Oct 06, 2018, Getting close to home
Slow Boat Down the Ganges Update 29
After a scrumptious breakfast, and a short tractor ride later, the canoe was on the water again. This time I was paddling solo. According to the locals of the village, my next destination, Garhmukteswar was less than twenty kilometres away. But according to my calculations it should be at least double that. It turned out to be 42.6 kilometres. And as a solo paddler I managed to complete that in a little over six hours. Considering that I did not get any help from the current after the first couple of kilometres, and had a crosswind towards the last five or six kilometres, this was a pretty good achievement.
The river was very very calm and the landscape was misty. In fact it looked like rain in the distance. There was no rain I encountered though, except the blazing Sun once afternoon approached. Paddling is strenuous exercise and dehydration is never far away. Every time I took a sip or a gulp of water, it quenched my thirst a little bit, but did little to moisten the parched lips. They remained parched and I had to constantly lick them to keep them relatively wet. Maybe some petroleum jelly will help. Will try that tomorrow.
This stretch of river was similar to the one I had paddled the last couple of days. Very sparse villages, I met only a few people who were out fishing to put food on the table. The fish were small, not too big and I guess a few of them would be enough to feed a small family. The landscape was virgin ... and clean. I was pleasantly surprise to again not encounter any garbage in the water.
But I did get to see some dolphins. One jumped out of the water, while others just made their presence felt. Watching these dolphins playing is such a gratifying sight, considering they are endangered. What is sad though is that over generations they have gone blind, and rely on sound to navigate. Is it because visibility is so poor in the river that the need for eyesight is negated?
At one point, a few kilometres short of Garhmukteswar, I came to a riverine island and did not quite know which way to go. I went through the left channel and it turned out to be extremely shallow. However, somewhere through grit, luck and muscle power, I managed to get through to deeper waters. What compounded matters was that right in front of me seemed to be a dead end, while to my left was a relatively wide channel. I knew I had to go right and not left, but the horizon where the river seemed to end was quite some distance away and if there was no way through I would have to paddle right back and take the one on the left. Fortunately a couple of fishermen showed up and they told me to go ahead and that the river would eventually turn right. And right they were.
However, what I found was another channel meeting the one I was on. That created a bit of a turbulence and the river started flowing upstream at the confluence. It was a tough couple of minutes to negotiate through that and get on to the calmer downstream channel. A bit of a wind started and it was not a tailwind, but coming from behind me from the right. I had had enough gymming for now and it was time to sit back, relax and let the wind do its thing. I was slowly drifting along the river at a moderate pace of about three to four kilometres per hour. I could see the high tension electricity poles in the distance and my destination was less than five kilometres away. I continued to drift for a while.
A little later Sam called and informed me that the place he had seen at Garhmukteswar was not worth camping at, the hotels available were crappy and we would need to find another campsite, probably down the river. At this point I was passing a village and could see a lot of traffic. Obviously there was a road right next to the river. I told him that, and asked him to drive back up the river, and we would either camp here or find a hotel.
Meanwhile I struggled against the wind and the current to find my way to shore and promptly got grounded. The next hundred odd metres saw me dragging the boat towards the bank. As I reached the bank I was in quicksand and sunk almost to my knees. There was little I could do and every time I managed to free one foot and tried to take a step I landed plonk in the water since the other foot was still stuck. A couple of friendly villagers came by and helped me get the boat on to dry land. I waited for Sam and Tara to arrive.
After about fifteen minutes Sam called to say that there was virtually no road connectivity between Garhmukteswar to where I was and that he would look for something again and get back to me. I was told to paddle towards Garhmukteswar, which I started doing.
Soon enough he called me back and with joy in his voice told me that he had found a lovely place to stay at, right along the river, with facilities for car as well as canoe parking. That sounded great. I misunderstood the place to be on the left back, while it was actually on the right bank. I paddled on and found some people waving at me. I thought they were people Sam had sent to help carry the canoe. They had not heard of anyone called Sam, and obviously they were not who I was looking for. A phone call explained everything and I needed to cross the river. Even though the current was not too strong, a crossing meant that I would have to paddle upstream for a few hundred metres and then attempt to catch the current on the right side which would hopefully help me cross over to the other side. Too much work and a local country boat was requisitioned to tow me the other side. It was such a pleasure to be just sitting on the canoe while being propelled forward.
At shore I met Mr Ashok Sharma, the Regional District Coordinator of the Namami Gange programme. He was introduced to me by Dr Behera of National Mission for Clean Ganga and he was extremely helpful. He also had a reporter from one of the large newspapers in the State, Dainik Jagran, who interviewed me. Mr Sharma sat with us for some time explaining all that was being done to keep the Ganges clean and it seemed that a lot of work is being done. Being part of the programme, he could have prejudiced in favour of the progress, but frankly, I have seen signs that work is being done. Cremation grounds are being constructed, sewage treatment plants are almost ready for commissioning, awareness exercises are being carried out among the local population. The problem here seems to be the silt due to which flooding happens every year, while during the leaner months, the river bed is almost dry. But pollution seems to be controlled.
I finally had a shower, felt clean, and after a fairly heavy dinner, went off to sleep in company of the loud cars on the highway on one side of the room, and even louder trains on the other side.