Slow Boat Down the Ganges Update 38
Sleep was intermittent. Not because of where I was, or because of the place where I was, or the weather, nothing of the sort. I woke up a couple of times in the night, twice to pee, something that I almost never do. Even the brick that acted as my pillow was not posing too much of a hindrance. By the time it was time to get out of the sleeping bag and prepare for the onward journey, dawn was breaking and it was around six in the morning. I think what speeded up my morning was the loud bhajan that was playing on a loudspeaker, a few feet away from where I was sleeping. Electricity disappears early morning and the Gods had to be summoned with the use of loud songs, played on even louder speakers, lest s/he missed out on the morning call of the priests once electricity went away!
I was here on my journey looking at the progress of the Clean India campaign, looking for the progress made as part of the Namami Gange project. I found a relatively new structure that hosted a series of urinals, a couple of structures for pilgrims to rest in, a brand new flight of stairs that went down to the river. What I also found was a lot of trash and a distinct sense of despair among the locals towards the various programmes. They all agreed that something needed to be done. They also agreed that till some time as individual people do not take individual responsibility, nothing is likely to happen. One person, a particularly close friend of Bacchus, promised to change the way Mehandipur looked like, if and only if he was made a Minister, or at least given some official powers. He was certain that only a stick would work and if he found anyone littering, he would ensure they person got the short end of the stick, regardless of the intensity of the blow. That and only that would solve the problem and make Mehandipur a clean place.
What I did not find at Mehandipur was a toilet. I have seen a lot of newly constructed toilets everywhere I have stopped, but at Mehandipur there were none. On asking the sadhu about where I could carry out my morning duties, and it was becoming urgent, he showed me the way to the potato field. Not having any choice, I proceeded there and did my job, reluctantly though it might have been. What option did I have, or indeed what option do the people have?
Breakfast comprised a couple of cups of tea and some cookies. Milk had to be procured from elsewhere and that took a couple of hours. This delayed my departure more than what I would have wished for, but I could not say no to the generous offer for tea and that I could not leave without it.
Once again, the friends I made carried the boat and the luggage down the stairs and into the water. There was definitely the question of curiosity as to how it floats and how I paddle, but the generosity was also extremely apparent. The sadhu sat on the boat and took a short ride. He was moving around a bit and I was apprehensive that he might capsize the boat. Fortunately that was avoided and after saying good bye to him, I was on my way towards Kanpur.
I was definitely not reaching Kanpur today, it was too far. The destination was a place called Bithoor, just short of Kanpur. However, even Bithoor seemed unlikely since the distance was more than I have managed in a day so far. I did not know where I would reach, but my original route showed a place called Katri Panka which was what the destination was supposed to be. Katri Panka it would be.
The day was a lazy paddle. The river was wide, and it was shallow. I have not been grounded apart from in the initial stages, but today I did get grounded. Once I could push my way out by using the paddle as a stick. Another time I got grounded and had to get off the boat and pull it across the middle of the river, for a few hundred metres. When I was in knee deep water, the water started swirling and my attempt at getting in was something that I was glad there were no witnesses to.
There were multiple bridges on the way, most of them peaceful crossings. One particular bridge had fourteen pillars, only one of which was in the water, the rest resting on land. Just as I crossed the bridge I hit a powerful eddy and was almost pushed back upstream by a heavy current. It required what little muscle power I had to get the boat out of the eddy and back on the river facing upstream where I wanted to go.
I crossed under another bridge. On asking a passing boatman the name of the village, I was told it was Kusumpur. The water was noticeably dirty and the colour too had taken on a whole different hue. From Mehandipur onward I have seen a lot of floating animal carcasses, and there was a fair bit of floating trash. Thankfully, not too much plastic.
There are numerous places where it is very difficult to ascertain which way the river is going. There are numerous sand bars and deciding whether to go left or right of it is often a challenging decision, since going down the wrong channel means retracing the route, often against the current. Very hard work. Sometimes as one approaches the sand bar, it becomes easier to figure out which way to go. Often times, there is just no indication of the way forward. The little sliver of darkness signifying the sand bar has no breaks to indicate which way the river is flowing. Time is wasted looking for a possible break in the distant horizon. The river is wide and there have been many times I have managed to paddle a fair distance across the river, without gaining any mileage, since I am crossing the river from right to left or left to right without moving forward. That can be very disconcerting and frustrating.
I reached one spot where, for love or money, I could not make out which way to go. There was just no break in the horizon. The river was shallow and though there were some fishermen on the far bank, I did not wish to venture out to them and they were too far to have a shouting conversation.
My GPS showed that I need to turn right to reach what I supposed would be Katri Panka, but the river insisted on going left. Remember, my primary GPS had malfunctioned and I was depending on the secondary one that I was not used to. I did see a series of high tension electricity pylons, this is what I had been heading towards for about five kilometres. My GPS said that Katri Panka was close by, I just did not know which way to go. A passing boat happened and he said that there a village a couple of kilometres ahead and that I would find some tea and snack there, right at the bank of the river. That sounded like a plan and I headed ahead. I did find a cut in the sand bar to go through!
I reached a village called Khereswar. My GPS said that this is where Katri Panka should be, my destination. No one had heard of Katri Panka. A brand new ghat was under construction, and there was trash everywhere. I beached the canoe and walked up the bank to some shacks and had myself four cups of tea and a whole of extremely unhealthy fried junk, and a half litre bottle of soda. The shacks would shut in about an hour, the labourers working on the ghat would leave and the whole place would become a ghost town in a bit. There were a few cots lying around next to the tea shop, and I was told I could sleep there for the night. Made sense since there was no way I was reaching either Bithoor, my original plan.
My portage around the Kanpur Barrage would start at Bithoor, and put-in again beyond the Kanpur Barrage. My choice was to sleep here at Khereswar, or move on to Kanpur via road transport. I decided on the latter. There was no point in paddling about ten kilometres to get to Bithoor, and then portage to Kanpur. A tractor was commissioned to take me, my boat and my luggage to the highway from where I took another public transport to Kanpur. I managed to get myself booked at an Army Mess in Kanpur Cantt, way better and a lot more comfortable than I would have been sleeping on a cot at Khereswar. I am so thankful to the Indian Army for opening the doors to me, thanks I suspect for the respect they hold my father in.
Needless to say, sleep was extremely comfortable, in a suite that rivals the best of the finest hotels. I was finally at Kanpur, about 20% of the route covered.