Nov 09, 2018, Questions and doubts

Slow Boat Down the Ganges Update 44

Sangam Ghat Allahabad
Sangam Ghat Allahabad

While updating the log sheet this morning, I came to an epiphany moment. The total distance I have covered down the Ganges is over 850 km. This is about 800 km more than I had though was possible by me, given the level of fitness, stamina, and everything else that is required to undertake an expedition as crazy as A SLOW BOAT DOWN THE GANGES. Many of my friends were worried that I would not be able to accomplish the feat, advised me that I had possibly bitten off more than I could ever hope to chew.

I knew what they were saying, and I myself had major doubts about what I would be able to accomplish. The wrist injury was possibly not as major that it required breaking the journey. But it did give me an excuse to opt out of continuing. A couple of days recovering, the bug bit again, and I was back on the Ganges. I was taking it a day at a time, five kilometres at a time, one paddle stroke at a time. And the distance became longer and longer.

In fact, on the way to Allahabad, I did have major questions in my mind. I had done more than what I had figured possible. I had proved to myself that I could do what I had stepped out to do. What more was there to prove? I was getting a medal, or a certificate, or any major recognition, from anyone. All I had to do was to prove to myself that I could push the limits, extend the boundaries, cross the limits I had set for myself. I knew that I was capable, and that was good enough for me. What if I ended the expedition at Allahabad and headed home? Okay, let me push it to Varanasi. Varanasi is home to my father’s Regimental Centre, 39 GTC, and maybe I would push on to Varanasi and end the journey there.

I am sure many people who are my well-wishers, will be immensely happy that I decided to end the expedition and would be more than happy to welcome me home, content in the thought that I would spend the rest of my breathing days comfortable at my accomplishment. That was a road I was not willing to take. I would not give the satisfaction of an incomplete expedition to anyone else but me. Even for me, I would not be able to sleep peacefully with the constant thought, “Did I give up too early?” So there, Varanasi would be just another milestone, and I would push on.

A SLOW BOAT DOWN THE GANGES is a tough, physical expedition, and is classified as Type II Fun. It is horrible when one is in the middle of it, but these are the kinds of activities where memories are made, and stories are told for the rest of one’s life. It is miserable when it is happening, but fun in retrospect. This expedition has not yet been miserable, but it has been tough, frustrating, difficult. If I decide to give up, I will never ever be able to sleep in peace.

I have already have had a whole load of memories. Maybe, you as the reader, have had an understanding of the kind of memories that I am gaining. This is a trip of a lifetime, certainly one of the most ambitious I have undertaken. I just have to dig a little bit deeper and find the strength to paddle the next stroke. Of the estimated two million paddle strokes, I think I have already managed about three or four hundred thousand strokes. Every additional stroke, makes it one less stroke to the destination. I am plugging on, and I plan to enjoy every minute of it, every experience I encounter, meet the lovely people I am meeting along the way, sleep in comfortable beds, as well as share my sleeping space with cattle.

I leave Allahabad tomorrow morning. Not with the NCC team. They are planning to paddle/row about 25 km a day and are expected to take about a week to reach Varanasi. That is double what I plan.

My stay at Allahabad has been absolutely wonderful. There is a certain minimum levels of hospitality that I have come to expect from members of the Armed Forces, particularly from my father’s Unit, the Gorkhas. The Ganga Task Force is a Unit that had no reason to open their heart to me, but they did. It is a new raising, and the Commanding Officer Col Sandhu, Sena Medal, went out of his way to make me comfortable. I have been as comfortable, and felt as welcome as I would in any of the Gorkha Units. I am so grateful to all the people who made this happen.

Felicitated and humbled at Allahabad
Felicitated and humbled at Allahabad

Felicitated and humbled at Allahabad
Felicitated and humbled at Allahabad

In fact, this morning a programme was organised by the Ganga Task Force, in association with the Ganga Vichar Sangh, a Non Government Organisation based in Allahabad. I had expected to be taken to the banks of the Ganga and be a part of some awareness programme, maybe even a cleanliness drive. What I found was that the programme was organised for the sole purpose of felicitating me. It was extremely humbling and I do not deserve such praise and adulation.

Felicitated and humbled at Allahabad
Felicitated and humbled at Allahabad

Felicitated and humbled at Allahabad
Felicitated and humbled at Allahabad

Everyone is surprised that a person of my vintage is undertaking a journey as arduous as A SLOW BOAT DOWN THE GANGES, solo and unsupported. They keep reminding me about the guts they feel that I possess. I look at it as passion encased in what I suspect is a lot of stupidity. It is nice to have a support team to lend their hand at logistics, but as I have discovered in the initial days of the expedition, that brings with it its own challenges. With a support team, I would not have the opportunity to stay at Chiyasar, or Mehandipur, or Gigaso, or Gokuna Ghat, or indeed been able to camp out on a sand bar.

There are definite advantages and disadvantages to either having a support team or not. Without any exigencies, I am happier that I am paddling solo.

My hands are taking a beating. I keep believing that my wrist is going to give up. The shoulders seem to be independent of their sockets. The weather thankfully becoming better, and it is not as oppressively hot as it was in the initial days. Dehydration too is under control. Also, the forty odd kilometres that was a chore in the initial stages, has become easier to accomplish, and it is becoming easier towards the fifty kilometres a day distance. I need to start early, about seven will be great. If I can paddle till four in the evening, which is what I am doing, I should be able to cover fifty clicks day. My average has increased to upwards of six kilometres an hour, rest periods included.

But one question in my mind that remains is whether I will be able to reach Sagar Island, something that I really want to do. My worry is the tide that comes all the way to Kolkata. I need to be able to time my paddle every day depending on the tide times. Meaning the maximum paddle I will get each day is a maximum of three hours. And that if low tide is in daylight hours. The other worry are the waves. Can I handle temperamental waves? It is a decision I will take one I reach Calcutta. I will certainly go to Sagar Island, the question is whether I will go there on a slow boat, or a ferry or car. The next few weeks will provide the answer.

Success lies in answering the questions that inevitably arise in an effort like this. Crossing the finish line lies in addressing the doubts that creep in. Feed the doubts, and failure is inevitable.

Chandrashekhar Azad Memorial
Chandrashekhar Azad Memorial

Meanwhile, I spent the last couple of days resting and relaxing. But I did take the time out to visit a few places of interest in Allahabad. This is the city where the famous Indian freedom fighter Chandrashekhar Azad attained martyrdom. A beautiful park has been constructed at the spot and it was a lovely walk around the grounds.

I also visited the new bridge that has been constructed across the Yamuna river, just before the confluence of the Ganga and the Yamuna. I will be passing under this bridge tomorrow.

Anand Bhavan
Anand Bhavan

I also visited the home where the Nehrus lived. Anand Bhavan has become famous as the home of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister. His daughter and grandsons also grew up here; Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv went on to become Prime Ministers. Anand Bhavan has a whole lot of history. Mahatma Gandhi stayed here often, and many an important decision was taken within these compounds by the Congress Committee, which had deciding and far-reaching effects on India’s freedom struggle.

I leave Allahabad tomorrow morning, and head towards one of the oldest living cities in the world ... Varanasi.

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6 Comments

  1. So far it has been just the initiation to the great Ganges and the people around it. A new world awaits you as you move from Illahabas- Prayagraj. It is different civilisation , a feudal country side , a creative country, millions living by the side , the flood country with many mighty and humble rivers, rivulets , nalas joining to make the waters different. The river based logistics start now . For thousands of years Gods and kings and people have travelled the water route down stream of Prayag . It beginning of a new new phase of the great journey. Paddle along with your indomitable spirit.

    1. The experience has been great so far. I hope to add to it. My only worry is “feudal country side”. I hope I do not face any hostility in any village, or when I am camping out. I will have to study the route very closely to decide the plan of action henceforth. Thank you for your advice and heads up Sir.

  2. Don’t give occasions for self doubts. You are doing well and would accomplish your mission of reaching Sagar island. Now that water level has improved and wind and weather are on your side row on?

    1. Questions and doubts are an integral part of solitude. One is often confronted with questions, and it is the ability to find the right answer that determines success. The water level has improved, but despite multiple rivers joining the main course, the current is almost entirely non existent, making paddling the only way forward. The weather definitely is becoming much more bearable. Thank you for the good wishes.

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