Sunday, 20 February 2011

Running for Cake and Glory

The annual Christmas Cake Race in Mokokchung, Nagaland

The Ao "capital" of Mokokchung has a peculiar and a fun Christmas tradition. Every year on the 24th of December a grand relay foot race takes place between the young adults of the town. The young runners compete as part of teams each representing one of Mokokchung's 16 wards, which are the administrative units into which the town is divided. It's called a "cake race", since apparently the triumphant team wins a christmas cake, rather than a trophy.

Each team consists of two girls and a handful of boys. The girls run the first two stretches, which are short sprints in the centre of town that are more about gaining position than about gaining time. The boys then take over and run much longer distances all over the town's the hilly terrain. Anyone who has walked up and down the hills of Mokokchung will know that even a stroll up and down is physically taxing. So it takes many months of serious trainings for the young boys, who take part in this race - and it is taken very seriously. The ward which wins will own the bragging rights for the entire next year!
 
The boys are being driven to their various posts around town, where they will wait for their team's relay to reach them

A local politician stands ready to wave the flag which marks the beginning of the race

The race is off with the first batch of girls doing the first short sprint! You can see the next batch of girls waiting for the relay at the end of the road

The second relay change - from the girls to the boys
 
In the race we saw it was Lijaba Lijen Ward, which took the first place - and to do a bit of bragging of my own I had picked them as winners before the race. Just by looking at their physiques they seemed to be the most fit bunch, and indeed they did lead the race pretty much from start to finish. Of course we couldn't see what happened throughout the race but a car would follow the leading runners throughout the route and send updates back to the awaiting crowd through the huge loudspeakers mounted in the town's central square.

The leading runner from Lijen Ward passes the central roundabout roughly halfway through the race - followed by the official car of the race organisers

The winning runner has just crossed the line to the celebrations of his elders and team mates

The race is followed and preceded by various performances and speeches and some some sort of local revue with various performed sketches, which I did not really understand. But it looked like the crowd enjoyed it all.

One of the performed sketches, involves a car from BSNL, a major telecommunications company in India

The Cake Race draws big crowds into the centre of town

It was nice to see such a well arranged event in a remote place like Mokokchung. In general it seems like a very well organised civil society, which can also be seen in the local town plan which requires dust bins to be prominently place everywhere while all storefronts must be painted in white and blue colours and live up to certain specifications. It makes Mokokchung a very clean and aesthetically pleasing town, especially considering the general urban standards of the Indian subcontinent.

Mokokchung Street dominated by blue and white colours