March 29: The ‘Spirit of India’ run – an initiative of former Australian parliamentarian Pat Farmer and the tourism ministry – entered the Kashmir valley on Monday and culminated in Srinagar today.

“I’m absolutely elated,” he told AAP on Tuesday after crossing the finish line to huge applause in Srinagar.

“It’s been a hell of a journey. Sometimes it’s been incredibly arduous and other times it’s been magnificent.

“I’ve seen things and done things here that you don’t get to do as a tourist, so I feel very blessed.”

On entering the valley after crossing the Bannihal or Jawahar tunnel – which connects Kashmir with Jammu and the rest of the world by road – Farmer said Kashmir was safe for tourism and the people should shun their prejudiced views to visit the beautiful place and enjoy themselves.

Finishing a day earlier, Farmer, who covered about 76 km a day said “I feel very privileged to be here…”.

The eight-member team of Farmer comprises his wife Tania, crew manager Katie Walsh, doctor Joseph Grace, journalist Kevin Nguyen, film director Anupam Sharma and his three assistants.

The Jammu and Kashmir tourism department organised a cultural programme to welcome the team, in which artistes showcased Kashmiri art and music.

The 64-day Indian odyssey had its own hiccups – hospitalization, an IV drip after suffering from severe dehydration, heat exhaustion, muscle meltdown and weather extremes; yet the 54-year-old captured the imagination of locals, with up to 200 locals running with him at any point in time.

Farmer lost 13kg in his first week for his weight to drop dangerously to 52kg but was at 59kg when he crossed the line on Tuesday afternoon.

“To do this sort of job in a country like this you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” he said.

“Most days I’ve been running with really severe stomach cramps. That sort of thing makes it really difficult to get the job done.”

The ‘Spirit of India’ run under the aegis of the ‘Incredible India’ programme began on January 26 from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu and after travelling a distance of 4,600 km through various states, finished at Srinagar.

It provided a unique opportunity to showcase India and its places of tourist interest in the Australian market.

The former parliamentarian Pat Farmer is also an endurance runner, known for his astonishing year-long 20,000 km slog across 14 countries between the Earth’s two poles in 2011.

Described as “The Greatest Run in History” — raised $100 million for the International Red Cross in aid of its relief programmes in the developing world.

His “Spirit of India” run was aimed at raising 100,000 Australian dollars – for the education of girls, cementing relations between India and Australia, encouraging tourism and personal relationships and creating awareness about India as a tourism destination. He has completed similar runs in the Middle East and Vietnam. He also holds the record for the longest continuous run around Australia. Now Farmer says he’s most looking forward to a hot bath, cold ale and the Maroubra sand.

Ramakrishna VenuGopal

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