The last few days have been a celebration of rapids like never before as members of the LBO crew were stationed at the breathtaking Devprayag for a week long celebration of India’s best kayakers. Covering the 7th edition of the Ganga Kayak Festival, living by the confluence, listening to the raging rapids and reporting live from all the action – it has been an experience we thoroughly enjoyed. The trials of the sport, the tough rigours of the region and yet the calming sense that prevails in the spiritual town of Devprayag – here’s a synthesis of all that we experienced during the festival.
Every year, the founders of The Ganga Kayak Festival bring together the best of India’s kayakers and connect both national and international participants for the love of the sport in the beautiful town of Devprayag. This year, there were 54 participants at the event out of which there were 50 men, four women and four international athletes. Uttarakhand Tourism was the title sponsor of Ganga Kayak Festival 2019 and had set attractive prize monies to encourage budding kayakers and promote the beauty of Uttarakhand.
The first day of the festival started by waking up to the beautiful sight of the sacred river Ganga draped in emerald rapids, basking in the glory of the Himalayas around her. We treated our taste buds to some hot piping chai, noodles and parathas for breakfast before heading out to catch our ride. And we were surprised to be greeted by the founder Mr. Bhupendra Singh Rana (Bhupi) and the president Mr. Bheem Singh Chauhan of the festival. They had just about managed to reach Devprayag minutes before the briefing and as we drove to the venue; they narrated how it took them over five hours to reach us due to landslides enroute. That’s how tough the terrain is, but clearly the organisers are tougher.
We then headed to the Sangam Ghat, the registration venue where all participants, spectators, organizers and volunteers collected their t-shirts and athletes were lined up to register. Mr. Harender Singh Rawat, the master of ceremonies of the event invited Bhupi to the stage. He went on to introduce the participants, athletes, sponsors and organizers. The chief guest Mr. Krishnakant Kotiyal, Chairman of the Muncipal Council warmly welcomed everyone to Devprayag, Uttarakhand and motivated the participants.
After taking blessings of the sacred river Ganga during the aarti, the athletes collected their bibs and were all set to begin. Imagine the great suspension bridge of the valley, you could see a huge crowd of locals, media crew, tourists glued to one side of the bridge for a clear view of the race start. As soon as each kayaker splashed through the rapids down below and crossed to the other side of the river, the entire bridge and everyone on it swung to the other side, rushing along with the athlete from above.
Down River Sprint (Men) was the first race of the event. Kayakers had to navigate through the rapids and the fastest to reach the finish line would be declared winner. In a matter of a few hours, the athletes zipped down the rapids one after the other; some toppled over, some swam across but a few managed to ace through the race.
The Camp Sea Hawk rescue raft and kayaker team members were available on standby by the edge of the rapids, photographers were bobbing about for the best shots, judges recorded the best time of all the athletes and it was all quite a show for spectators watching the action along the river.
While the adults savoured the rush of the kayakers and rapids, the children of Devprayag were invited for some fun rescue games by the organisers. We could see so many of them inspired to participate and know more about the sport.
It was amazing to note that over 40 participants were from the nearby village of Sirasu. What’s so special about this village you may ask? Bhupi, the founder of Ganga Kayak Festival belongs to this village to begin with and here’s something interesting that we found out. Harender Singh Rawat, who runs Nomad Trails said, “There is a kayaker born in every family of this village. The children of Sirasu learn to kayak well before they can even walk.”
Bhupi who runs Rescue India, shared with us, how over the years, athletes from this village have been invited to work as rescue kayakers in Norway, Iceland, Africa, USA, Iran and more white water destinations across the globe.
So it wasn’t a surprise to see athletes in the top then from this village. Amit Thapa from India was declared winner of the Down River Sprint followed by Kazanskiy Vladmir from Russia and Daman Singh from India.
And with that we came to the end of an action packed race. Everyone took their time to relax and soak in the calming vibe around the confluence and as the sun took a breather behind the candy clouds, we all made way to the local cafe for a hot cuppa chai and bun makkhan (butter), saving the sights of the holy town of Devprayag.
The day didn’t end here, we had ahead of us an evening full of music, dance and bright smiles of the local village kids. But to reach the venue, we all had a workout ahead of us. The cultural evening was set at Ram Mandir, and while 50 steps may sound easy, they were the steepest steps we’ve ever encountered. Everyone greeted us with a loud cheer as we summited those steps and reached the temple! The climb was worth it as we got to experience their traditional Gadhwali and Kumoani dance forms. The children and members of the Dehradun Sanskriti Mandal enthralled all of us with their innocence and charm. At the end, everyone joined in the dance and the party was officially on.
The first day at the Ganga Kayak Festival saw some enthusiastic performers conquering gushing rapids. It was thrilling to see kayakers rush back and forth through the rapids and then climb up back again carrying their heavy kayaks and yet performing with utmost zeal. The community support encouraged the participants to prep better for tomorrow and put forth their best for Day 2 ahead.