The felicitation was humbling

Nov 10, 2018, Adieu Sangam

Slow Boat Down the Ganges Update 45

After spending three wonderful days at Allahabad visiting the some of the sights and sounds of the city, but essentially relaxing, it was time to move on again. The plan to paddle with the NCC cadets did not work out because they were planning to do about 25 kilometres a day, which is about half what I was planning to do and they would take about eight to nine days to reach Varanasi. I was planning on four. And their agenda could be very different from what mine was. So I decided to leave by myself, without associating with them.

The goodbyes were heartwarming
The goodbyes were heartwarming

I could have left early, but what happened was, like yesterday, another felicitation programme was organised at Balua Ghat, from where I started, by the Ganga Task Force and the Ganga Vichar Manch. People again called me all kinds of names … Mahapurush and Jalpurush being among them. The media was there, garlands were offered, a shawl was draped, and sweets offered for my onward journey. I certainly don’t deserve such accolades. I am just a simple adventurer, trying to paddle down a river that is considered holy by so many people. The fact that I was going down the Ganges, and solo, and it being a human powered effort, did raise curiosity among the people and they wanted to meet with me and find out about my experiences. I am truly obliged to everyone who made this happen, particularly Col Sandhu, the Commanding Officer of the Ganga Task Force, and all the members of the Ganga Vichar Manch.

The felicitation was humbling
The felicitation was humbling

And then the boat was inflated and luggage loaded. There were about a 100 people looking on and finally, by the time I left Allahabad it was half past twelve in the afternoon.

Sangam Ghat
Sangam Ghat

Crossing the sangam ghat
Crossing the sangam ghat

The site of the world's largest festival
The site of the world's largest festival

Holy water sprinkled on the head
Holy water sprinkled on the head

I couldn’t just keep paddling regardless of the location. This was Allahabad. This is the land of the Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. I started my paddle today from the banks of the Yamuna, from Balua Ghat. As I drifted and sometimes paddled, down the placid waters of the Yamuna, the holiness that people hold this particular piece of geography was immediate apparent. Thousands of people throngs the banks, hundreds of boats were on the water, most with pilgrims, and the chants of holy songs, bhajans, came from everywhere. People singing their praises, and loudspeakers amplifying the spirit. The whole experience was electrifying.

About five kilometres downstream, I hit the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers. I spent some time here, I think it was close to about an hour, to spend time here. It was a moving moment actually. I have heard about the confluence, about the sangam, ever since I was a little boy, and finally I got to not only experience it, but be on a boat exactly where the two rivers meet. By the time I left sangam, it was about one thirty in the afternoon.

Much of the trash is religious immersions
Much of the trash is religious immersions

Unfortunately, there is a lot of trash floating here. Almost all of it religious in nature. I am not particularly upset about people immersing flowers and garlands in the river, but what irks me no end is the fact that many of these offerings were neatly and tightly wrapped in plastic bags. Why can’t people just immerse the flowers and carry the bag back home? And what business do bottles and cups and plates have floating in the river.

I took a water sample at the sangam, and as expected, the numbers spiked. Not as much as expected, but spike it did. What was also floating on the surface was a thin coating of oil, probably from the lamps that are floated down the river as a method of offering prayers.

My plan initially was to reach Sirsa, which I think is about 36 or 37 kilometres away. I couldn’t reach Sirsa given the delayed departure, and I finally ended up camping, for the second time on this journey, about five kilometres short of Sirsa. I managed just over 30 km today which is quite good, considering I paddled for just over four hours.

Dolphins again
Dolphins again

Again, I saw lot of dolphins. That too took up a lot of my time as I was sitting on the boat, drifting, for a long time and watching them play. There were about a half a dozen of them and at one time I remember four of them jumping out of water at the same time. I think the total number of dolphins were more than six here and it was wonderful scene. I have seen dolphins pretty much all along the Ganges despite the fact that they are an endangered species.

I had a good paddle today. The river has a little bit of current, it is also deeper. The Yamuna had zero current, and after the two rivers merged, the current picked up a little bit.

Campsite on a sand bar
Campsite on a sand bar

The number of villages have either diminished, or have moved further inland, due to the annual floods. I really wanted to reach Sirsa, but around half past four decided to set up camp. I wanted a bit more time today to set up a makeshift camp, hopefully better than the first one. I was feeling lazy to go the whole nine yards and put up a full fledged camp. I again decided to sleep on the canoe. Today, however, I organised the luggage in a manner that not only did I have a lot more space to stretch out, but also had the tarp sheet draped over me instead of on the luggage. This would keep the dew away from me, and hopefully keep the sleeping bag dry. It is not nice to have a wet down-filled sleeping bag. Dinner comprised the goodies given to me at Allahabad, washed down with three or four large shots of Happy Juice, and it was time for some shut-eye. It was barely seven in the evening!

I hope to reach Varanasi on the 13th. May be that is ambitious. If I push it a little bit, I just might reach on the 13th, but I will definitely be there on the 14th.

Varanasi, the world’s oldest living city, here I come, after bidding adieu to Allahabad, the land of the Sangam.

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