A bright sunny morning welcomed Devprayag for the most important day of the Ganga Kayak Festival 2019. With most of the races taking place today, it was vital that the weather gods played along. After a hearty breakfast, we marched towards the confluence and crossed the suspension bridge to reach the Sangam Ghat. Nervous energies surrounded the bridge as many kayakers had assembled there to study the rapids thoroughly.
As the wind picked up speed, the rowdy rapids made their presence felt; all set to challenge the athletes for the first race of the day – the Giant Slalom men’s (Pro). This category witnessed a strong blend of Indian and International athletes who had to navigate through tough rapids and touch three gates along the way. If the participants missed one gate, they would get a 50 second penalty which would cost them a lot in the ranking order.
The race began and it was amazing to see participants fight the rapids and reach the gates. Spectators and locals around were on their toes as the participants ran from one end of the suspension bridge to the other. But more than that, it was a sight to see the participants cheering their fellow mates while they were kayaking their way.
Next up was the Slalom Womens race where the participants had to touch two gates enroute through the finishing line. Chirpy, strong and persistent is how we’d define the women at Ganga Kayak Festival this year. Fighting through all the struggles and responsibilities, they chose their passion and fought through. All the women at the starting point were motivating each other and sharing a warm hug. The race began and we saw the women slaying the rapids as much as they’d slay in their heels. Some toppled, some swam but none of it could break their zeal.
Kazanskiy Vladmir from Russia was declared as the winner followed by Ayodhya Prasad from India and Amit Thapa from India for the second and third place respectively for Giant Slalom Men’s. Liz Heath from Australia took the first place in Slalom Women. As the athletes took a pause before their next race, the kids of the local schools drew some amazing sketches depicting the festival.
It was great to see that the kids took home the true message of the festival as every sketch held in bold the tagline of Ganga Kayak Festival 2019,’No guts, No glory. No legend, No story.’
As the sun came closer to setting beyond the mountains, the third race of the day began, the Mass Boater Cross where all the kayakers started off together trying to reach the finishing line as quick as they can. Imagine, a series of colourful kayaks paddling through the Alaknanda River towards the confluence splashing water on their fellow participants from under the bridge to the finishing point! Following this, in no time, began the Quarter finals of the Boater Cross where batches of 4 kayakers competed together to reach the finishing line. As the kayakers zig-zagged through the rapids, it was difficult to predict who would ace the finishing line. It was thrilling to watch the kayakers paddle their way out together.
Everyone then headed to a local cafe for lunch and we indulged in a conversation with Mr. Harender Singh Rawat, Mr. Krishnakant Kotiyal and Mr. Bheem Singh Chauhan on how openly women kayakers were welcomed in the river. Mr. Harender Singh Rawat said that, “We’ve always encouraged women athletes to take up this sport. It is great to see them leave the confines of the kitchen and become equals with the men in this sport.” When asked about the sacred river and orthodox religious belief systems, the village head Mr.Kotiyal said,
“The river welcomes everyone. The women of the village don’t enter the river during their menstrual cycle because they consider the river holy, but as a sport we encourage them to be a part of it irrespective. The people at Devprayag have always welcomed female kayakers.”
It was heartening to see the liberal and equal perspective shared by this little village town that couuld put to shame the narrow minded mentality of many-a-city folk. And such a revelation could have only have come about through the inclusive nature of the Ganga Kayak Festival. Devprayag truly is a place full of adventure and beauty made by a community filled with broad and strong minds.
As the sun was overshadowed by unseasonal rain clouds, the beginners got ready for the open category race. The participants started from the Alakhnanda River and had to cross the confluence and paddle 350 metres till the finishing point from under the bridge. The sight of the beginners category race in such big numbers made us believe that kayaking in India will reach great heights and our athletes will be recognized in many international platforms.
And with that, the sun set for the day and a breezy evening took over. In the blink of an eye, the weather transitioned and as it started pouring, everyone gathered together for a warm dinner and the athletes called it a night, eagerly waited for their semi finals and finals the next day.
Day 2 witnessed a variety of races where the participants kept performing better with immense support from the locals and were preparing themselves for semi-finals and finals tomorrow.
Day 3 began with a warm sunny day and everyone awaited the celebrations ahead for the last day of this mesmerising festival. We packed our bags and headed to the Sangam Ghat. But soon enough, the weather gods decided to join in the fun and dark clouds surrounded the ghats. Everyone who was dressed for a hot sunny day regretted it instantly as chilly winds made us all shiver. But it was all the same for the kayakers and they couldn’t wait to get to the rapids for the final time.
Before we could begin with the races, it started pouring. But the athletes and organizers were on high tempo. They stood strong in the rain and took their respective positions. The first race of the day was the semi finals of the boater cross. We have witnessed an amazing show put forth by the athletes, their determination and aggression to win the race was mind boggling. The finale race caught all eyes of the organizers, spectators, locals as the participants built heat in the cold gushing water with their electrifying performance.
Everyone then joined in for a down river freestyle following which the much awaited prize distribution ceremony began.
Pramod Magar from Nepal took the first place in Men’s Boater Cross followed by Ashu Rawat from Indian and Daman Singh from India received a gold, silver and bronze medal along with a trophy, certificate and a cash prize of INR 40,000, INR 30,000 and INR 20,000 respectively.
Ashu Rawat from India took the first place in Mass Boater X followed by Vladimir from Russia and Manish Rawat from India received a gold, silver and bronze medal along with a trophy, certificate and a cash prize of INR 30,000, INR 20,000 and INR 10,000 respectively.
Suraj Kumar from India took the first place in Beginners Open race followed by Sanjeev from India and Dheeraj from India received a medal, certificate and a cash prize of INR 15000, INR 10,000 and INR 5,000 respectively.
Picture Credits : The Backcountry Films
Naina Adhikari took the crown of the overall Women Champion and won a gold medal, trophy, certificate and a cash prize of INR 30,000. Vladimir Kazanskiy took the crown of the overall Men’s Championship and was awarded a giant trophy, certificate and a prize money of INR 1,00,000. The athletes cheered for each other and celebrated the end of yet another spectacular edition of the Ganga Kayak Festival. The organizers, sponsors were also given a token of appreciation.
A huge celebration took place after the prize distribution ceremony and the happiness on everyone’s face couldn’t match the exertion of a three day festival. With a warm heart and a bag full of memories we look forward to Ganga Kayak Festival 2020.