Over the last two days the tide has been dictating my mileage, the direction I should take and where I should take my breaks. The nearer I get to the mouth of the Ganges, the more the tide’s strength disrupts me. I am unable to continue when high tide begins and the water returns to fill the river bed. With regards to navigation, I have discovered that it is very useful to follow the objects floating on the river. Progressing in a single line, like camels in the Sahara, they move along wherever the current is strongest. So if I’m in doubt about whether to keep to the right bank or the left bank, I just look around and observe what is around me in the river. In particular, I find it very reliable to follow a type of plant called Kochuri Pana, a highly invasive aquatic plant with large, thick and glossy leaves. It was when carefully following one of these plants today that I came across the largest collection of floating garbage I have seen so far. Among the plants flowers, like tentacles of an octopus, objects of every kind were trapped – bottles, footwear, polystyrene.
Today I have finally arrived in Kolkata, the city where policemen are equipped with oxygen tanks and landfill is located right on the banks of the river.
This is not a coincidence. On the contrary, it makes garbage disposal very simple as, every year when the monsoons arrive, the water just takes everything away. I can still hear the words of that boatman in my ears ‘Someone further down the river will take care of it.’
The problem is that now there is little more than 100km until I reach the mouth of the river and then the ocean must deal with this garbage. In these waters, increasingly black and foamy, there are still people who try to fish in order to survive. One of this indomitable fishermen was aboard a boat very similar to mine.
I reached my destination for the day and had an unexpected visit from a man who I had been seeing on the river for several days. He travels on a small boat with a platform of bamboo as wide as a tennis court. Today he arrived at his final port of call. Tomorrow he will return to his village 150km upstream and prepare to make another trip next week. We had got into the habit of waving to each other from a distance and every now and then we were the only trace of human presence on the river for one another. Isn’t this the way a friendship begins? Sharing a stretch of road together.