In the winter of 2018/19 I became the first person to paddle a canoe down the Holy Ganges, from Haridwar to Kolkata. It was an awesome experience and for someone who despite being an endurance athlete, had never paddled a canoe on multi-day trips, this was an exhilarating experience. I was in no hurry, took it easy, and stayed for longer than planned at villages where I was welcomed with open arms. I stopped to see the sights and sounds in so many wonderful places that dot the banks of the holy river. Met people, made friends, and finally docked my boat in Kolkata three months later, a couple of weeks beyond my intended plan. I am now taking my second trip down the holy river. In 2022 I will again be a NOMAD ON THE GANGES.
If you have not yet seen the documentary on the previous journey down the Ganges, you can see it here …
I had made a promise to so many people that I would come back once again. I am going to keep my promise. I am going to paddle down the river once again. And go all the way to Sagar Island, about three day’s paddle south of Kolkata. Given the current in the river, and the dams and barrages I will encounter, this expedition too will be very much a slow boat down the Ganges.
And instead of a canoe, this time I will be a nomad down the Ganges on a standup paddleboard converted into a kayak. Essentially a seat strapped on to the board and propelled with a kayak paddle.
The river is the same and even though after every monsoon it changes its course slightly, I will be almost retracing the waypoints crossed during my previous journey. And I will be staying either at temple complexes or camping out on the sandy beaches. This time I do not plan to spend any time at all in the many wonderful and historic cities that lie on the banks of the Ganga. I paddled an average of 40-45 km a day the last time; I want to up this distance to over 50 km this time. I just hope that I do not get stuck in sand bars as many times as I did the last time. Surprisingly I found sand bars and shallow waters pretty much all the way to Farakka. I aim to finish the paddle in less than 45 days.
"Amelia" - the boat
Unlike A SLOW BOAT DOWN THE GANGES earlier that I paddled on a canoe, NOMAD DOWN THE GANGES will be conducted on what I like to call a Yakasup. Essentially a standup paddleboard converted into a sit-on-top kayak. A canoe sits much higher up in the water ensuring that it gets buffeted by the wind. A standup paddleboard is all of six inched thick and almost half of it stays underwater. The wind resistance I will face is from the luggage strapped on the board, and from me as the paddler, both of which act as a sail. But certainly much less compared to the canoe. Also, the Yakasup will need to be more minimalistic as far as the amount of gear I can carry. This will be a good way to find out how much or how little one can carry despite being on a multi-week self-sustained expedition.
I am christening the boat AMELIA. I have always been fascinated by the story of Amelia Earhart. An adventurer, an aviator, an early pioneer in the woman’s movement, and an author, she was the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic. Earhart’s legacy is often compared to those of the pioneer aviator Charles Lindbergh, as well as to Eleanor Roosevelt for their friendship and lasting impact on the issue of women’s causes. I am sure AMELIA will cradle me lovingly as I go down the Ganges in my quest for solitude.
Towards a clean Ganga
The Ganga is the holiest river among Hindus all over the world. Revered, worshipped, venerated, she sustains the lives and livelihood of the many millions of people who live on her basin. Dying and getting cremated on her banks ensures a passage to the Heavens. Even a dip in her holy waters cleanses all past sins. Unfortunately, the Ganga has been polluted over the centuries and is losing its properties. The scourge of chemical and plastic pollution is choking the river. Successive Governments are trying to clean up the river. During my last expedition I carried out some tests (water temperature and pH levels) and thankfully did not see any major spikes. I also found a lot of work being done in and around the river to ensure cleanliness. Crematoria and toilets have been constructed along its banks. The devotees are starting to use biodegradable bowls to carry out their rituals. Idols are not being immersed in the river as much as they used to be. Chemical effluents have reduced significantly.
During my Ganges River Quest, I will again carry out some tests to see the improvements over the last couple of years. I will talk to people to understand their views on pollution. And I look forward to the day when we can take a drink of water straight out of the holy Ganges.