Men gather for four hours each day to exercise in rural village Asola-Fatehpur Beri
Tradition of exercising has turned village into recruitment grounds for Delhi bouncers
Musclemen follow tradition of eating vegetarian, abstain from smoking and alcohol
The village of Asola-Fatehpur Beri is the strongest in India.
For generations, men have held two-hour workouts every morning and evening in this countryside community on the southern rim of Delhi.
From pre-teens to men nearing 50, bodybuilders sweat it out at one of the most popular training spots, Akhada, which is a Hindi word that means wrestling arena.
This is where brawny men wrestle in mud, climb ropes and perform a few hundred sit-ups and push-ups, balancing their hands on bricks.
They carry each other on their shoulders – all part of the traditional Indian way of working out. One lifts a 350 kilogram (771 pound) motorcycle up to his chest.
The group of about 40 males exercises outside, each wearing a simple loincloth.
“They eat healthy and on time, they practice here everyday, and that’s why they are so strong,” says Vijay Tanwar, the head-trainer at Akhada.
The musclemen of Asola-Fatehpur Beri are capitalizing on their brawn by working as bouncers in New Delhi’s clubs and bars.
As more nightspots open in India’s capital, there’s a greater need for men to guard the doors, and the musclemen from this rural village are filling most of that demand.
Tanwar is credited with starting this new trend.
Fifteen years ago, he missed out on a place in India’s wrestling team for the Olympics. He says he was looking for an opportunity where he could use his muscle and power, and so took a job as a bouncer.
“I was the first bouncer from this village,” he claims. “Then everyone followed my path. More than 300 musclemen work as bouncers in New Delhi’s clubs and bars now.”
They’ve learned that pumping iron is a way to stay fit and earn a living.
“As they say health is wealth. We are healthy but we’re also earning good money, able to send kids to good schools, eat well – what else does one need in life?” he says.
Building muscle isn’t only about becoming a bouncer in Delhi.
Disciplined training is very important for these men and part of a tradition in the village.
“There are few modern gyms in the village, but most men prefer the traditional style of working out,” Tanwar says. “It makes your body flexible and the risk of injury is less as well.”
The musclemen don’t drink or smoke. And the majority of them are vegetarians with diets that consist mostly of fruit, nuts, yogurts and lots of milk.
“We do not consume any muscle enhancing supplements,” Tanwar says.
Building muscle in a new generation
Urged by his parents, Sonu Tanwar, 19, gets up at 5 a.m. to go running and then to the Akhada.
Tanwar, who represents the younger generation of bodybuilders, says: “I want to be a great wrestler and make my parents proud. I play in the 66 kilogram category and have won several championships.”
Instilling a habit of working out in young males is important, says Guru Lekhraj, a 75-year-old native of the Asola-Fatehpur village.
“Children are prone to bad behavior between the age of 17 and 27, but if we get the child interested in physical exercise and good health, bad behavior will not be an influence. This is what our ancestors have taught us as well. Who will teach if not the elders?”
Lekhraj comes to the Akhada often to observe the men working out. He’s a respected figure among the musclemen, and is considered the bodybuilding guru of the village.
Due to Lekhraj’s age, he cannot participate in training anymore but says he is very happy the young generation is continuing the legacy.
“What mother doesn’t want her son to be strong, well-built, handsome and smart?” Lekhraj says.
In the case of Asola-Fatehpur Beri, bodybuilding also means building a legacy.
CNN’s Sumnima Udas, Omar Khan and Kunal Seghal contributed to this report.