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A Slow Boat Down the Volga

The longest river in Europe, the Volga-Matushka is among the greatest rivers of the world. About 3,500km long, it spans from western Russia, through Central Russia, right up to the Caspian Sea where it drains. A Slow Boat Down the Volga will paddle down it telling some wonderful stories. #findyoursolitude

Unlike India and the expedition down the Ganges, I expect a lot many more hours of daylight while on the Volga. Fortunately, the expedition will be conducted in the months of most sunlight. I expect to have daylight for more than at least twelve hours a day. On the day of the summer equinox, on June 21, I can expect more than eighteen hours of daylight. I will get ten to twelve hours of paddling a day, instead of about six to seven hours on the Ganges. This will mean that I will be able to rack up the daily mileage. I am targeting one hundred days from start to finish, including the days I will be taking in the sights and sounds in the many wonderful cities on the banks of the Volga-Matushka.

Volga-Matushka means Mother Volga, something that most Russians refer to the mighty river as a Mother. I guess for reason similar to what makes us Indians refer to the Ganges as a Mother.

Many of Russia’s most important and interesting cities lie along the banks of the Volga – Tver, Dubna, Rybinsk, Yaroslavl, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Ulyanovsk, Tolyatti, Samara, Saratov and Volgograd before discharging into the Caspian Sea below Astrakhan at 92 ft below sea level.

The Volga is really a series of lakes. Well, not really, but because of some of the world’s largest reservoirs damming the river, the Volga is divided into large sections. Paddling the Volga is like paddling on a series of lakes. The reservoirs are Ivankovo Reservoir, Uglich Reservoir, Rybinsk Reservoir, Gorky Reservoir, Cheboksary Reservoir, Kuybyshev Reservoir (largest in Europe by surface), Saratov Reservoir and Volgograd Reservoir.

I definitely want to listen to the famous Song of the Volga Boatmen, one of the most popular traditional Russian songs, and maybe even make it the theme track for A Slow Boat Down the Volga. I would love to visit all the cathedrals and churches dotted along the banks, visit the museums in the many cities. I do not know if a lifetime is enough to see all the wonders, but I will try and visit as many sights as feasible and and tell as many stories as I can.

→ The word ‘Volga’ is derived from a Slavic word meaning ‘moisture, wetness’.

→ The Volga River’s watershed is 532,821 square miles in size and includes most of Western Russia.

→ In addition to Kama and Oka rivers, there are approximately 200 other tributaries that join the Volga River along its route.

→ The suspension bridge crossing the Volga River in Tver was built between 1897 and 1900, was damaged during the war, was repaired in 1947, and rebuilt in 1980.

→ There are high levels of pollutants in the water. It is estimated that 10 billion cubic yards of waste are dumped into the river each year by the thousands of factories located on its banks.

→ The river is so deep and so wide in some areas that you can’t see across the river in certain locations.

→ It freezes for approximately three months in the winter each year.

→ The Volga River is home to many large sturgeon fish, which are harvested for their caviar.

→ Volgograd was the site of one of World War II’s deadliest battles, called the Battle of Stalingrad.

There are obviously a lot of logistics that have to be worked out to make this expedition a possibility. But we have the tentative date of May 2021 in mind.

Meanwhile, preparing for the journey and for an easier time communicating with the Russians, I will need to pick up a smattering of the language. Maybe a cheat sheet printed on a piece of paper, in addition to Google Translate will help me along. The first phrase I have already mastered is “Ya lublyu vas”. Sounds like “Yellow blue bus”. Guess what it means. Watch Marina’s video below to figure it out!


A man can be himself only so long as he is alone; and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.

Arthur Schopenhauer

A SLOW BOAT DOWN THE VOLGA is set on the canvas of an incredible adventure on one of the world’s greatest rivers, and the longest river in Europe. This is a solo and unsupported effort, the kind that entails carrying all expedition gear on the boat, paddling through the day, setting up camp at the end of the day’s paddle, cooking, disinfecting water, writing the blog, updating social media posts, photographing the journey, and being the actor, the cinematographer, the producer, and the director of the emerging video footage that will ultimately be the material on which the documentary will be produced.

Throughout this more than hundred-day journey, the only company will be the people one meets en route. Even that becomes tricky due to the language barrier. This is a solo expedition in the truest sense of the term. And if one cannot enjoy the solitude, then this kind of an endeavour can become very taxing, very boring, very quickly. Like Jean-Paul Sartre said, “If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.”

This is an aspect that will be the focus of the journey. In today’s world of instant gratification, increasing dependence on seeking validation from the peer group, and depression that is setting in at a younger and younger age, it is imperative that we look inward rather than outward to justify our existence. We not only need to be comfortable in solitude, but also have to realise that being alone is not the same thing as being lonely.

All our communication before, during and after the journey will be tagged with #findyoursolitude.

Documenting the memories and the experiences

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? This is a philosophical thought experiment that raises questions regarding observation and perception. We do have the knowledge or the capacity to delve into the philosophical dimensions of this statement. But what we do realise is that we want to share our experiences of A Slow Boat Down the Volga with a whole lot of people. This is an awesome journey, the first by an Indian, and it will be a shame if it is not shared with the public at large.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video makes it a million. We will follow this principle and it is the visual spectacle that we will witness over the 3,500km paddle down the mighty river. There will be photographs, there will be videos, and there will be the written word.

The bulwark of the documentation will be a couple of GoPro Hero 7 Black  cameras, and the footage will be filmed in high definition. We will also carry a separate 360° camera that will be used for an immersive experience for the viewers.

The promotions and the audience

This is a unique expedition and will gain a lot of traction particularly among the youth from across India and from around the world. Our experience shows that a large percentage of the audience are men, in the 18-35 year age group. This is the core group that will follow the journey and this is the group of people a sponsor can address through an association.

This is the page where everything will come together … blogs, photographs, videos, etc.

Specifically, the promotions during the conduct of the journey will be in the social media space…

→ LIVE Facebook video updates every evening with a summary of the day’s events.

→ Multiple Instagram, Facebook and Twitter updates through the day, every day, with sponsor hashtags.

→ Blog posts detailing the day’s journey, with pictures of the daily highlights.

→ We will carry out significant Facebook advertising to get more “fans”.

Once the expedition is over, the following promotional activities are planned…

→ Production of a full length feature documentary, released on YouTube (we hope to reach a viewership of at least 100,000).

→ The documentary release will be accompanied by an advertising campaign.

→ Publication of a book on the expedition.

→ Speaking tours across cities in schools, colleges, offices and other venues across the country.

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