The River Ganges – 5 things we didn’t know

Namaste from the River Ganges

The River Ganges 2017

We have travelled over 500km on the River Ganges from Haridwar to Kanpur and we are not even half way yet! We have been very fortunate to immerse ourselves into the real India along the river, met the most generous people and witness incredibly rare wild life.

So much happened during this adventure that we would love to tell you all about it. Here are our top 5 things we did not know about before we started.

1. The River Ganges looks a lot different to Google Maps.

We navigate the Ganga (the local name for the Ganges) using Google Maps. The reason for this is simple: a detailed map simply does not exist.

TOP TIP – When abroad, you can use you location settings to guide you without having to use data since the GPS function is independent of data usage.

We use GPS to track where we are and plan where we are going. However, the maps on Google are very often different from the reality. Frequently we find ourselves 2km inland even though we are in the middle of the River! We’ve learnt that after every monsoon season the river dramatically changes flow patterns and therefore the maps can’t keep up. Technology is great but we find it is easiest to just look up and flow the river as nature intended. After all, we’re all going the same way.

Another factor which contributes to changing the course of the river is natural land erosion. This occurs when the sediment from previous flows is exposed to the sun, dries out and becomes unstable. Most days we watch huge clumps of land fall into the river with the crash of the impact terrifying us as waves from the break offs chases us down the river.

2. The wildlife is incredible

Did you know that the Ganges has dolphins, turtles and crocodiles? Incredibly the dolphins are one of only five freshwater dolphins in the world, highly endangered and we were fortunate to watch pods of them over several days. They are tiny creatures that showed us a lot of interest and often sneaked up to the boat to have a peak.

A Ganga turtle

River birds are teaming along the banks

Camouflaged owls hiding in the trees

Parakeets and their nests

The infamous Kingfisher

Not only that but we have become avid bird watchers. Every day we see starling murmurations which is one of the most incredible sights that nature has to offer. We have also seen birds of prey, owls, parakeets and many other river birds. The list goes on but unfortunately we are yet to learn all of the names of the birds!

3. There are many unfinished bridges and many bridges that aren’t even on the map!

So far on the river, we have seen about 4 unfinished (& abandoned) bridges. Extensive foundations have been put in place but the bridge is not there and there are no signs of it being completed. We have questioned the vast amounts of money that has been put into these unfinished projects only to look on the map to realise that there is no towns or cities nearby.

Twice now, we have seen completed, functioning bridges that are not even on the map. We have been bridge watchers too and we get very excited when they appear. Just like the changing course of the river, we assume that Google maps haven’t caught up with the ever changing river.

4. Village people are so hospitable and welcoming.

Our first village drew quite a crowd

We were told in our first village where we stayed that in India ‘Guests are God’. We never expected to have the privilege to stay in villages along the river as we assumed we would be self sufficient. Instead, we have experienced hospitality beyond belief where villages have welcomed us into their homes and often don’t want us to leave. They give us food, gifts and on some occasions even a packed lunch of biscuits and fruit or leftovers from the night before to see us on our journey. It’s very humbling when we receive such hospitality as many of the villages are living in poverty.

Some of our farewell parties

When we travel to the villages, the kayak comes with us. This means the kayak has experienced some unique transportations. So far, the kayak has been on 2 tractors, a tuk tuk and a buffalo cart along with men picking it up and carrying it on their heads!

Matt and Kayak riding a tractor

When the time comes to leave a village, our send-offs are as humbling as our time in the village itself. Our host and the familiar faces who have made our stay so welcome are often there to say goodbye to us. Along the way to the water, we pick up the other half the village who flock to wave us off on our journey. It’s amazing and makes our day to see such happy, smiling faces first thing in the morning.

5. Indian people love selfies

Everywhere we go, villages, cities, even along the banks of the river, we are asked for a ‘selfie’. The term “selfie” is also used as the word for photo. Whether the front or back camera is used we have had hundreds of pictures taken in the last few weeks.

To follow live updates of our travels check out our Instagram page @_tartantravellers_ and follow our Instagram Stories for live streaming of the adventure.

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