Dec 30, 2018, Hop, Step and Jump to Patna

Slow Boat Down the Ganges Update 56

Calm river and following winds
Calm river and following winds

Needless to say, I slept like a log. Chandru and Raghu found a couple of tables that are otherwise used to display the wares that Golu sells from his shop, while I was more comfortable on the floor. The shack was closed in from all sides and the inside was quite warm and toasty. After spending some time in transferring the video footage and writing the post yesterday, aided by some stiff tots of the good stuff, I was asleep almost before I had time to zip up the sleeping bag. And I did not even have the energy to change from my paddling clothes into something that was likely to be a little more comfortable. No worries, the dreams tried to enter the subconscious, but I was too tired to even dream.

Chandru and Raghu with Golu our host at Kaithi
Chandru and Raghu with Golu our host at Kaithi

At around three or four in the morning, the loudspeakers came alive in all their vocal glory, singing their paens to the various Gods and Goddesses that abound in India, protecting the devout. It was loud enough to wake even the dead, and I was no exception. A quick peak through the folds of the canvas told me that it was still dark outside. But once up, getting back to sleep was difficult. And the sphincter did the rest to wake me up. Out into the fields I went, portable potty and toilet paper at the ready.

Despite all the talk of India fast becoming an Open Defecation Free country, particularly along the various villages, towns and cities along the Ganges, this is far from reality. At Kaithi, Hema Malini, an accomplished danseuse, an actress of considerable repute, and a current Member of Parliament had come visiting a few weeks ago. Not wanting to disappoint her, a toilet was hastily built. I saw the structure, it looked new, and I was hoping to make use of it. However, I was told that it was not only dysfunctional, but was due to be razed to the ground for a new built in its place. The structure looked good enough, but was about it. That is probably the bane of Government sponsored initiatives. The reason for building them remain largely for photo ops. I have not yet seen a village, town or city anywhere along the Ganges that does not have human poop distinctly visible pretty much everywhere.

Silhouette against the morning sun
Silhouette against the morning sun

When I started paddling today it was a little after eight in the morning, the wind was crisp, the weather nippy, and the fog enveloped the surroundings. With winter setting in, the days are becoming shorter, the nights longer and colder. The number of paddling hours have reduced significantly and I doubt if I will be able to manage the erstwhile forty or so kilometres that I was managing previously. Thirty looks more like it.

Lots of birds at Kaithi
Lots of birds at Kaithi

The fog made it difficult to see where I was going, but the place I was paddling through just after Kaithi had a million birds. It was wonderful to be paddling right through and past them. I have seen so many different species of birds while going down the Ganges, and I regret not being able to identify them. There are small ones and large ones, white ones and dark ones, I even saw a dead bird floating along the canoe.

As I drifted and/or paddled down from Kaithi, I saw a few villages, and even had a short chat with a couple of villagers who beckoned me, just to have a conversation. The sheer experience of meeting the people I am, and the satisfaction at their validation of this expedition, makes it all worthwhile.

Raghu has had his fill of river journeys. Despite my trying to convince him to get on the boat again to get over his fear of water, he is still cagey. Maybe over the next few weeks I will be able to get him to give it one more shot. If he does not, this fear will stay with him for the rest of his life. Chandru is doing a remarkable job as road support. It is not an easy task, and finding a road where the vehicle can come close to the river bank is daunting. He has been absolutely wonderful at it, I must admit.

Chandru and Raghu meet me at Medhwa Ghat
Chandru and Raghu meet me at Medhwa Ghat

The task today was to reach a village called Medhwa. Which was completed quite comfortably. At Medhwa I took a call. There was nothing very interesting happening on the river itself, and I was in a rush to leave Uttar Pradesh State behind and get into the third of the five States that the Ganges flows through. The call was to hop, skip and jump from Medhwa to Patna. From Medhwa I hopped over to Bara, a small hamlet on the right bank of the river, instead of paddling to Firojpur the next day that lay on the left bank. We did head to Firojpur, but on the very same day, the Prime Minister visited the nearby town of Ghazipur and the traffic was horrendous. In fact, while I was paddling down to Medhwa, I saw two helicopters flying overhead. I think I saw someone waving down at me. Later I surmised it would have been the Prime Minister wishing me Godspeed!

In any case, on our way to Firojpur, we hit a pretty major traffic snarl, and realised the next morning that there had been been scuffle between some people and the police, resulting in the death of one cop. Not wanting to wait forever for the snarl to unravel, we retraced our steps and headed across the river to reach a village called Bara. This lies just before the road enters Bihar. Not wanting to drain our remaining stock of the good stuff (Bihar has imposed a complete and aggressive form of prohibition), we stopped at Bara to finish whatever was remaining in the bottle. This proved to be quite a substantial amount, enough for the cops to put us in the slammer for drunken driving. By the time the bottle was consumed, we had become quite good friends with the shack owners where we had stopped for dinner, and our request to stay the night in the shack was gladly accepted.

Alcohol has this wonderful quality of shedding inhibitions, and this resulted in Chandru and me indulging in a largely pointless discussion about whether human beings are essentially carnivores or herbivores. As a born again carnivore, I pointed to humans having molars and canines in their oral cavity, while Chandru being a dedicated herbivore, vehemently suggested that humans, despite being mammals, are not essentially meat eaters. I wonder if either of our submissions were based on culture or evolution. But the time passed on nicely and soon enough it was time to tuck in.

The place we slept was a godown for rice and wheat, and the rats were having a field day ... or rather night. Chandru had found residence on a table converted into a cot, while Raghu and me were on the floor. I was out like a light, but Raghu recounted the next morning about the many plays that he witnessed the rats staging right alongside where he was sleeping.

Once again, morning calls were answered in the wide open outdoors, the fields were suitably fertilised, and it was time to hit the water again. Breakfast comprised a couple of sips of tea. The cups are not even large enough to make for more than a couple of sips, and that is what I have found pretty much throughout the journey.

According to the map, the river was a few hundred metres away. The trick was to find a track that led to the river’s edge. After driving for about five or six kilometres, we managed to find a makeshift ghat and that is where we launch from. This ghat is right opposite the village of Pallia on the left bank.

With the nip in the air, and with me wearing only a cotton T-shirt and the splash jacket, I was uncomfortable yesterday. I decided on wearing a full-sleeved T-shirt today. It was fine for the first couple of hours, but once the Sun came out and heated up the surface through the surrounding mist, it was becoming increasingly stifling and uncomfortable. I wanted to beach the boat and take off the additional piece of apparel I had decided to wear today. But before I did that, I got a call from Chandru. His opinion was that beyond the point where he was calling from, and for the next thirty of forty kilometres, there was no viable option for the vehicle to meet the boat. He suggested we meet up about twelve kilometres downstream of Buxar and take a call as to the next course of action.

By the time I reached him, it was about three in the afternoon, and the call was taken to transport to some place close to Patna. I thereby decided to skip the Firojpur to Chhapra section of the paddle, and jump on to Patna.

I wanted to visit the town of Buxar, but this was not possible. First, there was no time. And second, there is nothing to see of the historic reason Buxar is famous for. It was here in Buxar that the British East India Company fought a battle on Oct 22, 1764, with the combined armies of the the Nawab of Bengal, the Nawab of Oudh and the Mughal Emperor. Once the British East India Company won the battle, the entire Gangetic basin was up for grabs and this led to the subsequent annexation of India as part of the British Empire. Apart from the history nothing much remains in Buxar to remind one of that famous battle, and hence I paddled on towards places that have more to display and showcase!

Since leaving Delhi I have not had a shower. And neither have Chandru and Raghu. Three days sleeping in shacks were taking their toll and I decided to become a little more comfortable. A couple of calls later, I found accommodation at the Indian Army Mess at Danapur Cantonment. As always, it has been extremely comfortable, and the hospitality awesome. Thank you Prabhu, for arranging this stay. Instead of staying here just for the night, I decided to stay on an extra night and visit the sights and sounds of this historic region.

Foremost among them being a visit to Bodhgaya, a little over hundred clicks away. Bodhgaya is where The Lord Buddha attained enlightenment, and despite amny attempts, I have never managed to visit the place. This is an opportunity that has presented itself and I am going to make full use of it. I also plan to visit Nalanda, one of the oldest Universities in the world. Rajgir is another ancient city that I want to visit. Rajgir is famous as the capital of the Magadha Empire, and the place where the Buddha gave some of his famous sermons at Vulture’s Peak.

But that is tomorrow, and I will tell you about the visit once I am back.

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