This is a guest blog by Ankit Batheja. He had recently joined our ongoing Moving Upstream project for a week and walked alongside Siddharth from Varanasi to Allahabad.
The journey would have taken merely 2 hours, each bus and auto passing through was a big temptation to end this exertion, but making it a 5 day journey made all the difference.
The fascination had lived in me since I came to know about it, and thus decided to walk along for some time. Walking along the Ganga from Varanasi to Allahabad, there was learning from the people, learning about the river and a more sensitive observation of the associated problems.
Varanasi was flooded, ghats had disappeared and most of the families living by its side were struggling with water flooding their houses. This had also shut down Banaras as a lot of people earn their living from functioning of ghats and arrival of tourists. On the flooded roads there were boats plying to get people across so people could still reach their homes and maybe live on upper floors.
But as soon as we were out of the city, the expanse of river just expanded in the transverse direction and there were people on the roads with tents put up, helpless, waiting. All they could do is manage things on their own levels.
The flood situation made it impossible for us to walk by the side of Ganga and thus we chose the highway. But walking on highway didn’t leave us ignorant of the condition of the people.
We would often be forcefully stopped to take rest, and have water and tea. Apart from our inquiries to understand about the river, its present and changes over past, there would always be their stories, their journeys and the happiness they felt on knowing about our journey. The myths they told would only add to what all we could cherish.
Just outside Varanasi, there is a small fishermen village towards Mirzapur. The habitants told us about declining amount of fish in the river over time and how they struggle with their limited means for livelihood. More such interactions showed the often ignored picture of impact of the river on villagers and city dwellers.
Though cities consume and exploit a lot of river resources, they hardly contribute. Farmers and fishermen depend mostly on river and are suffering all the consequences by themselves.
There is a better picture now in my mind of how the Ganga has changed its course over time and how it is shifting. Overall, there is a better sensitivity of how much is being left behind in this race of development. How much we never notice in our vehicles rushing past through villages and even our own cities. And also the sensitivity of not being so ignorant of our actions, especially when we are the ones responsible for what our upcoming generation is going to take from us.
On such a journey, you receive a lot of love from people, they always have time for you, they always are interested to know about the effort. Though only those times when they don’t get confused and assume that you are selling something!
We’re happy to have had Ankit on the journey with us and to have lent him this perspective while on the trip, we surely learnt a lot from him being on the walk with us. Please feel free to join us on the walk anytime that you think you want to, we’re sure there’s a thing or two to be learnt.
Moving Upstream is our homegrown project, a four-month walk along the Ganga from the sea to the source being undertaken by Siddharth Agarwal. He is accompanied by a team of researchers and and film-makers that is working to create a multifaceted experience revolving around the river. For more from the project visit: www.veditum.org/moving-upstream, and follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more frequent updates.