Walking along the castiron fence
Laden with flowers and topped in gold
I listen to a lecture on Greek History
I wonder about what the stream was like
At the headwaters of western civilization
The royal guards protecting the queen
Redcoat tall-capped and comic watch
A pool of power trailing the black suits
Striding down London avenues
The Thames admiring the scene
A river in continuity – fluid as time
Flowing to and fro with the tides
Witness to the aging kingdom
Senescent is the city
Ageless, the waters
Bridging then and now
An artery to culture
A force of life
In this Britain
Blood of Londontown
Here I am in London. It’s quite a place. There is a peculiar sensation that comes when one at last visits a place seen all through childhood, an iconic scape: land or city; water, sound, or river. It’s like suddenly realizing a dream. “Oh, this is it,” I thought, running over the westminster bridge towards the Big Ben Bell Tower, “Hm, that’s where she lives,” weaving in and out of the tourists at Buckingham Palace.
After a short stay in the water-rich city of Bergen, Norway, which served mostly as a planning stop, I arrived in London. I came here to meet a group of wild-sides with a plan to Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) the Ganges River, source to sea. This is a fantastical plan, in many ways absurd, but possible.
Shilpika is the strong face and founder of the expedition. She is from New Delhi and worked as an investment banker in London for years. She had a change of mind a year ago and decided to start a new intentional life. She is returning to her roots with a purpose. Spike brings adventure into the picture as an experienced mountain guide. With loads of expeditions under his belt he has the expertise necessary for such an ambitious undertaking. Pascal is an aspiring environmentalist who is writing his dissertation now in Environmental Policy, focused on the role that plastic pollution, specifically microplastics have in riverine and oceanic environments and how to improve the situation.
The three call themselves Ganges SUP, and together they are planning the trip and working out the masses of logistics required to undertake a gruelling, dangerous, and ambitious journey. At the center they are undertaking the trip to raise awareness about the tremendous pollution that is severely impacting the Ganges, from untreated sewage to industrial effluents including heavy metals to partially cremated bodies. Their ideal is to bring a positive dialogue to the issues and to encourage the sort of positive changes that will make life around the Ganges more sustainable long into the future.
I decided to come and visit this group for two reasons; one is that I plan on travelling down the Ganges myself, both by water and land as an exercise in poetic cartography. I wanted to see if Ganges SUP and I could partner in some ways to support one another on our respective adventures. Second I wanted to get to know them and learn more about their mission to promote a more sustainable future for the river. Is this really a crew I want to get on with? Are they just loonies (I’m getting my British vocab on) or is this really an authentic trip?
Having been here some days now, I admire Ganges SUP very much. The three come from very diverse backgrounds and they all seem genuinely dedicated to this project. I attended a variety of events with them over the last few days including a YES tribe presentation, where adventure enthusiasts present on adventures they have said YES to and gone for it. It was an inspiring story.
A tangent there – after hearing from a couple of runners, one who ran some 1500 miles of the coast of New Zealand and her partner who ran across Canada (the rockies in the winter!!!!), I was inspired to take a fun trip of my own. A much more humble but entertaining morning adventure. I decided to run from the flat where I am staying into london along the Thames crossing every bridge to really get a sense for the urban river. I had some fun and took a few selfies… I guess I’m on that train now… The lone traveler with his iPhone.
On Wednesday we spent the whole day filming a video for their crowdfunding website. Their friend Ross Fairgrieve, an aspiring environmental filmmaker, did the directing, and it was great for me (a novice moviemaker) to see a more professional person in action. I learned a lot and felt helpful. I also got to see just how dedicated these folks are to their project. It’s an impressive undertaking.
Yesterday, Thursday, I got to go with Shilpi and Spike to Wateraid, and enormous non-profit that is working to encourage freshwater access and development all over the world including in India. This is a big organization. They work in over 30 countries and have a really wide variety of projects adapted to local issues. As charities run, this is one of the big ones. If you google, “India Water NGO,” Wateraid is usually first.
We met with a high-up in the organization and he gave a soundbite on video for the crowdfunding video. I was really impressed with how candid, informed, and friendly he was, and he seems to have a real passion for the issues.
I was reminded there that the Ganges waters 450,000,000 peoples and also has over 150x the amount of acceptable fecal coliform in the river. I am very glad to be meeting these informed and converned people and seeing what this sliver in the world of water development looks like.
After the meeting, Shilpi, Spike, and I sat down and hashed out my involvement a bit. I had been up and down about whether or not I wanted to join, because I don’t want to commit too heavily to an expedition when my intent is to live and learn in an immersive environment. The Watson Foundation encourages me to maintain my independence and to avoid travelling much with other travellers and expats.
I told them that my ideal would be to spend limited time actually with them on the river, but to travel more independently, sometimes on land in their support vehicle, sometimes by water, and perhaps take offshoots from the route to do my own fieldwork. I also said that I need to have flexibility and that I might not continue past Varanasi. This way I could support them by making water, food, and gear deliveries with the support vehicle, while also engaging with the local communities along the way. Since travelling by land can be quicker, I want to have ample time to do interviews with laypeople and officials along the way and to make time to be immersed and learn Hindi and so on.
After the journey with them, I will be a much more savvy traveller in India, and that is the ideal.
Shilpi and Spike liked the sound of this, and I got the feeling that we could have a really reciprocal relationship along the river. I was encouraged by their openess to my own plans and, YES, in a tough circumstance, it’s good to have friends around for support, on the river, or above the bank. I think we all feel good.
Thank you dearly for reading and following the adventures. I am heading back up north to Sweden and the Torne river in a weeks time and then it’s down to Stockholm’s World Water Week starting on August 28.
I stare at the worldmap
A microcosm of life
Meandering river valleys
Pilgrims to paddlers
Movement, it defines us
Spheres of life intersecting
Waves lapping the riverbank
Silt unravelling upstream
Part of the mountains
Will soon be here
Pushed by the river
Pushing the river