Slow Boat Down the Ganges Update 35
Willie Nelson sang “Back on the road again”. And I want to sing “Back on the river again”. I am remembering Willie Nelson after taking a break from A Slow Boat Down the Ganges, after allowing the wrist to heal, and after attending the first Base Camp Festival India. I am now back on the Ganges. At Ghatiya Ghat, Farrukhabad.
Why is the ghat referred to as “ghatiya” I have always wondered. Ghatiya is a derogatory term and seems unlikely that it was a conscious choice to name a ghat next to the holy Ganges by this name. On asking people about it, I was told that there was once a royal family who used to bathje in the Ganges near here. However, their entourage was allowed to bathe in the same place and had to relocate to carry out their bathing duties. These people were considered to be of a lower social status and were referred to as “ghatiya”. Hence the name. The other reason I was give is that “ghatiya” is a term derived from the term “ghat” itself. Both seem possible explanations. In any case, the name of Ghatiya Ghat has since been changed to Panchal Ghat.
I had a choice of starting at Kachla Ghat, but decided against it. I had been told that it might be a good idea to avoid the Narora to Kachla Ghat section of the river due to the possible presence of unsavoury elements. In fact, I was told that it might be better to transport to Farrukhabad, about a hundred kilometres further downstream. Which is what I did.
Actually when I left Delhi yesterday, early morning at four, I was planning on reaching Kachla Ghat by about nine and start paddling by ten. The road was not terribly good and the drive took longer than anticipated. Also, the fact that I had got about an hour's sleep the previous night, did not help. So a little short of Kachla Ghat I decided that since the paddle would only start by mid day, giving me just about four hours or so on the river, I decided to press on to Farrukhabad, stay the night in a hotel, and start early morning today. And that's how it started today, after a break of almost three weeks.
It was a pretty slow day. I started late and with the approaching winter, the days are starting to become shorter. The entire day which ideally should have been about eight or nine hours, ended up being six hours and I managed to paddle just over 30 kilometres.
Just as I started from Farrukhabad and crossed under the busy bridge, I knew that the day was going to be tough and physical. There was absolutely no current to speak of. But I did not hear the scraping of the sand in the hull of the boat. That was an indication that the river was getting deeper and was not as shallow as in the upper reaches. About four kilometres down from Farrukhabad, I was presented with two very distinct and wide channels. I did not know which way to go. There were a few villagers standing on the bank and on asking them, I was pointed down the left channel.
I merrily went down that to meet a bunch of boatmen. I wanted to reconfirm that I was on the correct channel and was promptly told that it ended at a dead end and had to retrace and get back on the left channel I had left a while back. They however, graciously offered to carry the boat across the sand bar that separated to two channels. The almost kilometre distance between the two channels, across the sandy bank, carrying a boat loaded with stuff, was hard work. Together we lugged it a few metres at a time, stopped to rest and talk about various things. Once across, we spent some more time talking, phone numbers were exchanged and I was on my way. Very nice people and extremely gracious of them to lend me a hand.
A little after that I saw a villager in the middle of the river shouting out to another person standing at the bank. Initially I thought it was a regular conversation while the one on the river was trying to catch some fish. However, it turned out that he was trying to cross the river and was apprehensive about the depth. He requested me to tow him across, which I did. I was a little surprised since all villagers are excellent swimmers and yet, this person looked apprehensive about stepping into deeper waters. Glad I could help.
A few hours down the river and there was a bend. The inside bend seemed to be shallow and I paddled towards the faster flowing outer bend hoping to catch the current. I soon found myself in a whirlpool of sorts and the boat spun around. It was not too big a whirlpool, but the cross currents were strong. I just waited for the boat and the river to do their thing, I just sat there. Soon enough I was at the edge of the whirlpool and a couple of strokes later, was out, back on flat water.
The density of villages is increasing as I go down the river. Villages are almost back-to-back, and I am seeing a lot more people on the banks, in addition to the occasional fishermen.
It was getting to be evening and the Sun was about to set. I was not reaching Kannauj today, that was something I had decided early morning. I was looking for a nice and quiet sand bar to camp for the night when I saw some people on the far right bank. One person was gesticulating and shouting out to me. In two minds, I first wondered whether I should paddle out to meet with him, or paddle away just in case he and the people around were unsavoury. Curiosity won and I paddled across the river to meet him.
He turned out to be an extremely nice person and wanted to have a chat with me since he too was passionate about the Ganges. He gets up each morning and sweeps the banks and cleans out the rubbish. He insisted that I stay at the nearby village. He was not taking no for an answer. Unfortunately, his uncle had just died and he was going across the river to the village to participate in the last rites. But, he instructed a couple of people to look after me, called the village to ensure that I was expected, and with a million apologies that he could not be my host, proceeded across the river, on his motorcycle that was loaded onto the boat.
A few villagers came to help carry the luggage and I soon found myself in the house of the village chief, a lady. The entire village came in and I felt like a monkey in a zoo. The young and the old, parents with infants in their laps, curious ladies and inquisitive gentlemen. They were all there. The talks continued well into the night, the lady chief cooked up an awesome dinner, and her nephew insisted that I stay on at the village for another night so that he could show me around Kannauj, the perfume capital of India.
This sounded like a plan. I had wanted to see Kannauj, but probably would not have had the opportunity if I was camped out. At Chiyasar village, I was staying at the chief’s house, my luggage was safe, I had a local guide, and would get to visit Kannauj on a car that was organised. So Chiyasar village it is for another night. I’m loving it.