The 'Masculine' River
Journey on the Brahmaputra
Photo : Sriram Janak
The searing hot sun is bearing down upon us and the cold wind is blowing on our faces, making us feel both hot and cold at the same time. The intense blue water and the white sand reflect the sunlight and are blinding us. A ripple here and a ripple there. It is not an ocean, it is not a sea. It is a river. And not just any river, but the Brahmaputra, also known as the Padma in Bangladesh and Tsang-Po in Tibet, its place of origin. The only river in India that is considered to be masculine (Brahma- the Hindu God of creation, putra-son). Brahmaputra and his fresh water dolphins.
Having studied about Brahmaputra all my life in geography, it was an incredible moment when I set my eyes on the river itself for the first time. The river bed was so huge and so wide, that the opposite bank was just a haze, far far away, visible clearly only when viewed through a pair of binoculars. It certainly lived up to its image of being one of the mightiest rivers in the history of mighty rivers.
We drove down to the bed of the river (yes, the bed itself!) as it was the dry season, just before the onset of the destructive floods that the river is famous for. Most of the parts were dry and sandy with sparse growth, and we zoomed forward leaving a whirlwind of sand in our wake. And there, just a little away from the shore, was anchored an old streamer. Huge and rusted in places, it had a large, open deck at the top, with a few chairs scattered around, for viewing. As they pumped the motor, the boat wheezed and coughed before finally starting with a huge roar, and chugging out copious amounts of jet black smoke. The environmental-conscious part in me protested immediately, but when I thought about the sights that were in store for me, I silently swallowed down the protest.
We chugged our way, at a really slow pace, to the spot where the dolphins are often sighted. We kept our eyes peeled to the banks all the way there, hoping against hope to spot a predator, or at least a rhino or two, but unfortunately, we had to be satisfied with just a few monkeys and langurs. Our skin had just begun to peel and protest, when the streamer jolted to a halt. It was a very short wait.
There in the quiet, with the wind flicking the tree branches and distorting the water’s mirror, the river dolphins frolicked in the water, playing and chasing one another, offering us just fleeting glimpses of their shiny backs and their long snouts. It was a real ordeal to film and photograph them, as we did not know where they would surface next. Jumping up and going under water in just a fraction of a second, resurfacing about a hundred feet away for another fraction of a second, these cheeky little mammals led us on a wild goose chase. By noon, the sun had sucked up all our energy, and the dolphins, the little that was left. We made our way wearily back to the starting point, fully appreciating the distance that we had travelled. The banks shimmered through the heat waves and our lips steadily became blacker. Finally ashore, we jumped down from the streamer, our eyes automatically searching for the long awaited shade from the cruel sun. After a hearty and homely meal by the river, we were on our way back to our resort, on another bumpy and weary ride.
As we moved away, I took one last long look at this mighty river, the provider and the destroyer, the water that is much longed for during the summers and detested during the floods, and I was just glad that I was blessed enough to have touched this holy water and to have witnessed the Gangetic dolphins at play, both things that not many people in this world can boast about...