Hash House Harriers – try to say that ten times really quickly – is a mixture of athleticism and socialising, hedonism and gritty steel, a refreshing escape from the 9-to-5 grind that we’re all stuck with for most of the week.
In its simplest form, a hash is just a group of people getting together to run, but today is has developed into a worldwide mania and usually involves a post-run gathering fuelled by food, drinks, and lively songs. There are many different hash clubs in Malaysia, and the country has the claim to fame of the practice of hashing actually having its humble roots right here in the country’s capital.
History of the Hash
In 1938, a group of British colonial officials and expatriates were pondering the intricacies of life over a few beers at the “Hash House” – the dining room at the Selangor Club. They realised that the combination of too much beer and no exercise was leading them down the perilous path to Overweight Central. As there was almost no chance of them giving up their affinity for beer, they decided to form a club to organise cross-country runs on a regular basis to balance out the beer drinking. They named the group after the “Hash House” (after their meeting place) and the “hashers” name stuck.
Drawing inspiration from the traditional British paper chase, Hash House Harrier runs were patterned such where a “hare” was given a head start to blaze a trail, marking his devious way with shreds of paper, while being pursued by a shouting pack of “harriers.” Apart from the excitement of chasing the hare and solving the clues, completing the run has its own reward of ice-cold beer for thirsty harriers. Today there are thousands of Hash House Harrier clubs in all parts of the world, with newsletters, directories, and even regional and world hashing conventions.
Hashing at Home
It is comforting to see that hashing has not strayed far from its Kuala Lumpur origins. A typical hash today consists of a group of 20 to 40 men and women who meet up weekly or bi-weekly to chase the hare. Trails come in all shapes and forms, often including streets and back alleyways, streams, climbing over fences, exploring storm drains, and even scaling cliffs. Upon completing the run, an ice-cold beer awaits, although some of today’s health-conscious hashers may shun it in favour of water or diet sodas. A celebration nonetheless, reaching the trail’s end always guarantees a party.
My own hash experience involved joining a group of gregarious runners for a journey up Bukit Gasing, a popular hiking spot and notoriously steep hill in the midst of Petaling Jaya, with the promise of being rewarded with uninterrupted views of the Klang Valley at the peak.
- After being welcomed by the leader of the KL Dalmatians pack, “Blackjack,” (all hashers are bestowed with a designated hash name), I was given the rundown on the tenets of hashing:
To promote physical fitness among our members
- To get rid of weekend hangovers
- To work up a thirsty appetite (which is satisfied with beer)
- To persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel
As two of these tenets struck a particular chord with me, I was more than eager to put my fitness (and alcohol tolerance) levels to the test. With my trusty trainers on, I followed the pack, chanting calls of “On-On,” as it is usually done while searching for checkpoints made by the hare.
The trails are usually marked with paper, chalk, sawdust, or coloured flour (depending on the environment and weather), while special marks may be used to indicate a false trail, a backtrack, a shortcut, or a turn, making the hunt for the hare that much more exciting.
Trails may also contain a “beer check,” where the pack stops to consume beer, water, or snacks, allowing the less athletically inclined to catch up with the frontrunners of the group. Being rather unfit in comparison to the seasoned hashers whose company I shared, this was definitely a part of the run that I welcomed!
Trails often pass through all sorts of terrain, but luckily the Bukit Gasing trek was fairly water-free. What it lacked in liquid, though, it made up for in length. The steep gradient of the hills, combined with the lack of a set path, resulted in a very tough climb complete with dodging stray tree branches and fighting for balance, while navigating around slippery mud left behind by KL’s infamous thunderstorms. By the time I huffed and puffed my way to the halfway point, my thighs were burning, my back was aching and I was cursing all the evenings I sacrificed my Pilates class for a night in front of the television instead. (Sidenote: Kids, here is a useful piece of advice. Put down that iPad and head outdoors for a run in the sun. You’ll thank me later.)
Once we reached the peak, however, all the blood and sweat was worth it. Greeted by a stunning 360-degree view of the urban landscape surrounding the area, it was a sight to behold indeed. As an added bonus, sitting atop Bukit Gasing is the majestic Sivan temple, one of the earliest Hindu temples built amid the high hills overlooking Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya, rooted in all its glory.
The trek back down was slightly less daunting, but by no means could have been classified as an easy task. Wearing the correct footwear is vital in any hash run (or in my case, “hash walk”), as one wrong step could result in a tumble through the herbaceous borders of the wild. By the time I made it down the hill, night had fallen and the lights of the main checkpoint never looked so good. I was heartily welcomed into the depths of the hashing fold by a group of tired but surprisingly upbeat hash runners, with the promise of a cold drink, and (being a Malaysian hash group after all) a delicious meal.
An exhilaratingly fun combination of running and partying, hash runners and their no-holds-barred approach to exercising is not for the fainthearted. However, if your idea of fun involves chasing people on long trails through town, country, and desert in search of exercise, camaraderie, and good times, then this is definitely one activity you do not want to miss.
With so many hash clubs, there is bound to be one in your area:
- Damansara Hash House Harriers (Damansara)
- Hartamas Hash House Harriers and Hariettes (Sri Hartamas)
- Hash House Harriers 1938 (KL city – men’s only hash chapter)
- Kuala Lumpur Dalmation Hash House Harriers (Petaling Jaya)
- Mont Kiara Hash House Harriers (Mont Kiara)
- Royal Selangor Club Hash House Harriers (KL city)
- Palm Hills Hash House Harriers and Hariettes (Mont Kiara)
- Kelab Aman Hash House Harriers (Ampang)
- Kuala Lumpur Fullmoon Hash House Harriers (Bangsar)
- Kelab Shah Alam Hash House Harriers & Harriettes (Shah Alam)Visit the Malaysian Hash Council for more chapters and further information: www.malaysianhashcouncil.com
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