Arriving to Delhi, my co – expedition leader Apal was not at the airport as he had promised, he overslept. The whole team around Apal was working day and night, to make what seemed like impossible, possible – The Ganges Expedition. The next three days I was with Apal, Monu and Nishant buying all the necessary equipment, food supply etc. and getting the Yamaha outboard engines 40hp serviced and running.
On the 10th of September the press conference, organized by our main supporter Kuoni, was held in Delhi. Helge Bendl was moderating the press conference, Lucia Tallo representing Kuoni, Adam Koniuszewski representing Green Cross International and me, Andy Leemann as an expedition leader representing the team. The envoy of Green Cross International and Nobel Prize winner professor Mohan Muansinghe gave a speech on the environmental problems of the rivers originated in the Himalayan region. It was a great success. We received more then 30 journalists, despite of a very rainy and flooded day.
Delhi – Rishikesh
At 5am the expedition crew left Delhi with two cars arranged by Distant Frontiers – Kuoni India, heading to Rishikesh, the holy city for Hindus and a famous centre of pilgrimage. The next two days we drove, admiring the lower Himalayas. Although it was not easy for us to spend that many hours sitting, but the mighty Himalayan view kept us busy.
We reached Gangotri where we met our porters and the next day we set off towards Gaumukh, the source of Ganges. The tracking along the Bhagirathi river valley, with such beautiful weather, was a joy for everyone. The whole team started to suffer form headache and weakness caused by the high altitude. For many this was the first time they had climbed so high. That included me.
Proudly we reached the source of Ganges on 18th of sept at 4000m above the sea level. The water coming out of the Gangotri glacier inspired us to take a dip in the icy cold water. After Leo and me showed the way to do it, all slowly took turn to take dip in the freezing water. And traditionally we filled up our bottle with the water from the source, to take it all the way to the bay of Bengal. To explore this precious Gangotri glacier, we climbed up to Tapovan biwak and stayed there over night, surrounded by the giant Himalayas peaks. It took us another one and a half day to get back to Gangotri, where the two cars were expecting us and drove us back to Uttarkashi.
The team enjoyed the Himalaya tremendously, it reminded us again, how small we were in front of these mighty mountains, and that mountains and high altitude has to be respected. We suffered a great deal, but everybody would go back tomorrow.
In Deoprayag, where Bhagirathi river and the Alakananda river join to form Ganges, we started our journey on the river, using 2 river rafts taking us through the white water down to Rishikesh. The rafting part is now controlled by the huge Tehri dam and has lost a lot of the spectacular ride. Our professional guide was not always happy with our rafting skills. But we were more then happy with our performance. We arrived safely to Haridwar as a very strongly united team, prepared to take on the challenge of 2500km on the Ganges river in our AB inflatable boats.
The first big disappointment was to see our boats badly damaged during the transportation by truck. The repair of the boats took Leo and me whole day. The next big shock was to find out that after the Haridwar barrage 80% of the water flow went to the irrigation channels and only very little water was left for us. Despite of all the troubles, we were happy to be on the river and on our own.
Haridwar – Bijnor(Dam)
The first 45km we had to push and pull the boats on rocky and sandy ground to overcome this stretch with so little water, and as closer as we got to the barrage of Bijnor we were able to navigate better and cover more kilometres. Bijnor barrage was a half day work to get the boats, engines and equipment out of the water around the dam and in the river again. One by one we transported the ribs on our car roof. Luckily we had in our team all this young and strong guys taking what ever came on their shoulders. Sadly we encountered the same problem after the barrage…very little water, so push and pull went on until we enjoyed some rivers joining and giving us enough to navigate with our boats nicely.
Our camp on a nice sand bank just in the beautiful nature we enjoyed a lot and the food cooked by our great chef Monu was delicious.
Camp has a different setting: packing and unpacking is tough and requires everyone to help and only after all the tents are up and the camp is organized, we enjoy the badly needed chai or coffee. The WWF rep which we should have met was busy so the goal was to meet Sandeep. the next morning in Garmukteswar.
We spotted for the first time river dolphins and with WWF we were invited to cruise through a sanctuary where they lead a dolphin project. We met the guys and had a great day with them.
With the 4 journalists joining our team it was exciting and they became very quickly a part of the crew. To deal with the corpses floating down the river, was not easy for us at the beginning, but it became part of the journey.
We arrived in Narora where we had to deal again with a barrage which was as always a pain in the neck…..! Camping in front of a nuclear power plant was a funny feeling and after a hard days work I looked at the holy river Ganges which contained hardly any water for our boats. It took me a long time to fall asleep, thinking of: why we do not take care of such a beloved river?
Narora – Farrukabad
Zeno our Swiss journalist joined the crew. The first thing he had to learn was; jump out of the boat and push over the sand banks. To do this exercise 100 times a day is not easy but it makes you tough and realize that you better never underestimate a river. We had to deal with 60km hard going until we got more water to navigate easier. By far this was hardest day of pushing and pulling.
Farrukabad – Kanpur
In Farrukabad we met our support car wit Zorba and the driver, who were our golden boys, bringing all the goodies like water, food, veggies, wood for cooking and the badly needed gasoline. Most of the time Zorba came with us to the camp, helping and enjoying the great expedition team at camp.
The stories on the fire and the being together in deep deep India made everyone feel free and satisfied. Kanpur was our next big meeting point because Lisa our Swiss girl and great crew member had to go back to Switzerland and Gabriela and Jaja joined us. After the whole day and riding in the night, 2 hours navigating in full moon we arrived on the barrage of Kanpur, but whow, what a surprise the channel around the dam was dry and we had to find camp at night with an unhappy crew, half of them sick with sore feet, diarrhoea, infections etc. So for a while I was a very unwanted person and once more in my expedition life I felt how lonely a leader can get. But Apal, my good friend and co-leader took off to find some cold beers and the support car. When he arrived 2 hours later with the goodies the mood changed rapidly and happiness was back… how little it needs.
The next morning we moved the RIBs around the dam and happily did the last 15km to our Masscare Ghat where we camped. The girls arrived and Lisa was released after the doctor cut her finger to clean and treat the infection. WWF received us with great preparation. We were informed that the expedition crew will be invited for a typical Kanpur lunch and after we had time to look at their work.
At night the police showed up to tell us that there is no way to sleep on this spot. Not safe enough they told us. Clear message that the whites have to go to a hotel! 2 hours later we sadly moved in the next hotel after all the phone calls and connections did fail. But the Indian members stood to the ground, and slept in the camp to watch our equipment.
Kanpur to Allahabad
Gandhi´s and Jaja’s birthday. Ram Ganga, next big river joined Ganga. And the river became full and better to navigate. We do not have to push so much any more over the sandbanks.
Klaus travelled with the car for some days just to help heeling his feet. We all suffered on infections and sore feet due to pushing the boats in the mud and sand. The camps on the river and on islands were one of the most memorable part of our trip. We stayed away from the villages and nature gave us more than expected.
We navigated on a full river and had the good current in our favour.150km a day became easy with the super ABI inflatables.
The Yamaha outboards 40Hp enduros worked very well after they got such a beating during the first 500km. We enjoyed a nice and comfortable ride to the holy city of Varanasi.
We navigated on a full river and had the good current in our favour.150km a day became easy with the super ABI inflatables. The Yamaha outboards 40Hp enduros worked very well after they got such a beating during the first 500km. We enjoyed a nice and comfortable ride to the holy city of Varanasi.
With the new crew member Mirza we started early morning on a cloudy day. The last three weeks we’ve been very lucky with the weather, temperature was bearable and we hardly had any rain. Until now we had been staying in nice camps, but this coming night we were invited to sleep at Mirza’s parents house in Aadilabad near Ghazipur. Mirza´s muslim family welcomed us with all their heart and tradition.
Sadly we had that day Jaja down with Typhus and fever over 40C, rather then drinking tea, we had to look around to find medical help in the local community. In no time Jaja was on a drip and doctors did everything possible. Jaja was in the women’s part of the house and like angels the mum of Mirza came with other women to wash and massage the poor Czech girl.
The same night the fever went down and everybody was relieved, specially the parents of Mirza. Poor Mirza had such a stress that the same night he got a fever himself. We stayed an extra day to give Jaja time and us the treat of the excellent food which we got served 3 times a day. Expedition members, did their own things. Photo and video team members went about their work, while some read, some went for village trip.
It was unexpected break and chance for all to experience the village life of the Indo Gangatic plain.
Dalan Chara – Patna
By now all the guys were handling engines and boats decently.
During this time I´am sure they hated me many times for being like a hawk protecting the boats constantly. The boats are my babies and without them we can go home. The navigation became more interesting due to more traffic on the river. But still the nature kept on surprising me.
Everyday we saw dolphins around the boats and we were spotting lots of different birds. The Ganges opened sometimes into a giant 30km wide kind of a lake and beautiful nature.
We still had, at least once a day bath in Ganges.
My slogan was:
As long as I see dolphins I can swim!
Simaria Ghat (Teghra)
With 2 nice media girls from NDTV, we set off early for a beautiful day. The river became more and more alive. Between lovely nature we had a lot more big villages on the river banks.
The people on the river are poor, but like river folks they respected us as part of their community. Our chai break was always a big spectacle and a very pleasant and learning stop. I started to need the chai so badly that all the locals were surprised when I took a couple of refills. In this part of the world you become the one who wonders why we have so much and here they have so little.
But as longer you travel as more you feel that these people seem to be very happy about their lives. This trip could be such a good therapy for us westerners to realize the real value of being. Simaria Ghat was a big time pilgrimage town and we camped on a sandbank under the stars and with a big smile on our faces that we came so far without any mayor problems.
Baharampur – Navadwip – Kolkata
30km after Rajmahal, we reached West Bengal fifth and the last state of our journey. Here we had to deal with the separation of the Ganges. We came to the barrage and also did find the entrance into the Ganges channel, but there was a lock and the worst of it was that a green carpet of plants blocked the entrance to the look.
There was no way to get anywhere near the gate. Luckily a big boat crossed through the green carpet and we followed… until the military guards stopped us and explained that we need first permission and second pay the money to pass trough the lock.
Apal did the job with the paperwork, with his usual very calm manner and with a 100% success. We pushed the 3 boats through the green carpet and have been very lucky to enter the lock. We went down 5m and came out in the channel to Kolkata, which then joins the Hugli River. The channel became a river after about 80km and bend-by-bend it got more exciting.
Everywhere villages with nice old houses and lots of exotic temples, crossing old colonial towns, with massive and old buildings. And like all along, people smiling and waving us as we passed. Fin a Swiss journalist joined us in this sector to travel the last 200km down to Kolkata.h they told us. Clear message that the whites have to go to a hotel! 2 hours later we sadly moved in the next hotel after all the phone calls and connections did fail. But the Indian members stood to the ground, and slept in the camp to watch our equipment.
Kolkata – Diamond Harbour
Arriving in Kolkata was like …wow we did it. We stopped at the Floatel a nice floating hotel in the city, where we had the security for the boats and also the tide of over 4m had the solution, we just floated up and down with the Hotel. The owner Manab Pal himself a freak for rivers gave us excellent discounts. I enjoyed the first hot shower after 4 weeks.!!! Sadly Klaus and Fin had to go back home and that was a good reason to find a nice restaurant with excellent Bengali food. I don’t feel very comfortable in cities and was kind of happy to carry on to the Bay of Bengal. We had 2 German photographers and one journalist with us, who expected the ultimate adventure. The last stretch of water to the bay is immense, traffic with big boats, industry and a massive tide up to 5m and more. We struggled to find camps or possibility to sleep in our tents. We ended up sleeping in a hotel park with the boats in front of us. We took turns to get up every hour to check the boats and finally at 02:00am the boats where hanging almost vertical.
Early next morning we set out to reach the ocean to celebrate the final of this amazing expedition. We all came together and poured the water we collected at the source in to the ocean. Everybody became very humble but proud of what we accomplished without any major problems. We did it, and we covered 2500km as a team as friends and as a family.
We did it !
2500 km on the Ganges Golf of Bengal
N21 55.863 E88 08.310
Golf of Bengal – Kolkata
The trip was not over yet; we still had to get back to Kolkata 120km, Where our supporter Kuoni was waiting to get straight to business with a proper celebration, press conference and everything what has to end this venture as fine and nice project. Lucia as we all know is a hard worker and with Lovleen, Matthias, Remo and the entire Kuoni crew welcomed us at the best hotel in Kolkata. We just felt like a group of freaks coming out of the jungle, but nobody seemed to mind about our smells, so we all had a nice shower settled down and behaved like señores.
*****Thanks Kuoni for such a treat.*****
Final press conference
The events were all very professional organized by Kuoni and the entire expedition crew did not f…up.
We had a lot of media attention and the next day lots of people wanted to talk to us since nobody has done such a crazy thing.
Many wondered… do these guys have nothing else to do then room around on the Ganges river!!!???
And still the job was not finished. Most of the guys left us and so as usual it was the final small group organizing the equipment and loading the truck transporting the lot back to Delhi.
We were all sad when we parted, hoping to see each other again, but I did that too many times in my life to know that we have to make a real effort to meet again.