Let me introduce you to a club with a simple rule of having no rules: the Hash House Harriers, popularly known as, “A drinking club with a running problem.” This club has been active in Kathmandu for some time now. So, one Saturday, my photographer and I, decided to join them for a run and find out more.
The Hash Harriers began way back in 1938, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia when a group of expatriates and British colonial officers got together on Monday evenings to try and get rid of the excess weight they had put on during the weekend. The initial runs set the pattern that is still followed by the hundreds of hash chapters around the world. Hashing is based on the British paper-chase game where a ‘hare’ sets the trail leaving confetti behind as he goes, and the following pack of runners (hounds) have to follow the trail and (in the original) catch up with the hare. After running a couple of months, the local Registrar of Societies insisted that as an ‘organized’ group, they had to have a constitution and an official name. So was born the Hash House Harriers.
Here in Kathmandu, the club started in 1979. The Himalayan Hash House Harriers (HHHH or H4) meets every Saturday at different outlying places of the Kathmandu Valley. The hares for that week will have already marked the trail with blobs of shredded paper. Everybody gathers in the afternoon with beer drinkers paying a fee of Rs 250/- and soft drinkers Rs 100/-. The run usually lasts between one and a half and two hours mostly off-road with the main seasonal hazards being leeches, the blazing sun and waist-deep river crossings. The best part of it all is that anybody can join in — two young local lads who joined in a run a few months ago have become regular hashers. Refreshments are provided after the run followed by traditional hashing activities. Regular hashers are given nicknames such as Keeled Over, Apple or Doggy Style. These names are either dealt out arbitrarily or after something bizarre that happened on a run.
Hash Run 1506
We took part in the 1506th run of the Himalayan Hash House Harriers on a day when the Sun God was generous and had dried out the muddy trails. All that we knew beforehand was the date, time and venue — Saturday 15 September 2007 at 3 pm at a grassy knoll by Godavari Village Resort. The crowd of about 40 hashers was half Nepali and half ex-pat.
We paid our Rs 100/- as soft drinkers (sadly for us) to someone called Keeled Over. David ‘Rotter’ Potter is the grandmaster (GM) of the Himalayan Hash. Unfortunately, he was missing as he is taking a sabbatical recovering from the stresses and strains of such an onerous job. The athletic-looking Caroline (The Gee Ms) was the stand-in GM and told us all to form a circle. It took quite a while, as we were a noisy crowd and some were not paying attention. Finally the Gee Ms informed us that today’s trail started from the grassy knoll we stood on and returned to the same spot. The trail had been laid by four hares that morning.
The Gee Ms explained how the trail was marked for the benefit of the five first-timers or virgins. She told how handfuls of shredded paper marked the trail every 10m or so. Two circles of shredded paper meant a check from which the trail could lead off in any direction with no paper laid for up to 200m . False trails are also planted ending in a cross. Three circles means a holding check where everybody has to wait for the back markers to catch up before checking for the trail. A large arrow marks the last part of the trail, on-home to the On-In point with the parked vehicles (‘chariots’ in hash language). We were asked if everything was clear. “What are the circles again?” “What if we can’t run?” were the initial questions that came to mind.
You have the option of running or walking on the Himalayan Hash. Coming from ECS, we may be an energetic lot, but running is something else. Having justified our condition as ‘unfit’, we chose to walk. Yes, we should have run and sweated it out. In our walking group of about 15 people, the two hare trail-markers walked along with us. The two other hares were running.
The walk soon found its way on to natural trails up and down hillsides. After we’d walked for a while a holding check appeared where we saw our running mates for the first time. Accompanying us in our walk was Tiku, a pet dog brought along by a hasher and a little boy. Old and young, strong and weak, we walked along tricky paths needing good balance and up muddy steps. Village children waved and shouted “Hi-hello.” Everyone greeted them back, responding to the rural Nepalis’ natural friendliness. We were also told by one of the hashers that babies, dogs and children come along on the hash runs and walks. Recently a hasher had brought her three-month baby along.
The main focus of concern during our walk was Tiku the dog as he kept disappearing. He was here, there and everywhere, sometimes running far ahead. Tiku’s owner called for him constantly and as a group we too got involved in finding him. We walked along like friends gossiping away, or like a little boy swinging a stick with his mind a million miles away, or like sweet Doma (Tibetgal) walking casually wearing her wonderful hat.
Were all the walkers fit, or were we the only ones perspiring so much? We walked along false trails from where we had to find the way back to the main road. The hare helped with directions when we got caught up in dead-ends. One difficult climb lay ahead up 134 steps to a stupa — the steps reminded me of the way up to Swoyambhunath. On the way down, the Gee Ms told us to take care as she had watched a boy fall down earlier on.
After a long sweaty walk, we finally came to the winding main road that led back to the grassy knoll. We were back where we started and were greeted by a few others who had arrived earlier. The runners followed us in after making it all the way round their 11 km long course.
We exchanged stories of our adventure and helped ourselves to refreshments and beer. There were beautiful cakes and chips and someone had brought along orangey carrot cake. Doma opened her tiffin carrier and out came soft cakes and curry. Our hunger knew no bounds!
With Caroline in the center, now came the fun part. Hash tradition has it that the hares are congratulated and given beer from a special brass cup. The rest of the hashers sing the hash song as the beer is gulped down: “ Here’s to the hares they are blue, they are pisspots through and through, etc …” and then they are told to “drink it down-down-down” and if they haven’t emptied their cups they are supposed to throw the remaining beer on their heads.
As virgins we got the chance to introduce ourselves and then had to do our ‘down-downs’. But instead of throwing the remaining beer over our heads, we foolishly poured some of it on top of our heads. There were others like Krishna who had to gulp it down for taking a short cut, some for having their hands in their pockets, a few for being different or obnoxious, and one hasher had to drink beer from his new shoes — a longstanding hash tradition.
The running, sweating, traversing the undulating and boggy paths, encounters with friendly villagers, the delicious cakes and coke and the exciting rituals at the end make hashing a lot of fun. Out in nature’s splendour, walking or running through the grass and mud, crossing bridges and tackling difficult paths tests your fitness, but also gives you a wonderful time with a bunch of fun loving people.
There are hash house harriers in most countries and the time and location of their next run can easily be tracked down on the internet. Go to the official webshite of the Himlayan Hash at www.aponarch/hhhh to find out where the next run of Nepal’s only hash is and to read about the club’s exploits.
The festival had begun when we reached the venue, where a small assembly of fun and curious...