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Expedition Crew Reflections
Andy Leemann

Andy Leemann

Switzerland, expedition leader.

When we all met in Delhi, we had a successful press conference and for us as an expedition team the excitement of finally starting the project was very promising. Just looking at the crew, with the mixture of international participants, was a great highlight as we all fitted so well together.
I am very proud that our team, consisting half of local people, including experts from different backgrounds, belonging to different nationalities.

To reach the source was a real eye-opener, sitting cramped in a car to reach the highest level from where we started our trekking. We started from our base camp Gangotri in the Himalayas which is a great religious hub for Hindus, with our eight expedition members and nineteen porters, which carried all the equipments and essentials required for high altitudes.
After many hours of trekking in the thin air we finally reached the source of pristine Ganges. The celebration was not only filling the bottles with the sacred water but everyone had a dip in the icy water of the source. After the celebration of this great moment we carried on crossing the Gangotri glacier and going up to our last camp at Tap van at 4500 metres.

We all had our share of difficulties with high altitude sickness like headache and weakness. It was specially trying for our team members who witnessed Himalayas for the first time. As an expedition leader I saw it tough but we all melted together very well as a team. I am confident and really looking forward to take that challenge further to the plains. I thank every team member for being a part of a great team.

Klaus Kranewitter

Klaus Kranewitter

German, crew and boat driver

When the number of sins becomes too high, Ganga will conceal herself below the surface of earth. While we are making our way to Gangotri, the glacier from which the river ganges starts its journey through India, the quote form the Brahmavaivarta Pruana, an ancient text, seems to become real: No other galcier in the world is melting faster, scientists from the Jawaharlal-Nehru-University in Dehli calculate, that the 15000 galciers in the Himalays will be mostly gone by the year 2035. We’re passing by markings of Gangotris expansion in the 70ies and 50ies – but the glacier is still miles away.

It’s my first time to India and my first time to see the amazing Himalayas. Larger than the Alps and much rougher than the Bavarian forest – the two mountain groups I’ve grown up in. On our expedition to the source of the Ganges, we meet Sadhus, priests, who are on their spiritual search for their God. While we make our way equipped with the best shoes and high-tech-clothes, many of the sadhus walk barefeet, dressed in thin orange linnen; as if the stones and the chilly wind could not affect them. At the source, they take a dip in the freezing waters. What they are experiencing in that very moment, they not allowed to share with others. I close my eyes, hold my breath and dive in.

Lisa Roosli

Lisa Roosli

Switzerland, expedition crew

Nobody could really explain me why we left so early. But at 5 in the morning we left Delhi and hit the road to Rishikesh. On the way western eyes oberserved strange things: andy was wondering why Indian lorries wear diapers (dippers) and for me with a certain experience in travelling in India it was the first time to drink chai in a Mc donalds looking type of Indian restaurant. You approached it through a dshungel of signboards that made clear that in this place order and cleanliness were worshipped. One pointed out that you were even not allowed to give a tip to the cleaning lady in the bathroom who quickly got up from her seat when she saw me entering to polish my toilet before she let me sit down. That made me feel a little sad. But the chai was like a real indian chai has to be. I just love it!

We arrived in rishikesh at noon and we had the whole afternoon to strawl around in this holy pilgrimage town on Ganga. I had two closer encounters. A good one and a bad one. The bad one was one with these stubborn spoiled cows. She wanted exactly to walk through the place where I was sitting at the Ghat. Me being a bloody western tourist and she a holy Indian individual she knew exaclty that I would pull back when her nose was pushing hard on my back. Not having a very though life in general I think thats probably how she takes fun out of the not to mention that I didnt feel very welcomed. so I decided to get out of town a bit where I met a saddhu – well, actually he met me. sitting in front of his fireplace cooking his dinner he came right to the point: that life is expensive in general and in particular he needed a new pot. Me also having my needs like to find some inner peace we decided for a deal. and so we sat for quite a while on the riverbank and he told me a about him leaving Benares because there were too many saddhus and too much mess. I could understand that.such a beautiful place he chose right next to ganga with a private Shiva statue in front of his hut and a private toilet! Who wouldn”t exchange that for a life in noisy hassling overcrowed Benares! when I finally left – of course – I gave him some money. I would never tell how much. anyway it’s always either too much or not enough. but it was exactly the amount which was needed to let me feel good. So what you want more?

Today we had a 7 hour trip to Uttarkashi. The first hills of himalaya, the first deep breaths of wonderful air filled with the smell of trees and aftIr arrival in a beautiful campsite the first bath in holy cold Ganga. I know I should be prevented now from the eternal circle of existence , not having to come back to earth. but to tell you the truth: I felt rather like reborn!

Apal Singh

Apal Singh

India, co-expedition leader

Alfred Hitchcock Famous filmmaker was known for his storyboard. Once his script was ready, he would do a very detailed “story board”. It would his exact drawing of all the shots. With exact frames, with all the camera movement, down to exact time of the shot. And he said, for him, the film was done at this point and the actual shooting was boring for him. Because it just meant translating what was on the storyboard.

For me Ganga expedition was similar experience. I have been working, with Andy preparing for it for almost a year now. It was an intense experience. And during the preparation, I almost went through the Ganga’s entire length from the source to the mouth, many times. This journey I have done in my mind, in Google earth, and talking with others… last three month of preparation was so intense, and, that it was almost like the Hitchcock’s storyboard. At some point the Journey was done, for me. Doing the actual Journey was like mere formality, that I what I felt.

I meet Andy last year, in Africa. He was leading the expedition on River Zambezi, which I was filming for BBC. It was long trip we were on the river for more then two months. And Andy and clicked very early on, and our relationship grow as we went along. At one point, he told me, Apal I have never been to India. When I was traveling in 70 ies everyone was going to India. I did not, because I thought I was not ready for India. I have met you now, I will come now. ” Sure I said, knowing so well, that he will not come. I have heard this many times. Many of the people say this to me, but no one really came. But, Andy was different. He said he was coming, and he came!!! I did not know what to do with him, where to take him!!! India is too big, and too vast to show for a first timer. So I decided since he is river man; let’s show him rivers in India. We went to Garwal, to and show the Ganga in upper parts, then traveled down to Benras, to see the same river in a very different setting. It was during this trip, at some point, we just looked at each other, and said, should we do a river expedition on Ganga, it took us not more then fraction of seconds and “Ya lets do it!!!” And this is how this expedition was born. From being a small expedition, with couple of friends it has grown to scale it has grown now.

On our way, we have been stopping at small villages for chai; or sometimes just to take a break and to look around. One after other village we visited people came to us and said, this was first time we have seen “white People”. At one of such village were we had camped, early in the morning we had about 25..30 visitors. They just stood there looking at us, actually more at the Foreigners. Every little thing that happened was a matter of excitement for them. Be it Andy getting the fire going, or Leo filling the fuel tank, or something as simple as Jaja cutting fruits was watched with full concentration and constantly commented. When nothing happened, they looked, simply stared. Zorba, getting worried, about our guest said to them, “Hey, don’t stare, leave them alone”. One enterprising villager replied,” We have never seen them, they will go soon, let us watch them”.That statement just got stuck in mind. I was laughing all day long.

Looking at the state of Ganga, I feel I could say the same. “Ganga may be gone soon, see it till it lasts”. I grow up next to Ganga, and have seen it in different forms. Water went low in summers, High after monsoon, pleasant temperatures in the heat of summers and really cold waters in winters. Like the seasons Ganga had its different moods. But now with countless dams and controls on the river, it has kind of lost its character. The dam authority controls the flow of water, not nature. Added to it, all the industrial pollution, untreated sewage, and other human waste has not made life any easier for the river. Lots of money and efforts have gone to clean this river in last 18 years. Many have made fortune and big names in the process, but what has actually happened? It will take some scientific study to come up with the state of river but visibly I could say, river is very severely sick, or really going down the drain. A new plan to revive the Ganga has been lunched. Lots more money will be spent; hope this is going to do some good.

Will people who have lived with Ganga would be part of this drive? Will they we participations? I strongly believe no program will be successful, without till the people, who have lived and cared for Ganga for ages are taken into the fold and the local knowledge is used to save this mighty river.

Dragging boats, when there was no water, and watching sewage poured in the river, was some the lows for me in this trip. But whenever that happened, during my lowest of the low, suddenly a Dolphin jumped out for fraction of seconds. That was enough to lift my moral. It made me realize, no not all is lost. If these dolphins can survive, there is hope. This river can save itself, we just need to let the river flow.

Patrick Fahey Leo

Patrick Fahey Leo

New Zealand, technical equipment

As our expedition made our way to the himalayas, we travelled not always Northwards from Delhi, but constantly upwards, up to 3800 meters today, then on further to our summit.
During one of our roadside stops, Andy observed that the many road cut-outs resembled the “Tears of the mountains”.If this is so, then the noise of the Dam construction, the overloaded trucks and the buses making their Journey up and down the winding roads and the constant screech of the horn blasts, must surly be the sound of the ‘Himalayas crying’

All of this, alone with the carless plastic littering these Grand mountains has not upset the Gods, they showed our expedition today. they are not angry as they showed our expedition today. They are as angry as they presumed us with warmth, sunshine, water and amazing views during our 18 Km trsk alongside the Bharghati, the staring river of the mighty Ganga.So the Gods are allowing the himalayas to cry a little.

But we do need to show our gratitute to the Gods, lord Shiva, the God of Destruction, and Ma Ganga, the mother of things ever created. We need them to be happy so that our generations to follow us can enjoy the most spectacular mountains on earth.

Zorba Z. Laloo

Zorba Z. Laloo

India, land logistics and co-photography

– “21 kilometres away?”

– “Thanks!”

We bump along dusty roads, winding through villages, forests, fields and congested towns. The car slowly falls apart. The windows don’t open and the gear starts to stick. Fuel for the boats, food, firewood, water and other supplies – all of these need to be bought for the crew and the boats. Some of the crew want papayas, but this village only has bananas. Firewood was luckily found in a furniture shop while a fuel station attendant had to be woken up and coaxed into hand cranking 250 litres into motor boat fuel bags. My cellphone rings and I answer questions about where a few foreign journalists can be dropped off for a pickup. A man selling bottled water beamed like a child because he had 24 bottles and we bought it all. We asked more than 20 people along the way for directions even though we’re equipped with maps and GPS, the confident drive to the bridge rendezvous zips along. The car grinds to a dusty halt at the designated point by the banks of the Ganga and there isn’t a bridge in sight. Another normal day. Welcome to India.

Travelling pan-India with the Ganges Expedition 2009 has been a wonderful and educational experience for me. For the Expedition team, I was the Land Support in-charge and had to procure and provide the Expedition with the necessary supplies. For me personally, G.K.Chesterton puts it better than I can – “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” I have been through the Indo-Gangetic plain at close quarters and it has been eye-opening to see the agricultural and political heartland of India. In a blur of passing kilometres, villages, towns, cities and innumerable crop fields washed my senses in a myriad of colours, sounds, sights and smells. In a month’s time I had a humbling and enlightening experience meeting so many different people from so many different walks of life. Approximately seventy percent of this vast nation is involved in agriculture and it has been quite a journey meandering alongside the river Ganga through it all. I thank Andy and Apal for letting me be on the team and teaching me so much. Every team member is now a friend I’m deeply thankful for too. To a great journey and an even greater crew. “Khublei.”

“Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.” – Benjamin Disraeli

Jaja Vondruskova

Jaja Vondruskova

Czech, expedition crew

My Ganga

First time in India, absorbing all the smells, vibrations, sounds, colors, smiles… and the amazing energy, which can’t leave anybody untouched. There is nothing greater than to do my yoga practice on the Ganga sand bank, while the sun starts to tickle my face, all kind of birds are tuning their voices to start their concert, and the river keeps on flowing while first crew members start to stick their noses out of the tents.

During the expedition we follow the pace of nature, something what you can’t force, something that you can’t change, you just have to let go and things will happened, that is expedition. And than you just observe and things happening around you are turning all the concepts you had in your head upside down. We see dead bodies floating in the river, serving as a meal for dogs and birds, so brutal, so unbelievable… after couple of days the most natural thing which just confirms how meaningless our bodies are, that it’s just a case for something much more important… We’re learning, everyday, to see things without preconceptions, judgments and open up more our minds…
Wish more people could share it with us.

Mirza Afzal Beg

Mirza Afzal Beg

India, expedition crew

I joined the Expedition from Benares, the are which I belong to, so that I could explore and experience it. I ha always travelled in that area by road or train but moving along the river was a totally new experience. It was as if I was passing through the back lanes of my own house where I could hardly Ventured. I could not recognise it. Travelling on the river I could not realise that I was passing through one of the most densely populated areas of India. Then it reminded me of Andy saying that people have forgotten rivers. All the earlier civilisations thrived along the rivers. Later, when roads and other means of transportation developed, people moved away from the rivers and forgot them. They are now neglected and dying. It has really become the back lane of our house where we hardly go but throw all the garbage there.

In our camps, usually after dinner, we talked about anything and everything. One day during one of our post dinner discussions, Andy said, “See how beautiful the camp is. We are so close to Nature, and how little we need.” We had our fire. We had water to make our own coffee and tea and there was food. There were tents and sleeping bags to sleep in. That was all we needed. The vast openness, the starlit night, the river provided all the beauty and peace. And then after our Expedition was over, we checked into a five star hotel with all the luxuries of the modern world. Here I felt suffocated and claustrophobic. I missed the openness of the river and camps. And to create these modern luxuries, we waste our precious natural resources and ruin the environment.