva õhtul naasesin oma võõrastemajja, et ärgata varahommikul ja minna Gangesele päikesetõusu vaatama. See Põhja-India kultuuriline ja usuline keskus ning palverännakute peamine sihtpunkt on üks vanemaid linnu mitte ainult Indias, vaid kogu maailmas. Ent mogulite kunagise hävitustöö tõttu ei ole varasematest perioodidest väga palju säilinud. Ghattide lähedusse jääv vanalinna osa hõlmab endas aga põnevat kitsaste ja käänuliste tänavate labürinti, mis on hea keskpäevases kuumuses jalutamiseks ja kohalike elanikega suhtlemiseks.

Hindude jaoks ei ole Ganges mitte ainult kõige püham jõgi, vaid ka kõige ema. Nad usuvad, et jõe vesi puhastab nad kõigist pattudest, ja et Varanasis suremine vabastab nende hinge rändamise tsüklist. Nii on jõe astangud igal hommikul ja õhtul täidetud inimestega, kes end püha veega üle kallavad, seal ennast ja oma riideid pesevad või ujuvad. Usk on sealjuures tugevam, kui igasugune tõestus selle kohta, et Ganges on tegelikkuses üks reostatumaid jõgesid maailmas.

Varanasi on ilmselt kõige vängem osa Indiast, mida mul on seni olnud võimalus näha, kuid samas ka tohutult fotogeeniline, elust pulbitsev ja seletamatult eriline koht. Prahi ja mustuse aste, tolmu osakaal õhus ning lehmade, inimeste ja jalgrattarikšade kontsentratsioon tänavatel näib seal olevat tavapärasest märkimisväärselt kõrgem. Plätudes ringi jalutamine, ilma et keegi su varvastest kas mootorratta või muu liiklusvahendiga üle sõidaks, või et sa lihtsalt ühte neisse lugematutesse hunnikutesse sisse ei astuks, on eraldi ettevõtmine.

Kui lisada juurde lugematu hulk templeid ja oranžidesse linadesse mähkunud pühad mehed India lõppematu kakofoonia, lämmatavate lõhnade ja rõõmsa värvikirevuse taustal ning seal samas jõe ääres kõigi silme all toimuvad kremeerimistseremooniad, võib ehk kokku saada mingisuguse ettekujutuse sellest, millise linnaga tegemist on. Väidetavalt põletatakse seal vastavalt inimese staatusele erinevatel astangutel sadu inimesi päevas. Tuhk puistatakse Gangesesse nagu ka põlemata kehaosad, milleks omastel puid ei jätkunud.

Rongidest ei ole pääsu

Kahjuks ei olnud mul aega Varanasit liiga pikalt avastada, kuna mõni päev varem olin endale pileti Agrasse organiseerinud ja reisi lõpuni oli jäänud veel vaid paar päeva. Siinkohal olgu öeldud, et rongipileti ostmine ei ole Indias mingi käkitegu, see on eraldi ettevõtmine, milleks võib erinevate seikade mittekokkulangemisel kuluda tunde. Seda enam, kui tegemist on populaarsete marsruutide või pikkade otsadega. Kohalikud reisivad palju ja tavaliselt koos terve perekonnaga, nii et enamasti tuleks piletid paar päeva ette osta.

Samas on paljudes suuremates rongijaamades eraldi turistiputkad, kust on võimalik pilet justkui lihtsama vaevaga soetada, kuigi hindude bürokraatlikust mõttemallist ei ole ka seal keegi säästetud. India on raudteedega päris hästi kaetud ja rongiliiklus suhteliselt kiire, hästi organiseeritud ja selle kohta ka küllaltki soodne. Mina kasutasin ilma konditsioneerita sleeper klassi, mis on täiesti talutava mugavusastmega. Öösel on soovitav oma kott aga pingi alla lukustada ja tolmu ning tuule kaitseks midagi peale visata. Kuigi ülemistelt naridelt on justkui raskem kelleltki midagi ära tõmmata, siis öösiti on seal tunduvalt jahedam.

Öörongidele pannakse turistid sageli ka ühtekokku, et vähendada võimalust, et neilt midagi pihta pannakse. Mina sattusin ühte vahesse Kanadas elava ja parajasti ümbermaailmareisil oleva Taiwani tüdrukuga ning leides end kuidagi ühelt lainelt, veetsime paar väga lõbusat päeva koos Agrat ja selle lähiümbrust avastades. Arvestades, et olin enne kahelnud, kas Taj Mahal üldse külastamist väärib, ei olnud mul tõtt-öelda suuri ootusi. Selline suhtumine mul nendesse kuulsatesse “maailmaimedesse” kord juba on.

Kustumatu armastuse sümbol

Ent pean tunnistama, et see 17. sajandil mogul Shah Jahani poolt paarkümmend aastat ehitada lastud mausoleum oma armastatud naise Mumtaz Mahali auks, kes suri nende 14 last ilmale tuues, oli siiski seda väärt, et kohale minna. Mis mind kõige rohkem hämmastas ei olnud niivõrd selle vaieldmatult kauni, sümmeetrilise, valgest marmorist ehitise kuju või peegeldus varahommikuse päikese säras, vaid selle sisemusse jäävad eri värvi kividega meisterdatud detailirohked lillemotiivid (nn pietra dura). Hommikul vara oli seal vaid käputäis inimesi, kes Taj Mahali ümbritseva ala peale sujuvalt laiali hajusid. Delhist saabuvad massid ei olnud veel kohale jõudnud.

Agra isegi oli piisavalt meeldiv koht, et seal öö veeta. Väga positiivseks üllatuseks kujunes ka Agrast umbes tunni aja bussisõidu kaugusel olev 16. sajandi algusest pärinev Fatehpur Sikri nimeline linn, mis jäeti veepuuduse tõttu maha peaaegu kohe pärast selle valmimist. Koht on välismaalastele üsna vähe teada ja peale mõne suure turistibussi sinna paljud ei reisi. Linna kõrval asuv Jama Masjid (mošee) oli postkaardibisnessi väikemeestest ja isehakanud giididest küll sisse piiratud, aga muus osas oli seal suht rahulik ringi lonkida ja ligi 40 kraadise kuumuse eest võlvide alt varju otsida.

Ajaloolist linna ümbritses ka väga mõnus tänapäevane toiduturg. Sõime tänaval samosasid ja jõime sellele piirkonnale omaselt miniatuursetest savikausikestest magusat masala teed, millest olin kogu Indias oleku vältel totaalses sõltuvuses. Tore uus avastus oli veel ka gulab jamuni nimeline magustoit, mis meenutab siirupi sisse uputatud kohupiimapalli. Toitude osas veendusin mõne erandiga aga taaskord, et lääne restoranide India toit on valdavalt parem, kui see Indias on, jättes sellest üldistusest kõrvale ehk mõned turistikesksed rannapiirkonnad lõunas. Vaieldamatult kõige maitsvam toit Indias näib olevat tehtud tänavatel. Millegipärast on isu selle vastu mul aga mõneks ajaks nüüd kadunud.

Delhi belly

Viimased paar päeva veetsin Delhis ja kuna ma mingil põhjusel eeldasin, et pigem mulle see linn ei meeldi, olin kokkuvõttes positiivselt üllatunud. Esiteks sai väga suure osa linnast ära näha lihtsalt ringi jalutades ja peamine turisti majutuskohti hõlmav piirkond Paharganj on ainult 5 minuti tee kaugusel rongijaamast, mis on reisijale väga mugav. Ühtlasi asub Delhi uhiuus ja moodne metroo samuti seal samas ning lisaks saab sellega kiiresti, lihtsalt ja väga soodsalt ka lennujaama sõita.

Mulle meeldis Delhis söögikohtade rohkus ja valikuvõimalus. Ent väikese pettumuse valmistasid mulle sealsed turud, mida ma ühe päeva jooksul üsna põhjalikult läbi kammisin. Esines üksikuid vanakraamikohti, kus leidus tõelisi pärle, millest suurt osa oleks isegi koju tassida tahtnud, ent käsitöö ja ehted tundusid kallimad kui Nepaalis ja mitte sugugi parema kvaliteediga. Nt siidisalle ma Delhist ei ostaks, pigem jätaksin selle nendesse India piirkondadesse, kus seda koha peal kootakse (nagu nt Varanasi).

Ka Old Delhi ei olnud sellega võrreldes, mida ma juba näinud olin, nii räpane ja raskesti talutav. Olin paari varem kuuldud kirjelduse põhjal valmistunud “millekski kohutavaks”. Kuigi nagu paljudes teistest India suurlinnades, torkab just sellistest kohtades silma see drastiline lõhe ühiskonna eri kihtide vahel. Delhis oli lihtne märgata väga heal järjel elavaid hindusid nagu ka väga vähesega leppima pidavaid inimesi. Selline on lihtsalt sealne reaalsus.

Kuigi kurikuulus Delhi belly jäi mul saamata, olin viimasel päeval siiski kusagilt suutnud üles korjata kõhuviiruse, mis kogus üha võimsamaid tuure ning saatis mind truult Delhi lennujaamast Tallinnani ja sealt taaskord haiglasse. Paar päeva hiljem olin sellestki haigusest taastunud, olles 4 kilo kergem ja oluliselt õnnelikum, kui reisile minnes. Seda ainuüksi sellepärast, et terve olemine on tõeline privileeg ja mõnikord vajab keha sellist drastilist restarti, et seda piisavalt väärtustada. Ja lõpuks, mis ei tapa, teeb vist tõesti ainult tugevamaks.

Ei jäta ükskõikseks

India lajatab vastu vahtimist ja niidab kas otseses või kaudses mõttes igaühe jalust, ent ometi ei oska ma olla muud, kui lummatud. Misiganes tundeid India kelleski tekitab, üksõikseks ei jäta ta kindlasti kedagi. See riik on kohati nii intensiivne, nii pööraselt väsitav, nii tüütu, nii uskumatu, must, haige, kurb ja julm, ent mingil kummalisel kombel aitab see kaos mõtteid korrastada. Ehk sellepärast, et ainult läbi nii äärmusliku kontrasti nägemise ja läbielamise saab tekkida uus selgus ja uus algus.

Nii et midagi selles ütluses, et Indiasse minnakse ennast otsima, on tõesti õige. Ma arvan, et kui suuta seal vastu pidada, rahulikuks jääda, ennast kehtestada ja seda kõike sealjuures suisa nautida, ei ole enam palju kohti maailmas, kus hakkama ei saaks. Küll aga võib juhtuda, et kusagil mujal ei ole siiski nii põnev.