Swimming the Sub-Continent

March 10, 2017

When one  thinks of sports in Nepal and India, swimming doesn't jump to the top of the list. Trekking and cricket are much more the sports of these countries, but I was determined to get in some pool time over a recent trip.  My wife and I spent about 9 days in Nepal volunteering with Habitat for Humanity building foundations for houses that had been destroyed in the devastating 2015 earthquake.  We followed that up with a week of vacation in India split roughly equally between the Darjeeling area and the National Capital Region.  I was still unsuccessful in my efforts to swim at what looks to be India's best pool, but managed to get in three unique, rooftop swims.

 

The Palace of Pools

We admittedly splurged on our last few nights in New Delhi and stayed at one of the capital's best hotels, the Leela Palace.  I've been coming to India off and on since 2003, primarily for work, and have stayed in a wide range of accommodations - from modest guest houses and apartments to youth-hostel quality local hotels to local business hotels - but had never gone to one of the upscale brands that has made India famous for hospitality.  I fear that staying at the Leela has spoiled me for ever wanting to stay someplace else: it was a spectacular facility with top-notch service.  My only regret is that we spent so much time touring outside of the hotel that I didn't get to spend more time in the spectacular rooftop pool -

 

I figure the pool was pretty close to 25 yards long and, though you can't tell from these pictures, had some gold-inlaid decorations on the bottom that doubled as lane lines.  Unlike my other two swims, this was heated to right around 82 degrees, just perfect for swimming in the Indian wintertime.

 

Not Quite The Roof of the World

I am pretty sure that I saw Mt. Everest from my plane when flying into and out of Kathmandu, but our trip with Habitat kept us at much lower elevations in an area about 90 minutes southeast of the capital.  After we had finished days of manual labor digging trenches, moving rocks, making bricks, mud and concrete to create the foundations for two houses, we had one last afternoon free back in Kathmandu.  While the rest of the team largely went shopping around the Thamel region, I took an 8km round trip walk to the only publicly accessible pool I could find at the Jasmine Fitness Club, up on the roof (5th floor) of a building called the United World Trade Center.  

 

I probably should have realized that, in the wintertime in a country with very few pools, there would be little demand for swimming ... and that low demand would translate into absolutely zero need to heat the pool. When I showed up and paid my 500 Nepali Rupees (US$5) to swim, I should have also taken a clue from the surprised look on the attendant's face!  Clearly, I was their first swimming customer in a while.

 

Now, I am an admitted cold water wimp and submerging gave me that 'chest-caving-in' feeling as my body tried to shrink away from the chill.  The water was definitely sub-60 degrees, way too cold for my normal swimming enjoyment ... but, as I had trekked through the glazed-eye crowds celebrating Maha Shivratri (the one day a year that the government turns a blind eye to public marijuana consumption), I was determined to get in my self-imposed 1,000 yard minimum to log this pool on my list.  

 

It looked so promising

After we finished our vacation in India, my wife returned home and I had another week to work out of my company's office in the tech suburb of Gurgaon/Gurugram. I was honestly pretty excited to collect a few more Marriott points when I found a good deal on a new Courtyard hotel there, even moreso because it promised another pool:

Visually, this was even more appealing than the Kathmandu pool and the series of jets along the center provided another perfect lane line for swimming straight. However, just like in Nepal, this was unheated.  With Delhi being about 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than Kathmandu, this wasn't quite the same chill-fest, but my visions of long swims every day did not come to pass.

 

I have had an exceptional time on my adventures these last few weeks, but am looking forward to getting back home and to swimming more consistently.  I'm confident I'll be back in India and even more confident, with the dynamic and explosive growth this country continues to experience, that I'll have a never-ending supply of pools to seek out here.

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