Rivers have always supported civilizations, and the Ganges has been a lifeline of the region it cuts across for ages. But it’s also a river that has suffered constant environmental degradation. To highlight the severity of the predicament the Ganges now faces, a group of eight women explorers from different parts of the world have undertaken a unique awareness campaign that involves a fierce rafting expedition all through the northern stretch of the river.

The Access Ganga campaign, as the expedition is called, puts the spotlight on the deteriorating state of the river, caused for the most part by indiscriminate dumping of hazardous waste and other pollutants in it.

Liv Arsenan, the first woman ever to ski solo at the South Pole in Antarctica, is one of the pioneers of this expedition. Ann Bancroft, the only woman in the world to have covered the North and South Poles on foot, is part of the exhibition as well. The rest of the team includes Lisa Teheuheu from New Zealand; Kim Smith from Cape Town, South Africa; Cindy Jiaojiao Hu from Beijing, China; Olfat Haider from Haifa, Israel; Marcia Gutierrez from Temuco, Chile; and Krushnaa Patil from Mumbai.

The idea behind Access Ganga is to mainly reach out to school kids – the target is educating about 50 million children – by holding special awareness events at various stopover points en route the proposed rafting track. The team wants to emphasise that the local kids, as well as the community at large, are part of the solution to this environmental crisis.

The expedition has worked its way downstream from Gomukh, Devprayag to Rishikesh, where they met recently students from schools all across the city to educate them about this campaign, as well as about the climatic threat the region faces. 

As of yet, the team members seem to have managed without facing any major difficulties on their rafting trail. Some of them say that it’s scarier to drive around the hilly roads that provide access to their rafting points than the actual rafting

“The most difficult part of the terrain are the roads here in India.  In New Zealand for example, rafting spots are relatively easy to get to: tar-sealed roads, double-laned, well marked and in close proximity to each other. Your longest drive is maximum 3-4 hours at 100 km per hour. In comparison, the drive is tougher in India.  The roads are narrow and you have to be skilled to get around in this country! Also the distance you have to travel to get to the rafting spots here is phenomenal,” Lisa Teheuheu, who is from New Zealand.

Still, challenges abound. Teheuheu, for instance, pointed out the acclimatisation issues faced by some members of her team, including her. “I have had my fair share of difficulties over the last 11 days. I got altitude sickness on my trek from Gangotri to Bhojwasa,” she said.  

As for the only Indian member in the team, Krushna Patil, adapting to the conditions was not as big an issue. She says that this was the first rafting journey that she had ever undertaken with an all-women team, and that she found the experience very gratifying. “While I have been a part of many adventure expeditions in the past, I was usually the only woman participant there. This, though, is such a wonderful moment to bond with others. The conversations that we have, the sort of rapport that we share rarely happens,” Patil says. 

The expedition has worked its way downstream from Gomukh, Devprayag to Rishikesh, where they met recently students from schools all across the city to educate them about this campaign, as well as about the climatic threat the region faces.  

The team has got along well so far. “It is surprisingly quite easy,” Tehuehue told us. “We have a coach who gives us pointers on how to handle stress, the importance of having our own time to reflect, and of ensuring that team members are coping and understanding what everyone’s needs are.”

Since rafting is a team sport, it is crucial for the team members to get along with each other. And according to Ann Bancroft, the fact that the participants are by now good friends has played a big part in making this expedition a success so far.

The team carries basic supplies, like drinking water and food, on hand, except when it’s time for a stopover. “The team is very disciplined when it comes to hydration and eating. Water is a constant source of sustenance for all team members. Food too is important, so we make sure we have a good breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner.  Predominantly vegetarian meals from all over India with protein, carbohydrates and vegetables make up our diet,” Teheuheu says. 

The rafting trail lasts through the day, and by evening, the team prepares to set up an overnight camp at the banks of the river. “We come across something new every day that delights us,” says Ann Bancroft. “I, for one, did not believe that it was possible to swim in the roaring waters of the Ganga, and yet just yesterday, while travelling towards Rishikesh, the team jumped into the water for a swim.”

But the team hasn’t lost sight of its primary aim: raising environmental awareness among the youth of this region remains the most important part of their mission. “The important thing to know about me is that the outdoors has always been a part of my life and I do it for fun,” says Tehuehu. “But my profession as an environmental specialist is of utmost importance here, as is my passion to share knowledge with the people.” 

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