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Row Yer Boat…

A story by Dr. Abhijit Rabha, IFS

The majestic Beki River (Picture Credit: Dr. Abhijit Rabha, IFS)

17th July, 2015. I reached Matharguri (Not ‘Mathanguri’, mistakenly known as) at the northern tip of Manas National Park at around three in the afternoon with a few minutes to spare. The dancing waves of the Beki were sending up golden spangles of light to the eyes of all of us who were there at that heavenly moment. The sky was blue with traces of wispy white clouds. The strong breeze measured around 8 kmph and the same was slightly, easterly.

The group with the name called ‘The Flying Bees’, in a few minutes would have their first rafting experience. I would follow them in my inflatable Kayak named the Sea Eagle, designed to take on grade III rapids.

I had sought out Gobinda Boro, a departmental Boatman, whom I trusted with my soul for so many years. He had that knack with the Beki River with its windings and the rapids that kept him alive from dangerous operations in the past. I knew him as a man and appreciated his skill. He knew me as a field man and we kept in touch since I left that tract on a transfer that we must suffer.

The 15 kmph water speed took the rubber raft swiftly afar. There were excited screams from the young riders from Golaghat! Only if they would remain steady and shut! The sun simmered. With our eyes almost tightly squeezed against the Sun, we prayed and pushed away from the Matharguri mooring point. The Sea Eagle was river borne.

The wind lapped up waves. The entire river surface was full of waves of various sizes. The troughs and the waves sprayed ice-cold water aboard the Kayak. The old boatman was on the front seat and I was sitting in tandem.

Waves almost two feet high were on our way. ‘Pull’, Govinda gave me a sideways glance with urgency written all over his face. We somehow negotiated between the waves. The surface flow already pushed us to the farthest rapid and we were catching up with the Rubber Raft with young and inexperienced riders thereon.

We caught the fast flow around the rapids and down we went. The daunting waves trying to knock and hammer fear into my heart as well. Suddenly, Gobinda gave the outback sign for ‘Elephant…loner’… I shifted my gaze over his shoulder to left. A tall elephant was on our way, trying to cross over to the Panbari Range area. We used our skills to slow down. Soon, happily, the elephant trumpeted and was out of our sight. It looked like a Makhna elephant with the Mirika Bundh structure, generally not quite common in this area.

For some moment memories intruded, when a question welled up within me, “What the heck am I doing out here? Out under fierce July Sunshine, risking my life for a fun that nobody around me gives a damn about?”

My strained eyes were full of tears as I remembered my departed father again, about the time he told me about his boat, the elephants, jungles and herbs of our people. How he showed the certain rhythms of Nature can be mimicked in our Tribal dance forms, for a microsecond I found, in the memory, him in pine scented Shillong. When he would arrive, the roads would be deserted by then. The wild howling cold winds were hardly gave him a welcome home. After sprucing up with some grub; we would be called over and snuggling him, we listened to the stories of boat journeys he had in the better days. About the glistening fishes in the small fast flowing rivers, about the endless rains and the flood. Everybody must own a boat or learn boating. It was not possible in hilly Shillong. So we fashioned a boat with a piece of long bed-cloth and sang along with him….

“Row Row Row Your Boat,

Gently Down the Stream;

Merrilly Merrily Merrily Merrily

Life is but a dream….!”

A surge under my boat brought my momentary diversion to back to reality. We had caught a better flow now. The weak wind was just a flutter around our ears. There were varieties of birds to see now.. The Ruddy Sheldrake took off in twos all the time when we startled them at close range.

Near the third rapid, we saw a large herd of wild elephants coming for day’s requirement for drinking and cooling off.

Far off, a fish poacher with a long line was sitting pensively. Our Sea Eagle had an inflatable bottom hull that worked wonderfully. We sneaked in to a close distance from him, as the Sea Eagle was silent and the colour helped it to merge with background. Hey! One loud yell from Gobinda and the fish poacher took to his heels.

I wondered, how could we miss the ever-present Pera as the wild buffaloes are known in the local outback parlance. We coasted down too fast to spot them anyway.

The alert eyes of Gobinda spotted the mooring point at Bishpani Ghat. A strong current interfered. However, we kept our way and landed safely.

If kayaking of this sort has become an obsession and passion with me, it is a part I cannot do without it. Possibly, at my exact mid-fifties, I am the only officer in the environment and Forests Department of the Assam wing of the Assam-Meghalaya cadre to engage in this activity.

Philosophically, our lives may be dreams, hence brooks no seriousness or jerk reactions whatever. Funnily, the Kayaking activity is just the opposite. Check it out please.

The silence of the nature and the exuberance of the river, oneness of the sky and the independence of the wind, these are commodities a dollar, rupee or even super currencies will not buy you a bit. You feel as if the river is alive with a strange magic and goodwill gets generated inside you for the river to survive its own battle and broadsides brought by the human greed.

Looking from another viewpoint, I am hinting at the enormous possibility for the young generation to be on the river tourism with a dash of adventure. Rowing is healthy, leisurely and watch out - when possible you can catch and eat a lot of good fishes that do not come laced with preservatives. Pray, and let the rivers flow.

Is the Generation Next listening? You better do!

(P. S. The support vehicles arrived much late. We clocked 20 kms in about one hour. The support vehicles had taken it easy. They started late by half an hour to Bishpani Ghat causing the delayed, delighted arrival.)


Dr. Abhijit Rabha in an officer of Indian Forest Service

and presently posted as Special PCCF, Diphu, Assam


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