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A Journey Down the Ganges

Indian Subcontinent India
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Wild Frontiers Tour Leader Spike Reid recently paddleboarded the entire length of India’s Ganges River to raise awareness of water pollution. We caught up with him to find out what inspired him to embark on such a voyage and how he got on...

Why did you decide to paddleboard the Ganges?
Well this hadn’t been done before and we wanted to do something attention-grabbing to highlight the problem of river pollution, so someone came up with this fantastic idea. The thought of paddleboarding down the 'River of Life' was the idea that inspired me above anything else.

How long did it take?

Break for lunch

The journey took 101 days to travel 2977km, paddling for an average of 7 hours a day. We covered about 30km a day, although on one day we managed to paddleboard an incredible 57km – that was obviously current-assisted!

What were the biggest challenges or dangers?

Misty morning on the Ganges

There were some days which had extremely poor visibility, with mist and fog. Other days the cold and damp were a challenge. There are also three species of crocodile in the Ganges, but thankfully we didn’t see any of them. The biggest danger I personally faced was one day when a snake appeared from the river right by my paddleboard. I had nowhere to hide so I just kept extremely still and thankfully it slunk back off into the water.

What were the highlights?
Seeing dozens of Gangetic river dolphins. These dolphins are one of the most endangered aquatic mammals and are completely blind, but they would swim alongside our boards at various points in the trip. Other highlights were some amazing riverside temples, well off the beaten path, which were a real pleasure to see.

How polluted was the Ganges on the whole?
Pretty bad. Parts of the river certainly in the countryside looked pretty clean, but once you approached the cities that worsened. Particularly shocking was the amount of water bottles and other plastic rubbish floating on the surface. In India there are big problems with human waste, industrial waste and agricultural waste, and then you have issues which are fairly unique to India such as the practice of floating funeral pyres in Varanasi and other cities on the holy Ganges. 

Did you fall in?

Rough-legged hawk on the Ganges

Just once or twice. Not pleasant I can tell you! But hopefully things will improve in the future. The Thames used to be so dirty that it was declared biologically dead in 1957 – nothing could live in it. Now there are fish, herons, cormorant, even seals. But still too much plastic. As for the Ganges, our aim was to prompt the Indian government into implementing laws to curtail pollution and for locals to stop throwing plastic waste into the river. The River of Life depends on it.

You can find out more about Spike's adventures on his webpage http://gangessup.org/.

Photos courtesy of Spike's Instagram page.

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