Going for gold at Punjab’s Rural Olympics

Yahoo! India Travel
The king - and queen - of bike stunts

By Kaushal Mathpal

A whining crowd, a Punjabi commentator, and a list of some common and bizarre events. You guessed it, the scene is set for the one of the most uncanny Olympics in the world — The Rural Olympics.

Every year the month of Valentine commences with some action-packed performances showcasing a great display of physical strength and endurance in KIla Raipur, a small village near Ludhiana in Punjab.

The genesis of this amazing event can be traced way before independence to 1933 when philanthropist Inder Singh Grewal envisioned the notion to organize an annual meet for the local farmers to showcase their physical endurance and talent. What started as a recreational activity among the farmers of nearby villages has now travelled for almost eight decades and turned into a major international event attracting both participants and spectators from all across India and even abroad. The event this year entered its 78th year and was held from January 31 to February 2.

The event turns out to be a Holy Grail for photographers and travel enthusiasts, who throng Kila Raipur. They can be seen in every corner of the ground circumscribing the athletes with their shooting gear, and often disrupting the view of spectators in the stands.

I reached the venue at around 11 AM and by that time the sports had commenced. The stadium was packed to overwhelming capacity - spectators had occupied every corner for a glimpse of the event. The crowd was made up of local people -- villagers, students, ladies and children who soared high every time to show their appreciation.

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Participants ranged from teenagers to senior citizens, farmers to salaried employees, and able-bodied to differently abled. The first event was the track event for senior citizens. Their attractive physique left me a bit ashamed at my belly lumps. It was no surprise that they completed the race within the wink of eye without any sign of exhaustion on their face. On the other hand my plump nose was wheezing for breath after few rounds of the ground.

Beside normal sports competitions, the event’s eye-catchers comprise an unusual display of endurance and physical strength. My eyes widened to their extremes and my mouth opened in a state of wonder as I witnessed these events from less than 10 feet away. There were some wacky events. Athletes dragged cars with their ears, teeth and hair; they lifted bicycles tied to 10-foot poles with their mouths, they pulled tractors and lifting them from one side with their legs, they lay under moving tractors… the list of bizarre events goes on. Some of the events came from “specially abled” athletes, which made every spectator applaud louder in appreciation.

As the day progressed, the ground was taken over by Sikh warriors (nihangs), who exhibited their incredible war skills (gatka). The “nihangs” were seen performing some truly rare acrobatic stunts on their horses at blazing speed — these included riding two or three horses at once, pegging, etc. The mood was later lightened by cultural performances and startling dance performances by the beautifully clad camels and horses to the beats of a dhol.

Evenings were reserved for the acclaimed event of the Rural Olympics - Bullock Cart Racing. The venue, already packed beyond capacity, became overwhelming crowded with spectators risking their lives to watch from terraces, parapets and nearby trees. The specially modified carts, with their jockeys, lined up at one end of the ground. The participants enjoyed their few minutes of fame and waved heartily to the crowd.

The race starts with an exorbitant dose of adrenaline thrusting through the veins of the participants and within no time they vanished to the other end, which was sensibly kept open so that they could blaze off into the fields as it was impossible to stop the bulls once they got going. There were several rounds of adrenaline-pumping performances, which drove the crowd mad with excitement and they roared louder and louder each time.

The Rural Olympics should be on the wishlist of every travel bug or photographer. For one, it’s more affordable to attend than the real Olympics.

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Kaushal Mathpal is a practising advocate who enjoys travelling. He pens his thoughts at his blog, Rediscover Your Dreams

Photos by Shweta Berry