In this special issue, we take you down the rivers of India for glimpses of beauty and the abundance of life. Click here to read all the related stories
The Ghosts in the Water by Pratik Kanjilal: A modern American classic, the Spoon River Anthology, does not seem to have travelled well in our region. Admittedly, it’s no Life on the Mississippi. It isn’t about a river at all, actually. It is about a fictional town near a real river. Specifically, it is about the town’s graveyard. More particularly, it is about the inhabitants of the graveyard who, being certifiably dead, are at liberty to tell the unvarnished truth about their lives.
Once Upon a River by Sanjeev Sanyal: In the year 1671, the Ahom kingdom (roughly now modern Assam) faced a crisis. A huge Mughal army was making its way north from Bengal and threatening to completely overwhelm it. For the previous two generations, the Assamese had been under continuous pressure from the Mughals but had used diplomacy and guerrilla tactics to hold off the invaders — but it looked like their time was up.
A River Runs Through It by Omair Ahmad: Much of the pleasure of a detective novel is the intense description of the place and the people involved. A good mystery throws clues in the way of the reader, and tempts them to solve the mystery before the detective does. The best of these are arguably the riddles solved by Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, or Isaac Asimov’s The Black Widowers’ Club, where all the clues are present – just not obvious.
Walking on Thin Ice by Neelima Vallangi: Standing on the cliff edge on a beautiful summer afternoon, I remember watching the dramatic confluence of two great rivers: the clear and green Indus, and the raging and muddy Zanskar. Surrounded by the indomitable mountains in Ladakh, the sound of the flowing water was reverberating through the valley. The meandering Zanskar looked every bit like the wild river that it is known to be. It is a river so furious that there is no stillness in its wake. The currents and rapids are so forceful that they carved out a deep gorge through the mighty Himalayas. I wouldn’t have imagined in a million years that this river could ever fall silent.
Where the Wild Things Are by Tarsh Thekaekara: I didn’t believe it when I first saw the headlines, as tiger numbers are prone to exaggeration. But the most accurate method of estimating tigers — camera traps and the capture-mark-recapture method — showed that the Kaziranga had the highest tiger density in the country: 32 tigers per 100 sq km, with the second highest density considerably lower, at 20 tigers per 100 sq km in Corbett. The Kaziranga National Park is one of the most amazing places in the world — lush green grass all year round, and an array of spectacular wild animals as far as you can see. The tigers are able to sustain their numbers only because of the incredible density of mammals that are their prey.
Life by the River by Sushant Kulkarni: It is 6 am and the only sounds that break the silence within the stone walls of Panchganga Mandir — the temple of five rivers in Mahabaleshwar in Satara district of Maharashtra — are the gurgling sound of the water that flows from the five perennial rivers and the chants from an old priest sitting in the corner. Sometime later, women from Mahabaleshwar village arrive at the temple to fill brass and copper pots with the crystal clear water flowing out of the gomukh — the stone outlet in the shape of a cow’s mouth.
Journey to Middle Earth by Manan Dhuldhoya: Floating on the Chambal river, and awestruck by the sheer cliffs towering over us, it was natural to feel we were The Fellowship drifting along on The Anduin, carrying the fate of Middle Earth in our trembling hands. Only the calls of the cormorants sounded real. Now for someone who grew up on a healthy dose of Bollywood, the mention of Chambal can bring only dacoits and gunfights to mind. So, when we signed up for a safari on the Chambal river, Kota, in Rajasthan, we hardly expected to be transported to the land of elves and bowmen.
Beasts of the Southern Wild by V Shobha: There are rivers of immense might and depth and rivers of gurgling joy. The Kabini is a river of life and of remarkable responsibility. One of the lifelines of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, it flows from Wayanad in north-east Kerala into the Kabini reservoir in HD Kote taluk, Karnataka, and further east to T Narsipura, where it merges with the Cauvery. The Kabini’s course resembles a dancing Chinese dragon — a symbol of life-giving rain — as it snakes through the slip of civilisation between the Bandipur and Nagarahole national parks, teeming with animals and birds. Since the river was dammed in 1974 — at the cost of thousands of acres of forest and the relocation of over 30 villages — its backwaters recede in the summer to reveal a winding ribbon of blue flanked by lush meadows.
Touched by the Water Spirit by Adam Halliday: A propeller-mounted ATR approaches from Guwahati and starts a slow descent, the airplane like a canoe winding upstream. It begins to twist and turn, as the pilots follow the course of a greenish-brown river snaking below through Mizoram’s lush-green hills and deep ravines. Suddenly, the Lengpui airport appears on the horizon as the aircraft heads to one of the country’s three table-top domestic runways, on a hill which seems to rise majestically from the banks of the state’s longest river, Tlawng.
Yes, The River Knows by Premankur Biswas: Anyone who is disillusioned with the turgidity of Kolkata should take a ferry service from Howrah to the oldest locality of north Kolkata, Baghbazar. During the 30-minute ride, the city unfolds itself like the pages of a novel. The grandiose central office district gives away to the crumbling mansions of north Kolkata, banyan trees form a canopy over walkways and abandoned boats float about like phantoms. Seen from a boat in the middle of the river, the city shimmers in the afternoon light, and is resplendent in the evenings. From this vantage point, even the squalor, which gurgles down the Hooghly round the clock, seems bearable.
How Deep is That River by Supriya Sehgal: It is said that the skeleton of an entire city — a school, the clock tower, complete markets and houses — lies submerged under the Tehri reservoir in Uttarakhand. The road from new Tehri runs along the lake for quite some distance, giving you ample time to imagine what it would be like to take a dive and explore the lost city. Old Tehri was a small town at the confluence of the Bhagirathi and Bhilangna rivers, which was submerged to accommodate the Tehri Dam, a project that stirred environmental debates across the country. Along with the city, the course of Bhilangna river also got lost. The river now assumes an imaginary path under the waters.
Drifting on the Nile by Suanshu Khurana: Travelling through a city as historic, glorious and joyless as Cairo is at this point in time and yet to feel the freedom of the flowing waters — is the rousing feeling that the Nile, the world’s longest river, offers. It’s springtime in the country and every tree around the river is laden with fruit and flowers. For a country that thrives on tourists, there are hardly any around, the Arab Spring has dealt the tourism industry a blow that it is slowly recovering from. The locals tell us that the hesitation to travel here is still paramount among many and despite better conditions now, tourists have been slow to return.
Daughter of Ponni by Ramya Swayamprakash: Rivers bind people to places. That might be counterintuitive but it is precisely through their endless motion and erosion that rivers create long-lasting identities of place. In their path from source to sea, they create borders, sustain lives, or destroy them.
Row, Row, Row Your Boat by Amrita Roy: The view of Cambridge as framed by the windows of the Pembroke College Boating Club on a mid- April afternoon is out of a tourist brochure. Swans glide by, stark white against the brilliant blue of the Cam river. Houseboats painted red and green are moored along the opposite bank. Strains of a trumpet float up from downstream. A young couple is feeding bread to the ducks. An old couple on a bench watch them drowsily. A woman lies in the grass lost in her book.
Ganga Sonata by Hugh & Colleen Gantzer: On the river, we saw our land through others’ questioning eyes. We boarded the RV Sukapha of the Assam Bengal Navigation Company anchored on its reflections, off Gaighat in Patna. Our nine fellow travellers were largely Brits and a couple from Burgundy. It was a close and very friendly group of unusually motivated voyagers. We had been introduced as “India’s pioneering travel writers” at breakfast that first morning on board. “Unexpectedly, one of our fellow travellers said. ‘So perhaps, on this holy river, you can help us discover the secret of your unity in the face of such diversity. No?”