What?

GangesSUP is a record breaking, world’s first descent of the entire length of the river Ganges by stand up paddleboard. An expedition for purpose, the vision and mission of this journey is to empower awareness and advocacy for cleaner water, via adventure. 

On 3rd October 2016, the expedition kicked off on foot in Gaumukh, the ‘visible’ source of the Ganges at the altitude of 4100m in the Indian Himalayas. On 11th January 2017-101 days and 2977 kms later, the team paddled to the mouth of the Ganges at GangarSagar 

The expedition also marks a world record- Shilpika Gautam broke the world record for the longest continuous stand up paddle boarded distance by a female in 1 journey, source to sea – current Guinness world record is 2231 kms while Shilpika covered well over 2500 kms!     

Why- the Aims of the project?

The idea was first conceived by Shilpika Gautam (Shilps) in late 2015 – a deep desire to reconnect with her roots in India, a propensity for following through on slightly mad adventurous instincts and wanting to combine the novelty of the SUP sport with the purpose of raising an imminent and serious environmental issue led to the birth of Gangessup. Ironically at this point Shilps had only SUP’ed for a few hours. 

The issue of water pollution is certainly not unique to the Ganges alone – in fact, as one of the greatest rivers in the world which supports well over 500 million people, the Ganges symbolizes the scale and urgency with which we must all be engaged in saving our water bodies – be it ponds, canals, rivers or oceans. Conversely what is unique to the river is the vast chasm between its essence and its physical form – the fact that the river which is sacred and holy and a goddess to hundreds of millions is suffering at the very hands of those it nurtures. 

The media often uses negative examples to describe the ongoing efforts to clean our water bodies – we however wanted to highlight the positive stories from this river-of-life, of the challenges that the least connected and underprivileged living along its banks face on a daily basis, and how public/private efforts are transforming their quality of life, one village at a time. 

In addition, using the human powered, slow travel mode of transport such as a paddleboard afforded us the privilege of observing the river from a wildlife, conservation and geological point of view.  

To realize that we cannot effect changes in the causes of all types of pollution in our waterways , Choosing to focus on raising awareness against single use plastic (SUP)- i.e. #SUPagainstSUP and other causes of pollution that are more readily addressable (e.g. treatment of sewage waste before it goes into the river).  

To perform citizen science experiments/sampling along the route-in light of our findings and experiences

Aim to submit a joint petition (partnered with Wateraid India) to the Government with simple ‘Calls to Action’.

Leave a positive, sustainable legacy that outlives the duration of the adventure itself- work with local partners & governance bodies to promote the importance of cleaner water as the means for health and well-being, encouraging more people to step outside their comfort zone and attempt an ‘adventure in their backyard’ , mobilizing young people’s engagement in civic issues via adventure, and finally showcasing the immense accessibility of the SUP sport  (the fastest growing water sports in the world!)As a means of creating additional Eco-tourism opportunities in India’s great outdoors. 

Who is team GangesSUP, how did the idea develop and the team come together?

As Shilps started working on her mad plans, Spike Reid was the first one to come onboard (pun intended, of course). Shilps and Spike first met in London through Project Awesome – a free fitness outdoor movement. With Spike’s background in expeditions, GangesSUP came alive over a pint (or two) post the Adventure and Travel Show in London in January 2016. Given the project’s deep intention to expand the scope beyond the life of the adventure itself, i.e. paddling for awareness and advocacy for cleaner waters, there was definitely the need for a third team member with a background and interest in the environment and water pollution issues. Pascal joined the team in the summer as the resident environmental scientist via a very fun, yet very humbling job posting process on Explorer’s connect and Escape the City (about 50 odd people applied!) . Kumaran joined the team only a few weeks before kick-off after hearing of us from an outdoor adventure platform- he added yet another dimension to the team, that of conservation and geology.

More on us here – http://gangessup.org/meet-the-team/

The river is open, and we believed so is the opportunity for people to experience something amazing via adventure with GangesSUP – we encouraged people to join us where possible and that led to four amazing people joining us on different legs of the expedition – on foot, on an inflatable kayak, on a paddleboard and even a packrat!

How?

The expedition had three distinct phases as below 

-Phase 1- We kicked off the expedition at Gaumukh on October 3rd – from there a combination of trekking and cycling took us down to Devprayag via Uttarkashi. Devprayag, which is at the confluence of rivers Bhagirathi and Alaknanda also marks the start of the River Ganges proper. 

– Phase 2- Starting 15th October, it was time to get on our inflatable Stand up Paddleboards to paddle the stretch of very fast and rather dangerous white waters until Rishikesh.Having somewhat survived , we then cycled from Rishikesh to Haridwar due to lack of enough water to paddle.

– Phase 3 – Commencing 20th October, Haridwar marked the start of the longest phase of our expedition I.e. the touring section.  It is here that the river leaves the Himalayas and flows out of the state of Uttarkhand into UttarPradesh, Bihar, jharkhand ,west Bengal and finally the sea. 

Gear

We are so grateful to our sponsors and partners, without whose help this expedition would really not have taken the shape we are in today. Our equipment list is slightly more extensive that usual due to the ever changing river and associated topography, temperatures etc. The following are our key pieces of kit specific to Stand up paddle boarding-

GangesSUP Expedition Boards and Paddles – The Ganges changes massively as a river from mountains to the sea – This requires two different kinds of boards and very sturdy yet light paddles (robust blade, light shaft, adjustable)
We are so stoked to have worked with the amazing team at Starboard – we used a combination of Starboard inflatable boards (starboard 9’6″X36″ STREAM – WIDE INFLATABLE RIVER SUP) for the white waters and composite boards ( starboard 14’0″X30″ ELITE TOURING) for the plains stretch where we need a long hard wearing board to not only take the battering from visible and submerged hazards but where we can also use every extra bit of space to strap our gear on (without the extra weight weighing us down for portages)

Paddles- We needed a combination of adjustable paddles that were hard wearing yet light – We used Starboard’s 2 piece Enduro paddle with a tufskin blade and carbon shaft as our main paddle during the shallow section of the river. Once the river got deeper and wider (and our arms began to tire), we switched to the Carbon paddles with a hybrid carbon shaft and a carbon paddle (AMAZING).  We also carried 3 piece backup paddles with a hybrid shaft and tufskin blade. 

Fins – For the shallow section we used the starboard PH SUP river fin and then switched to the Dol-fin 22 fins.

Leashes– We used a combination of quick release waist leashes for the white water and traditional ankle leashes during the touring phase

Partners and Associated Campaigns

Standing up for the Ganga Campaign with WaterAid India (Stand up for the Ganga) – WaterAid India is a nonprofit which has been doing incredible ground level work to improve health and sanitation in both urban and rural areas near the Ganges. In particular we have been engaging and learning about their efforts to improve sanitation and hygiene by building toilets, imparting WASH programmes and creating awareness regarding menstrual hygiene. During the expedition we visited WaterAid’s project along the Ganges- a combination of urban and rural settings where we saw Wateraid’s work in improving waste disposal, testing new models of toilets, getting communities to ODF (open defecation free ) status and empowering the communities’ children and women to drive efforts for better hygiene and clean water.  The fundraising campaign is very much an outcome of our understanding of what is needed to get millions of people access to basic rights such as clean water and toilets-in turn this will help us find sustainable solutions to cleaner water bodies 

Conservation (survey) of the Ganges River Dolphin – Recorded the number of the Ganges River Dolphin with the knowledge support of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) India & Padmashree awardee Dr. R.K. Sinha – the Dolphin man of India. Total 867 dolphins were spotted in this expedition.

The Path Ahead

We all came into this expedition with different backgrounds, different stories and different motivations. Now that we have finished, our deepest hope is that what remains and resonates with people is the positive, raw stories we were able to share and the importance of spreading and acting on the message of cleaner waters.  We know that change is not overnight and that what we may have seen or learnt is only the tip of the iceberg – but we KNOW that there is no change without engagement.

We chose to engage, will you?

Much Gratitude- Shilps on behalf of team GangesSUP