Slow Boat Down the Ganges Update 26
I was quite happy with the progress of the first day. Paddled more than double the targeted distance and life was good. Did not need to camp out thanks to the Police and the sadhu we stayed with. The aches and pains that I was fearing did not make their presence felt. Life was good. Breakfast comprised a couple of cups of tea and a cookie. The morning was relaxed and by the time the stuff was loaded and the canoe hit the water, it was a little after ten.
I am not a morning person, but I suspect that during this journey I will have to start as early as I can, maybe even at the crack of dawn to gain extra hours and to paddle in the relative coolness of the Sun. It may be October, but the Sun is shining proud and bright, and making its presence felt. Particularly for a paddler. If I can manage to leave around seven in the morning, I will be quite happy. Waking up does not seem to be an issue, it is sheer procrastination.
Tara was possibly still shaken from yesterday’s traumatic experience that we had been through, and decided to be the road support. Sam had work to catch up on and would also be in the car and meet up with me later in the afternoon. Which meant that I would be paddling alone today. That would give me a taste of what solo paddling was all about. Till Sam and Tara came along as the road support, I was supposed to do this expedition all alone, by myself, with no road support. My experience over the past two days is that would have been a much more challenging effort. Much of the gear that I did not need on the canoe was transported in the vehicle. In a solo effort, all that stuff would have to be carried in the canoe, making in heavier and less maneuverable.
The other advantage of a road support team is that I now know someone is looking out for me. If for nothing else, just to have someone to talk to at the end of a tiring day, makes for a great morale booster.
The only issue with a road support team is that it becomes very difficult to link up on non existent country roads. Something that Sam and Tara found out today. But more on that a bit later.
After having loaded the canoe with the bare essentials, I started to paddle out ... and promptly got stuck. The good sadhu gave the canoe a nudge and I was on my way towards the Bay of Bengal.
The river became wide very quickly. It was deep at places, at others the paddle was hitting the sand bottom, but the two banks on either side were quite some distance away. As I paddled along, the help that I was getting yesterday from the current started receding. Soon enough the river became almost entirely stagnant, and propulsion was achieved through sheer muscle power. Added to that, there was some pretty intense head wind at places. I was quite impressed with the distance paddled today since (a) it was an entirely solo effort, (b) I was not getting any help from the river, and (c) I was tackling head winds.
The river was wide and empty and desolate. Just a few scattered villages along the way, visuals of some villagers on the banks. I saw a couple of boats carrying grass and people. I had the whole river pretty much to myself. And I have been lucky. People curse the fact that they get stuck in so many sand bars due to the lack of water volume. No problem with me on that front. It was smooth sailing, human powered though.
There was one point where I found a string of country boats lined up across the river. I did not pay much heed to it since there was enough and more space to paddle between two boats. That was till I heard someone scream which I understood to mean, “Wire.” Looking between the boats I could make out a wire strung just above the surface of the water, connected by the multiple boats. I hurriedly paddled towards shore from where the warning had come. The river being placid, it was easy to change course and reach the bank. There were a few people on a boat who beckoned me toward them, and told me to pass under the wire which they would hold up. As I came close I found that it was a steel wire, almost an inch thick and had I not been warned, I would either have smacked my canoe right into it, or worse, had the wire been higher where I was originally planning to cross, not knowing that the wire was there, it could have snapped my head right off.
All in all it was a good day’s paddle. Saw some water snakes. Yesterday Tara and I saw what could have been gharials. The river was clean enough though. Chocolate brown in colour, possibly due to the sediment and silt, but looked clean. Very little garbage, probably because there are very few villages along the way, and the ones there are, the villagers have probably not reached the level of civilisation of more modern cities and towns.
By the end of the day I was running on empty. All I had had in terms of food was a cup of instant noodles for dinner and a couple of cups of coffee and a cookie for breakfast. On the way I consumed a few cashew nuts and a couple of the best chocolates in the world ... the ones that I had made. They tasted delicious, but did little to raise or provide me the energy required. Without thinking of the empty tank, I paddled on.
Sam sent me a location where he said that I could meet up with the vehicle to proceed to the camp site. When I reached that site, he instructed me to move further on downstream, which I did for the next four or five kilometres.
What he had also done is recruited a local taxi driver to transport me and the canoe. Meanwhile he had booked a hotel, which sounded like a good idea to freshen up, charge the electronics, have some much needed protein, etc. But there was no sign of hide nor hair of the taxi driver. The destination I was looking at was Bijnor, famous for its barrage, the first on the route. I had no intention of getting sucked into the current just in case the gates were open. And the barrage was now not only in sight, but looming ever closer. I had half a mind to beach the canoe and then figure out the next course of action. And, I was in swampland to my left, which is where the taxi was supposed to be looking out for me.
Just about the time I was thinking of beaching the canoe and making camp by myself, I heard a scream from far out front, and from the way the screams were emanating, I figured it was the promised taxi guy. By the time I saw him hiding behind trees, I was already at a place where he said, there was no way to reach him because of the swamp. I had to paddle back upstream and then find a way to reach him. Cursing everyone and everything, I managed to somehow paddle back and paddle to where he was waiting. The two of us somehow managed to tug the canoe to the road where the taxi was parked. A friendly passerby helped load the canoe to the roof and we drove to the hotel about ten kilometres away.
I was finished. Exhausted. Hungry. Pooped. All the adjectives that one can think of. But isn’t that why I am on this journey? To push the limits. To find out what I am capable of. To witness another aspect of adventure. This particular adventure is entirely physical, and not something that I have been used to in the past. But this is something that I am enjoying so far and with the learnings from every day out on the river, I am sure it will become even more exciting.
Anyway. At the hotel I gorged on proteins. I plan to have a very heavy breakfast every day from now on, to ensure that I do not run out of steam at the end of each day. I think I will need about 5,000 calories every day, and the last couple of days I had virtually nothing. Bad idea. The “healthy” foods that are a part of the food kit might be good for a sedentary existence, but for me, paddling for hours on the river, I need a a lot of unhealthy stuff. Stuff that I will burn with a few hours exercise. My biceps, triceps and forceps are already announcing their presence, and I suspect by the time this journey is done, there will be a lot more muscles that maybe even the body did not know existed.
Two days down. 80 kilometres down. The countdown has started. I am really looking forward to it. But reality has a way of sneaking in and reminding us about what really is, as opposed to what we want it to be. Is this journey something that is more than I can handle? I really do not know and only the next few days will tell. Till then I hope to have the time of my life paddling the Holy Ganges.