Water has been a source of life for people through the generations and ancient civilisations have prospered around rivers and lakes. Apart from being the country with the longest coastline, India is a country that has a lot of rivers and lakes. Some of the mightiest, longest, highest and holiest water bodies are found in this ancient land. And lying along the shores are some awesome sights. From tropical forests to exotic flora and fauna. Ancient places of worship to tribes that continue to live according to age old customs and traditions.
There is probably no better way to experience this beautiful and wonderful planet than through the eyes of a small and slow boat floating along the waters of the many rivers, lakes, seas and oceans. That is what we plan to do in CANOE STORIES.
CANOE STORIES is a series of journeys that takes me along the many waterways dotted around the country, and around the world. Not just from the point of a view as a canoeist, but from the perspective of a traveller to the region. What to do, what to see, places to visit, the food, the culture, the people, the music and the history.
All the journeys will be made on an inflatable canoe, the Sea Eagle TC16. The purpose is to raise awareness about the increasing pollution facing our oceans, rivers, and ponds and the depletion in fresh water resources around the world.
More rivers and lakes will be added as more CANOE STORIES are told. For the immediate future, some of the rivers and lakes that I plan to take my canoe down are as follows:
RIVERS & SEAS
The Canoe Stories on various rivers and seas in the Indian sub continental region and across four continents, covers more than 25,000 km and will require almost 20 million paddle strokes. No mean feat, even though I say so myself!
Dates (except SLOW BOAT DOWN THE GANGES) are tentative, but the tentative schedule is as follows:
Slow Boat Down the Ganges takes me down the length of the Ganges from the holy city of Haridwar to the point where the Ganges meets the Bay of Bengal at Sagar Island. The Ganges is a river considered holy by a billion people and supports an estimated population of 500 million people or more. She provides water to about 40% of India's population across 5 states, flowing though 29 cities with population over 100,000, 23 cities with population between 50,000 and 100,000, and about 48 other towns. The Ganges has supported civilisation for many centuries and today is bearing the brunt of pollution. It is considered one of the most polluted rivers in the world. This is a 2,500 km journey to raise awareness about how people dependent on the holy river can join hands to protect and preserve it for future generations.
The Brahmaputra is nestled in the easternmost corner of the Indian subcontinent. The 700km expedition starts at the ancient and holy site of Parashuram Kund. The first part of the journey is on the Lohit river, a tributary of the Brahmaputra. Entering Assam, the Brahmaputra quietens down, after a turbulent journey covering many miles through China and Arunachal Pradesh. This journey follows the course of the river, alongside some breathtaking countryside, including the famous Kaziranga National Park, Majuli the world's largest riverine island, paddling along with some river dolphins, and possibly interacting with tribes that continue to live their primitive hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The journey finally ends at Guwahati, the capital of Assam.
Sri Lanka is referred to as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean and the Emerald Isle. It is one of the most beautiful geographies in the Indian Ocean region and as an island, lends itself to circumnavigation in a canoe. And that is the plan. The expedition starts and ends on the Indian mainland, at Rameshwaram. This is where the mythical bridge was built by Lord Rama and his army of monkeys to connect India to Sri Lanka to allow Lord Rama's army to cross over to the island to rescue Sita who was kidnapped by Ravana, the King of Sri Lanka. The story behind this is the foundation of the Ramayana, the Hindu epic.
The expedition will go all around the Sri Lankan coast, to end at Ramban, close to Rameshwaram, about a month later. This region is prone to very rough weather almost throughout the year, and the window to conduct this expedition is limited. The tentaive plan is to conduct it between the winter and summer monsoon seasons when the ocean is likely to be much less violent.
The Volga is the longest river in Europe. Its source is in the Valdai Hills between Moscow and St Petersburg, and it discharges into the Caspian Sea, more than 3,500km later ... and 92 feet below sea level! Widely regarded as the national river of Russia, and in fact referred to as Volga Matushka or Mother Volga, eleven of the twenty largest cities of Russia, including the capital, Moscow, are located in the Volga's drainage basin. Also, some of the largest reservoirs in the world can be found along the Volga. Some historic cities are located on the Volga, including Volvograd the site of the bloodiest battle in human history, Joseph Stalin's war time bunker in Samara, the birthplace of Lenin at Ulyanovsk, the ancient trading port at Kazan, etc. This paddle will be epic. The logistics and dates are being worked out, but is planned for the summer of 2019. Do stay tuned.
The Yukon River is a major river in North America, flowing through the Yukon Territory in northwestern Canada, and then through Alaska. The length of the river is over 3,000km, the third longest in North America, but this edition of the Canoe Stories will cover the 800km odd distance of the river within Canada, from Whitehorse the capital of Yukon, to Dawson City. It was one of the main ways that people travelled during the 1896-1903 Klondike Gold Rush. Despite its length, there are only four vehicle-carrying bridges across the river. A car ferry crosses the river at Dawson City in the summer; it is replaced by an ice bridge over the frozen river during the winter.
The Yukon River basin is one of the most sparsely populated and least developed regions in North America. This provides the basin its scenery and isolation that is so attractive to tourists. In addition to the awesome landscape, the Yukon River has a lot of wildlife like wolves, grizzly bears and moose seen at the river’s edge, while ospreys, golden eagles and mountain bluebirds fill the skies, and otters and beavers swim the waters. Though Yukon Territory is the size of Spain, it is populated by 40,000 people, of which 30,000 live in the capital Whitehorse. No wonder there are are more grizzly bears and moose than people in one of the world's last great wilderness geographies.
The Yukon River is home to one of the longest salmon runs in the world. The villages along the Yukon have historically and continue to rely on salmon for their cultural, subsistence, and commercial needs.
Odyssea is the first of the Canoe Stories that will be out in the open sea. Actually, three seas - the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. I will paddle my canoe, hugging the entire coastline of India, starting from Koteshwar, Gujarat to finish in Kolkata, West Bengal. This 10,000 odd kilometre journey will take me across 11 States and Union Territories, providing me with the opportunity of interacting with changing people, food, cultures, music, etc. Over about six months, camping on a new beach every evening, interacting with the locals and imbibing the diverse cultures, will be of immense excitement, enjoyment and learning.
DOWN THE AMAZON is the most ambitious of the CANOE STORIES. Not because of its distance of 6,000 km, but more so because of the almost virgin and unforgiving terrain that the magnificent river passes through. One of the last pristine wilderness stretches in the world, the Amazon is a carbon sequester, is the source of most medicinal plants, has some wondrous creatures inhabiting it, and one of the last sanctuaries that offers soe awesome adventures. It is tough, it is relentless and it is gorgeous. The DOWN THE AMAZON expedition brings with it its own unique challenges in the biggest, baddest, rain forest in the whole wide world. This is not only a first for OTA Survival School, but indeed a first for India and Asia. No other person from Asia has ever canoed down this amazing stretch of geography, down a river that is often called The River Sea. In fact less than a dozen people from around the world have either kayaked or canoed the Amazon. That is what makes this effort so special.
Click here to know more about this amazing adventure.
Thanks to the Himalayan range standing sentinel to the North of the country, and the biannual monsoons that visit India with such ferocity and frequency, there are hundreds of wonderful lakes that dot the country. Most of these lakes are set in gorgeous surroundings and many of the locations around the lakes have developed into tourist destinations. Below are just some of the lakes around India that I plan to paddle. Obviously, there are many many more that are in the wish list and will be added as time goes by.
Uttarakhand is a State in North India, at the foothills of the Himalayas. It is green, it is gorgeous and it is dotted with many beautiful lakes. The plan is to paddle across as many of the lakes as possible that exist in this awesome State.
Bhopal is the capital of the Central Indian State of Madhya Pradesh and is aptly called the City of Lakes. There are two main lakes in the city, Upper Lake and Lower Lake. The Upper Lake is now known as Bhojtal, lies on the western side of the city and is a major source of drinking water for the residents. Bhojtal, also known as Bada Talaab, along with the nearby Chhota Talaab constitute the Bhoj Wetland, now a Ramsar site. Canoe Stories: Bhopal will be staged on the Upper Lake or Bhojtal. This will also be the venue for Paddlemania, an attempt at the longest distance canoed in 6 and 12 hours respectively.
Chilika Lake is a brackish water lagoon in Odisha, on the east coast of India, flowing into the Bay of Bengal, covering an area of over 1,100 km2. It is the largest coastal lagoon in India and the second largest in the world, and the largest wintering ground for migratory birds in the Indian sub-continent. CANOE STORIES CHILIKA will cover the many attractions around the Chilika Lake ... Mangalajodi, Rambha Bay, Becon Island, Breakfast Island, Honeymoon Island, Barkuda Island, Somolo and Dumkudi islands, Birds island, Parikud, Kalijai Temple, Satapada, Barunkuda, Nabagraha, Chourbar Shiva Temple, Manikpatna, Bhabakundeswar temple, Sea Mouth, etc. Dates for this is yet to be decided. Stay tuned.
Sikkim, India's second smallest and least populous State lies cocooned between China to its north and east, Bhutan to its east, Nepal to its west and the Indian state of West Bengal to its south. Sikkim is notable for its biodiversity, including alpine and subtropical climates. It is host to Mt Kanchenjunga, the highest peak in India and third highest on Earth. Sikkim also has some of the prettiest high altitude lakes in the world and four of the prettiest are going to narrate the CANOE STORIES - (1) Tsongmo Lake, (2) Green Lake, (3) Gurudongmar Lake, and (4) Tso Lhamo.
Rajasthan lies to the West of India, is a border State adjoining Pakistan, and is India's largest desert. Known for the valour of the kings of yore, even today the Rajputs form a formidable contingent in the Indian Armed Forces. However, even though Rajasthan is a desert, there are many lakes dotted around the State, many man-made by the erstwhile rulers to alleviate the water stress faced by the citizens. I plan to paddle as many lakes as possible in this beautiful State.
Lahaul & Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh consists of the two formerly separate districts of Lahaul and Spiti. The administrative centre is in Keylong. The14,931 feet high Kunzum Pass, 21 km from Chandra Tal, is the entrance to Spiti. The two valleys are quite different in character. Spiti is more barren and difficult to cross, with an average elevation of 14,009 ft. It is a typical mountain desert area with an average annual rainfall of only 6.7 inches. It is the fourth least populous district in India. Lahaul & Spiti has some incredibly beautiful lakes and the three that are currently featuring in the CANOE STORIES are: (1) Chandra Tal, (2) Deepak Tal, and (3) Suraj Tal.
Ladakh, literally translated as the land of high passes, is also the land with some of the most breathtaking lakes in India. One of the most sparsely populated regions in India, Ladakhi culture and history is closely related to that of Tibet. Ladakh is renowned for its remoteness, some of the highest mountains in the world, its people, culture and music. This region is also unfortunately the geography of many a conflict between India and China, as well between India and Pakistan. Some of the lakes that will be a part of the CANOE STORIES in Ladakh are: (1) Tso Moriri, (2) Tso Kar, (3) Pangong Tso and (4) Mirpal Tso.
Dal is a lake in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir and is named the Jewel in the crown of Kashmir. The shoreline is about 15.5 kilometres, encompassed by a boulevard lined with Mughal era gardens and parks built during the reign of Mughal Emperor Jahangir. The lake, including its floating gardens, covers an area of over 20 square kilometres. The floating gardens blossom with lotus flowers during July and August. The wetland is divided by causeways into four basins; Gagribal, Lokut Dal, Bod Dal and Nagin. Lokut-dal and Bod-dal each have an island in the centre, known as Char Chinari and Sona Lank respectively.
The canoe is a magical and romantic vessel. It is not just for transportation, it means so much more to the people who have used canoes over the centuries. It originated in Canada, with the First Nations people and has developed over the years to encompass modern people with its magic. Here are a few videos that try to encapsulate the magic of paddling a canoe.