Oct 05, 2018, Dolphins and gharials
Slow Boat Down the Ganges Update 28
Today was one long day. An almost nine hour day. And nearly fifty kilometres. We started from Bijnor, Sam and I, and promptly got stuck in a sand bar. If well begun is half done, what happens when right at the start one gets stuck? Does it portend further problems, I wonder. But life did not turn out to be a problem, though the canoe did get grounded on invisible sand bars a few times. This does not bode well for the future, since this expedition is being run just after the monsoon season, and barely a couple of weeks after the last floods wrecked havoc on the very geography we were paddling down.
The water level in the Ganges is pathetically shallow, and if this is the situation within days of the monsoon season, I wonder what will be the situation after a few months. Scary really, considering that the diminishing waters might be accelerating. One reason could be the accumulating silt. Sand mining is banned and this is resulting in the rise of the river bed. There is a lot of illegal sand mining and the Government in its wisdom has banned sand mining. Which, to my mind, is cutting your nose to spite your face. Maybe some day better sense will prevail and laws and procedures and guidelines will be put in place to ensure that whatever mining is happening is legit. Otherwise, one day, the Ganges will not have any water left to wash your hands in, and realising this reality, extreme measures might have to be undertaken at tremendous cost to remove the sand accumulated over the past many years to ensure that the Ganges continues to flow. Otherwise one is looking at a pretty dismal future.
I am really happy about one thing though. Throughout the last few days of the journey I have not seen any visible pollution in the river. Particularly plastics. No bags, no bottles, no bottle caps, no nothing. Possibly because the villages along the way are self sustained and self sufficient, without having been corrupted by civilisation as we know it. The few times we asked them directions to our next destination, most were unaware of any such village. Such is there isolation and self containment.
Sam and I paddled on. The current, if there, was minimal and every time I pointed to another landmark on our route ahead, something that we could see, Sam would promptly ask if that was our destination for the day. We had barely done about a dozen kilometres and Sam was wanting the day to end. But he was enjoying himself. A lazy paddle all the way without having to negotiate any turbulent water like he had to do on the first day, and he was content.
It was also a good day as far as wildlife sightings were concerned. We saw quite a few of the endangered Gangetic Dolphins from pretty close range. At least one of them gave us the spectacle of jumping right out of the water. As we were passing a sand bar, something we had successfully negotiated without getting grounded, we saw a couple of gharials sunning themselves on the banks. On hearing us they promptly woke up and dove into the water. And there were plenty of birds. I know nothing about birds and unfortunately my camera is not capable of zooming in. Therefore, there is no way I can show pictures to someone to identify them. I am content at watching them and revelling in the sight of them either pecking for food, or flying in formation.
Had it not been for the multiple times we had to tug the boat because she got grounded in sand bars, it was a pretty good day’s paddle. At one point we were completely lost. There were multiple channels ahead, with no indication of which to go. The boat grounded, Sam got off, yelled at some villagers in the distance, who had no idea what we wanted. Sam gallantly stepped off the boat, walked on water, a miracle on the Ganges was performed by him, and he came back with information on the route ahead. Attaboy.
Tara was road support today. Her task was to find a camping spot somewhere in or around the village of Mamipur. She is a person who endears herself to people quite easily, and this trait came in handy yet again. She met the current village chief who stopped her car to enquire what a single girl was doing in the middle of nowhere, at a time that was closing in on evening, next to a thick forest. She explained her task, and in the process was joined by another person who turned out to be the erstwhile village chief. He promptly told her that camping out in the forest was out of the question and that he would host her and us. Obviously Tara was a little apprehensive when invited to the chief’s house, but found trust in the person.
And it turned out to be a bounty. The house was opened up for us. The lady of the house, the chief’s wife started cooking dinner for the three of us, the family got busy in arranging beds for us.
Sam and I were still some distance away, battling a series of sand bars. Mamipur was a village no one seemed to have heard of, and Tara was ahead of Mamipur. A series of Live location were shared on social media, and each time the distance to where we were supposed to head, changed its mileage. When the lat/long was fed into the GPS, it said 6.5 km. On WhatsApp is showed that the location was just around the corner. Anyway, we took one corner when a second one showed up, and then a third. The river seemed to be coursing on switchbacks.
One landmark Tara gave us was that our landing point was a cremation ground and there were people being cremated. Soon the Sun set, the lovely hues of twilight turn a foreboding grey, becoming darker with each paddlestroke. Soon enough we saw a couple of fires. No, they were not signal fires telling us where to head, but the dearly departed on their way to Heaven. These people gave their lives for us today to guide us to our destination with the light of the burning bodies on a funeral pyre. Thank you strangers.
We landed just beyond where the pyres were burning in the glow of a couple of torch lights and loaded the canoe onto a tractor trailer that was kindly provided by our gracious host. A couple of kilometres down the road was his house and that is where we headed for the night. They were such good hosts that it was embarrassing.
There are a lot of good people in this world and despite what we tend to hear, life is much more secure and peaceful than it is made out ot be. Particularly in villages and in remote areas, I do not remember ever coming across a person or family who left a negative impression. That is left to us city folks.
By the way, today I crossed the first major milestone ... 100 kilometres. Compared to the 2,500 km target, it does not seem like a whole lot, but I am happy that 5% of the distance has been accomplished. Just 95% more to go.