On 13th May 2023, 150 runners from Darjeeling and Sikkim ran from Darjeeling to Kurseong in West Bengal to show their solidarity with the His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In a remarkable display of unity, peace, and forgiveness, Tenzin's Gym, together with the support of Vikrun Foundation, Blue Dragon Adventure, Teedi, and local Tibetan communities of Darjeeling, Ghoom, Sonada, and Kurseong, organized the inspiring 'Run for Truth and Reconciliation' marathon.
Excerpts from our conversation with Vikram Rai, Founder of VikRun Foundation. A motivated marathoner, Rai is a Ph.D. Research Scholar and Assistant Prof & HOD- Dept of Mass Communication, St Joseph’s College, Darjeeling.
1. The Run was named "Run for Truth and Reconciliation". Could you talk to us about how the title reflects the objective of this brilliantly organized event?
The run was an idea that was formulated by me but it was sponsored and supported by Tenzin Jamyang, owner of Tenzin Gym who is also an international bodybuilder from the Tibetan community.
The aim of the run was to promote healing, justice, and reconciliation in the Tibetan community after the defamatory experienced incident relating to His Holiness where some media tried to defame his name with false and fake allegations.
2. What was the message that was conveyed through this event?
Darjeeling is a small hill station in West Bengal that is considered the world’s nicest place but in the last few years, Darjeeling has become very popular because of the popularity of running as a sport in the hills and marathon running events. When we announced this run in a matter of 2 hrs 150 runners had already registered for this run which by any standard can be considered challenging to difficult.
By participating in this run, our aim was to bring attention to gather support for His Holiness and to encourage others to get involved so that they also know the real fact of the incident. Most of these runners were non-Tibetan and sending out messages to this group was very important for us.
In this event, 150 runners and 20 cyclists participated while covering 35 km from Darjeeling to Kurseong.
3. What challenges or obstacles did you face in organizing this event and how did you overcome them?
As you know Darjeeling is a small town and during the tourist season which is now, we face a lot of traffic problems so getting the necessary permission was a challenge but due to the help of the Darjeeling Police, Local Administration, GTA, and Forest Department we could identify a route which didn’t involve in disrupting vehicular movements and disrupting the lives of the people. Just like His Holiness’s teaching which is to cultivate a sense of empathy and kindness towards others, and to avoid causing harm or trouble to those around them.
4. How has His Holiness the Dalai Lama inspired you?
Although I am not a Tibetan or a Buddhist by religion, I feel I have also been blessed by him as a professional I am a professor of Mass Communication and Journalism at St Joseph’s College, Darjeeling, and in 2003 I made a documentary on His Holiness’s visit to Darjeeling which was seen by Fr Victor who was then the principal of st Joseph’s college who later invited me to start the first mass media department in Darjeeling hills in 2005. Ever since it’s been 18 years that I have been teaching mass communication at St Joseph’s College.
Nurturing a deep association with Buddhism and His Holiness the Dalai Lama through my wife's faith has profoundly enriched our lives, fostering a journey of wisdom, compassion, and spiritual growth.
His Holiness has always inspired me as he promotes values that are universally recognized as positive and desirable, such as compassion, kindness, and love. These values are not exclusive to any particular religion or belief system but are essential for the well-being of all individuals and societies.
5. Could you tell us more about the VikRun Foundation and what inspired you to organize this Run?
Vikrun Foundation - a Charitable Trust, registered as a Society, to help anyone who wishes to change his or her lifestyle and adopt healthier living options.
After having established the Foundation to offer a healthier lifestyle to the residents of our hills, the Foundation went on to open an economic development program called Gundri Bazar to promote young entrepreneurs from the hills. The first Gundri Bazar was organized in Darjeeling in December 2020 and another one in February 2021 at Siliguri. Plans to take the project to Calcutta were finalized but scuttled by the arrival of the Second Wave of the pandemic and so these plans have been put on hold. The idea behind the Gundri Bazar project was not only to provide local entrepreneurs with a platform for their products but also to showcase local initiatives in a wider market.
While the second wave of the Covid 19 put a halt to the Gundri Bazar project, it opened another window for service. The VikRun Foundation responded to the crisis by starting the first free oxygen cylinder bank in the hills. The Project was smartly called O2 Darjeeling which was a pun on the expression “owe to” - and was a way of expressing the Foundation members’ gratitude to Darjeeling. The Foundation also started its own free ambulance service and provided financial support to Covid-afflicted families who could not afford funeral services on their own.
Further, as has been reported in various media the VikRun Foundation came forward to provide free legal service to Covid affected families who had to go through the trauma of inflated medical treatment bills. Also, scholarships were provided to students who lost their parents to the dreaded virus. As recently as Wednesday The Telegraph reported on how the GTA Headmasters’ Association in collaboration with the Vikrun Foundation had chosen to provide scholarships to 14 children whose families had lost their only breadwinner.
Now the Vikrun Foundation tries to encourage our youngsters to lead healthier and more meaningful lives by specializing in organizing marathons in Darjeeling hills.
As a passionate marathoner and an organizer for many of the big marathons in the region, I thought the best way to support His Holiness was to organize a run so that we can gather solidarity for His Holiness.
6. Has there been a memorable moment/ person that moved you/ left an impact on you while organizing this event?
The run was financed and sponsored by Tenzing Gym under the guidance of Tenzin Jamyang, an international bodybuilder from the Tibetan community who not only included us but also roped in Migma Girme Sherpa who is a budding entrepreneur in the hills and is the owner of the brand Rimbick fresh. Mr. Dawa Gyalpo an award winner from the Department of Tourism, Govt of India was also involved along with former banker and social worker, Mr. Manoj Gurung. Mr. Utsav Pradhan is a Permaculture specialist and is the founder of TIEEDI and is associated with several environmental projects related to River rejuvenation and the champion of the zero waste movement in Darjeeling hills.
Many notable people took part in the run including Mr Amar Subba, the marathon man of Sikkim, Mr Amar Lama, Principal Advisor of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, and Mr Premius Bhutia, marathoner and former chemically dependent person who has now taken the Herculean task of making Darjeeling a drug free place.
The most memorable part of this run is the support and love we got from the non-Tibetan community as they said HH The Dalai Lama is not only for Tibetans but he is the symbol of peace and compassion for all.
We also spoke to Tenzin Jamyang, a bodybuilder and health and fitness promoter and also the owner of Tenzin's Gym in Darjeeling, who helped organize this event. Tenzin Jamyang la shared with us how he strongly believes that there won’t be any changes to HH Dalai Lama’s reputation or influence after the false allegations but he thinks that being a Tibetan, Buddhist, and a follower of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, it is our responsibility to counter those people who disgrace not only our spiritual leader but also a figure of Compassion and peace to all over the world. And this run was a big success only with the support of the Vikrun Foundation, the people of Darjeeling, Kurseong, and Sonata. This event is very special for me than any other event and it was a great opportunity to contribute to my country Tibet.