Gomti River first descent completed
We have successfully completed our latest project, Gomati River Expedition 2011. And, like every other river in the past, Gomati revealed its secrets and surprises… this time it was mostly pleasant surprises.
As our tradition goes, at the source, Gomat Taal, at the base of the Himalayas, very close to Nepal, we collected our ‘good luck’ water. It was a pity that we could not put our boats in the water right there because the uppermost section of the river is dried up. We were informed by the administration that in this section, the riverbed is to be dredged and that a canal will be built to feed it with fresh water.
Given this fact, we traveled about 80 kms downriver to start our journey. We also spent a night in the forest rest house. It was exciting to know that these forests had 47 recorded tigers. We never saw any, but I am sure that some of them spotted us !! We reached Muhammadi, put our boats in the river and started the first section. Here the river is not more then ten meters wide at its maximum, but boasts pristine water and beautiful wetlands. Gomati meanders left and right, and often takes big U-turns to come back to the same point where we started.
Some sections were so beautiful, that we sometimes wondered where we were, in India or Africa. We had seen more than 150 species of birds and some rare animals.
We were amazed at so much natural beauty and our tourism expert Armin enthused about the potential for sustainable, low-impact tourism that could support the local economy. Even our Indian friends were astounded as much as we were and we mused about the fact that it had to take until 2011 for anyone to ever travel the entire length of the Gomati River.
Our camps were beautiful and the river was always inviting. We jumped in the water for a swim at the first given opportunity; we drank from the river and cooked our meals with river water. We were always greeted by the locals with curiosity, love and affection. Most of the villages next to the river seem to be 200/300 years behind. The scenario was always similar: people living by the river are cut off from the benefits of development. Almost all the villages we visited did not have basic amenities such as hospitals, schools or even connection to a road.
As always we had journalists with us to report on the situations.
I often wondered how many river expeditions it will need to take to have people talking about these forgotten rivers and people living on their banks. After experiencing the river at its best, we reached the capital city of Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow. To our horror we were greeted with sights of piles of plastic and tons of garbage by the banks. Drains opened right into the river.
A sad sight of modern civilization indeed. Our sadness was briefly forgotten when we were welcomed by a group of school children organized by Sandkadha, an organization working with local craftspeople. It was a joy to take the children and other friends for a ride on our boats.
We had to port our boats around the barrage and continued our journey. We were a bit skeptical about the amount of water we would find below the barrage. But thanks to recent heavy rains, the river was full of water. So we managed to stay on boat, floating, and did not need to get off to push and pull in ‘no water’ situation.
Just as we left Lucknow we were greeted with ruins of beautiful old buildings, forts and amazing ghats. We still saw amazing birds, jackals and other wildlife.
They kept getting less as we went further downriver. After the hot and humid days we experienced before reaching Lucknow, we now found ourselves in unseasonal rains. Driving in the rain and cold took a toll on our bodies. One after another, crew members kept falling sick. But, we marched on, enjoying the river, which still kept twisting and turning.
Reaching the point where the Gomati converges with the mighty Ganga was an emotional moment for all and a special one for me. I was proud of my team which had stuck together in thick and thin. They enjoyed the beautiful upper section of the river as much as they enjoyed the rain and cold of the lower sections. We do not undertake river expeditions for the sake of adventure per se. Rather, we always take with us journalists, scientists and people from various social networks.
They go to places where they would not go otherwise. This expedition was no different. Reporters from different English and Hindi newspapers, journals and bloggers joined us in different sections. We also worked closely with government agencies and specially the UP pollution control board. We collected water samples from different sections all along the way. We also documented the flora and fauna of the river, the results of which will be shared by anyone who has use to it.
I would like to thank our sponsors, wellwishers and friends who supported the expedition, in every possible way.
Andy Leemann Switzerland
Armin Schoch Thailand
Klaus Kranewitter Germany
Apal Singh India
Berna Voegele Germany
Zorba Lalou India
Shyam Singh India
Sponsors and Supporters
Yacht Center Palma
Ministry of Health India
Ashit Mitra, Kassar Trust
Miguel Caballero from Kuback Studio, Webdesign