On the day of arrival at Bangalore to paddle with kayakers from South India, the newspaper headlines clamoured, “Water crisis”. The bold letters in print stared at us while we sat and ate the sumptuous breakfast prepared in Naveen’s warm and hospitable home. i tried to fathom what 1.2 thousand million cubic feet of water was in volume while i washed my hands below a tap. As of the fifth morning of January,2013, Bangalore consumed that much water in a day. 8.5 million people, 741 square kilometers.
i wiped my hands dry.
Confronted with a scale too large to fully appreciate, my brain was quite happy to be distracted with loading gear and boats into the car. The full realisation of the irony of seemingly displaced paddlers looking for good water in a water scarce region would have to wait.
We went through city snarls, dusty towns and to quiet villages. The cars loaded with boats looked out of place as we stopped for chai. We asked where we could throw the disposable cups and the lady of the village shop laughed and gestured towards the little trash heap by the side. “What to do with plastic?”
The put-in was beautiful. There was a little temple to the left. The trees gave the river a wide berth for her seasons of higher flow while rocks shaped and molded by years of currents played no-mans-land between the two. Cattle were grazing while the sun dipped to inform us we had a little over an hour of light left. The water was warm and we could not resist doing laps on a rapid upstream. Nightfall enveloped us in starlit darkness and the routine familiarity of setting up camp and a fire gave us something to do. It stopped being dreamy soon enough though.
Apart from us, there were a group of auto rickshaw drivers, a herd of cattle and five lads on an overnight picnic. The auto drivers were boisterous, the cattle defecated on everything and the 5 left their fire and camp area in a mess of trash and smoldering fires while blaring loud “filmi” music into the wee hours. When asked to turn the music down, they started a brawl. Strange to think that the river that brought this motley congregation together was also witness to this minor debacle.
The Eastern Ghat Elephant Reserve is split by the Cauvery River into the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu sides. Vibha, the most acute of naturalists among us, recognised birds while happily telling us their names – White Throated Kingfisher, Green Bee Eater, Red Wattled Lapwing, River Tern, Darter, Cormorant, Egret, Pond Heron, Stork, Rufuos Treepie, Drongo and so on. Manik was sure he saw some penguins but we’re sure he was mistaken. We didn’t see any tracks of larger mammals along the banks as we paddled. We did see croc tracks a few days old leading into the water. Naveen noticed a croc swimming under his boat as he was the paddler on point. I shifted nervously in my packraft – the only inflatable among hardshells. The natural barometers of water health were also present – shrimps and tadpoles. Fishermen along the banks and in their recognisable “coracles” caught different types of fish.
So why do we paddle? Why do we drag our bodies and kilograms of gear through kilometers of assorted hassles to do this? Apart from shiny pictorial experiences, i’d like to think it slows down life from the fast lane to a speed more … for lack of a better word, human.Being on the water is like connecting that somehow lost umbilical cord. It’s primordial and it sounds lame when, like right now, a description is attempted by one who cannot put it in the right words. Andy Leemann says, “Water people, we immediately connect”. People come out in coracles to say hello, you wave to a fisherman on the bank and he smiles back, hand raised in open warmth, strangers from across the country paddle “blind date” together and trust each other straight off.
So there were no uber-rapids to paddle. There was more mind-numbing flat water than swift. The water was low as expected. We spoke about horrific tales of dams and massive water diversions. We survived a midnight brawl with techie townies. And we drove a long way to get here.
We also saw a really beautiful area in one of it’s seasons and at it’s own pace. We were, for the most part, alone. We all were great company to each other. We had a great time. I for one, am not unhappy.
Maybe this is what Cooper Lambla means in his theory of Downstream Movement.
Maybe this is why we paddle for paddling’s sake.
The good, the flat and the ugly (bad pun intended)
Short Youtube video on the paddle with the SRR in the link below.