Dear Ribex friends,
First of all I hope that you and your loved ones are healthy and in good spirit.
We are safely back from our latest adventure.
Here is a little update on our latest venture exploring the River Road India – Myanmar.
Kaladan – Kolodyne is the fourth river in India that has embraced me, warmly and lovingly. Who would have thought in 2009 when we did the Ganga expedition that we would go on to sail on the mighty Bramhaputra, the small but interesting Gomati and now, the Kaladan River.
I was amazed by what I saw ….the landscape, the people, and the smells .I almost felt that we were not in “India” any more. I can safely say South East Asia starts from here. I couldn’t get much information about the river except the topography available on Google earth. And from what I saw, I have no hesitation in saying, I was worried. It was a river full of rocks, rapids and strong currents. I knew I had to be better prepared. Safety of equipment and the crew was paramount.
The boats were waiting for us at Lunglei, (a small and sleepy town in the state of Mizoram). Before every expedition, my biggest fear is what states will I find my boats and engines in. This time it was no different. The boats had traveled all the way from Jaunpur in the province of Uttar Pradesh. The equipment had reached Lunglei crossing six different Indian states, covering a distance of more than 2500kms over a period of almost 18 days. My fears were not unfounded; one of the boats was scratched badly from one side and needed immediate attention.
While I was busy putting the boats together, my team went around getting tents, food etc organized. We would be going into real wilderness and far from any real civilization so we had to be prepared down to the smallest detail.
Another round of packing. …And we set out for the river. Our expedition started from Tuipui D village. It was the only place where we could put our boats in the river.
The first day was a bit slow….all we could manage was about 5 kilometers in six to seven hours. I knew of the challenges ahead. Firstly, the river was full of rocks and had little water. This made going upstream very challenging. I do not know of any other instance where people have tried to go against category 3-4 rapids using RIB’s in such conditions.
Early evening saw us put up our camp in a jungle. As I got into the river for a wash, I felt my body and mind relax. I knew I had a big challenge ahead. That evening after a great Thai curry and rice, we had our first team meeting. We discussed safety and security in great details. We didn’t want to leave anything to chance.
The boat drivers had a tough time. The river never gave them a moment of respite. Everyone had to be on his or her toes all the time. At major rapids we had to scout first and check how we could go ahead with it. At some rapids we had to take out the entire luggage and carry it on our shoulders in order to make the boats light.
The Jungle, particularly near the river was breath taking. Looking at the forest I marveled at the many different shades of green nature had made. With hardly any village around, we were always in the middle of nowhere it seemed. I was expecting to see a lot of wildlife in the jungle but soon discovered, in my interactions with villagers that hunting was rampant in these areas. They were essentially hunter- trappers and meat was their only protein supplement.
Once again I see how far removed people living along the rivers are from mainstream development. It reinforces my desire to use river expeditions as a means of drawing attention to the rivers and more importantly to condition of the people living along them.
In the end our boats and engines got some real bashing. I have never changed so many props, as I did on this one. But what was important that people were fine. We did some real hard driving both up and going down the river, crossing one rapid after another. But after every days hard work, we washed ourselves in the fresh water, and then cooked nice meal.
Armin was a superb Skipper, Writer and our super cook. And Misa an excellent camp in-charge Albert our local Mizo boy was strong, always pulling and pushing, with smile. I was happily surprised how much Zorba has picked up in last two years. His first experience with river was in 2009 when he did our land logistics for Ganga. Since then he has become an active water sports person. He was often my front man looking for rocks, currents and my rope-man. Without Apal who is my friend and co-leader, these expeditions in India would not have been possible. His photography and video is the only souvenir we have from this beautiful river. It was a small and compact team. Everyone knew what had to be done, and did the job well, in very challenging conditions.
For Misa our Czech girl it was not always easy to be with well seasoned man who sometimes just did not care about all the things woman expect from them
It got dark by five in the evening. And we often felt, it must be well past mid night, while it was just seven thirty or eight in night. Hence we had all the time to cook, eat and sit around fire to pull out stories of each member and have a good laugh. Apal my co leader, on the last day, came with a sorry face, and informed “Oh! I forgot my laptop in the guesthouse. He had claimed he had checked the room very well… We all pulled his legs when it came to packing. Armin our storyteller was lovely nicked named “Armin Radio”. He always had an amusing excuse whenever he goofed up. If he did not make it up the rapid, he smartly blamed the engines, rocks or the broken props. We all had a big laugh when he hit a rock hard on landing and made a baby face to say “Oh I got the wrong gear” – Considering there are only two gears here, forward and backward. We were left speechless, when Misa one evening after a wash asked for generator to be switched on so she could dry her hairs. Zorba our cool out doorman loves to sleep. One night he said “hey Guys don’t worry, I will be up early and have all the ropes ready. After coffee when we looked for him, and found him sleeping like a baby. Albert, our youngest member of the team, was on his first trip with a multinational team. Whenever he felt home sick, he reached for Apal, and put his hand on his hairy chest. And Apal felt like his mother. We always had a good laugh. The team never spared me. I was reminded time and again, when I got the boat stuck in the huge rock, while I was showing them how to navigate in between them.
It was a tough expedition, and we all worked hard, had our shares of difficult and dangerous moments. But always stayed very close together and enjoyed the thrill.
The sad part of the trip was that we where officially not allowed to enter Burma since the authorities denied the permit to travel in to the Rakhine state.
The reason was the emergency regulation in the entire state there is a 10pm -5am curfew due to the problems between the Rohingya Muslims and the Rakhine Buddhists.
June a Rakhine Buddhist women got raped and killed which left as many as 75 people killed and 5000 houses burnt and 75000 people displaced.
We celebrated the end of the expedition, about 15 km into Burma, with lots of emotions and so happy that we traveled this untouched river in a forgotten area on the Indo-Burmese Boarder.
Once again it goes to prove, that there are people living by the river forgotten by the rest of the world, live happily from what they get from Mother Nature.
I would like to say thanks to all the folks and the crew, which supported us with all they could.
A very special thanks to the big and lovely Zorba’s family. With the Mizos people we always felt trusted, which you need in the world we live in. And in each expedition, there are many who help us, without being seen or heard. My heart felt gratitude to them.
A big thanks to all.
PS: if you like to see more pictures and the daily journal — www.ribexpedition.com