An unplanned journey through the unknown Ganges

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Kolkata, Dec 15 (UNI) Wander lust led him to the Ganges, and 24 days later Polish traveller Kilen Pawel emerged out of the swerving currents and meandering bends to dock in Kolkata, as the first to paddle over 1100 nautical kms from Varanasi.

Twenty six-year-old Kilen is traveling for the last two years, as he moved from Poland to Bulgaria to Turkey into Afghanistan, Pakistan to reach India. It is here that the canoe instructor from Warsaw struck upon the idea that paddling in the Ganges in a 'dingy'(canoe), no more than 24 feet long, would be quite an adventure and a chance to see India from a different perspective.

So as he took a plunge with his 24-ft boat on November 9, he had set out on a 'journey without a plan' by his own admission.

''I decided on this boat journey as there were so many boats of different sizes at the Dashashwamedh ghat. I was driven by impulse.

Now I know no one has attempted to paddle from Varanasi to Kolkata in a canoe before. But at that point of time it was the desire to set sail,'' Pawel, who paddled from 7.30 am to about 4 pm,'' he said.

Edmund Hillary had tried one such journey from Ganga Sagar to Haridwar in a motorboat, but he had to carry his boat for more than 100 kms on a truck. ''Oh! I had to carry my boat in a rickshaw near Farakka Barrage for 200 mts,'' Pawel adds amused to have been introduced to this unique piece of history.

He roughly divided his journey into three parts, each with its share of beauty, thrills and adventures as he drank in the beauty of India floating like 'a brown speck in the midst of the mighty Ganges'.

''The first 300 nautical kms between Varanasi and Patna was quite easy. Slow current, meandering bents, pollution free river and a flock of dolphins for company - it was picture perfect. But sometimes I thought the prudence of this journey when I would camp in the evening for my meal of dal, bhath (dal and rice),'' he said.

''Ganges is not so polluted everywhere. It is only where people live that it is polluted. It is beautiful and mighty. Its nothing like what I have seen in Poland,'' he said. Pawel was a regular at the river Wisel that flows through Warsaw, but he calls the rivers smaller and shallower when compared to the Ganges.

''From Patna to Farakka it was rough and sweeping. The current was too much. At one time I found myself in the middle of the Ganges tossed up and down in the waves near Farakka. I had to paddle to safety. I did not even have a life jacket and the boat which had one leak would not survive the high tide. So I somehow paddled ashore,'' he said recalling his rough brush with the river.

Then again near Bhagalpur, armed anti-socials checked him out.

''I first thought that they were secret police like we have in Poland. Then I realized they were trying to rob me,'' he said.

The final stretch was fast as the current carried him along, till he docked in Kolkata on the banks of the Hoogly.

Buoyed by this journey, he now eyes the Yellow river in China.

''But that depends on the river and how I find it when I reach there,'' he mused.

It was here that he got his documents checked and formalized as in Varanasi when he went for permission he was told government cant give him permission, police said 'no way' and people said 'what permission'. Something that left him wondering.

''So don't you remember home?'' ''Yes, I do. Warsaw must have changed in two years. I keep calling my mother. But I need to travel further.'' UNI BA LL AB HT1532

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