Traveling India’s great Mother River by any means possible.
By J.J. Kelley
Crashing down a rural road, I throttled all willing horsepower from our 125cc Indian Vespa. She roared with the death moans of a body about to expire from this earthly world. It had been a venerable battle of wills trying to coax our $400 scooter the final 1,000km to the end of the Ganges. Our adventure, more than 40 days in the making, had only 10km remaining. The Vespa had been crashed, dissected, and reassembled almost daily. I hated that scooter. Here she was so close to the end when—thud!—it happened, she was dead…
Six months ago when our last film, “Paddle to Seattle” was growing in popularity. We were continually asked what’s next? This was a particularly challenging question for us. We had created our own small legacy of traveling through wild places for months on end. We felt we’d reached a high point for ourselves under those conditions, and we weren’t content to rest on our laurels. For us the next big thing had to rip us from our shells and slam us against the wall.
At a screening of “Paddle to Seattle” in the Pacific Northwest, Josh was taken in by the owners of a theater. “You have to do another one.” The kind couple prodded Josh. They went on to share an adventure they’d had in India. They recounted their fascination of a natural resource that was more than just a body of water, but also seen as a god - a river so holy she had the power to remove sins, a river so polluted she was classified as the dirtiest on earth, a place where English would only take you so far. Josh was captivated and I unapologetically took the cause as my own as well.
"The Vespa had been crashed, dissected, and reassembled almost daily. I hated that scooter."
It was settled: We’d travel The River Ganges. As a river she posed insurmountable obstacles. From her glacial emergence in the Himalayas, across the agricultural plains of the sub-content, to her diffusion into the largest delta on earth - there seemed no one way she could be traveled (in fact a complete float on Ganga has never been done). We needed to reinterpret how this could be possible.
Then it hit us; we would travel the river by any means possible - by foot, cycle rickshaw, rowboat, and scooter. Of course we didn’t have this plan when we departed. As we saw sections of the river for the first time, we debated what would be the best method to move forward. As India’s great river changed, so would we. We would see the in-between areas, where the foundations of the larger cities are upheld and life depends on the rivers. It was the uniting sinew that we were looking for.
Craving attention, our always fantastic cameraman Dave Costello salutes the end of a successful scout.
So in the 11th hour with just 10km to the end, a dead scooter, and a final chapter waiting to be written, we punted. Our Vespa was dead, but our adventure was not. Just as Ganga changed one final time before her exodus into the Indian Ocean so would we. I won’t ruin the end, but the solution involved a strip of cotton, 4-hiking shoes, and 3 glorious coconuts. You’ll just have to stay tuned to find out what happened.
Josh, JJ, and their deft cameraman Dave were traveling The River Ganges on a scout for Academy Award Nominated filmmakers Sean and Andrea Fine. The scout was the first step in a 4-part series that will travel the world’s Mother Rivers by any means possible.