It’s November 17 and by 8 am, I am on the banks with my kayak and the cycle that my girlfriend, Shanjali, will use to travel the same distance.
When the tide goes out, you can walk across the dry bed of the Gomti river in Dwarka. By the ghats at the mouth of the river, thousands flock everyday to offer prayers; I’m here on a mission. The mission is kayaking from this sleepy town on the western tip of India all the way to the southern tip, Kanyakumari. Over sea, 3,000km across six states, relying solely on human power and sheer will.
It’s November 17 and by 8 am, I am on the banks with my kayak and the cycle that my girlfriend, Shanjali, will use to travel the same distance. We’ve finally got the green light and the commander of the Coast Guard at Okha, Cdr. Harish More, is here to see me off himself. As he wishes me good luck and provides welcome advice on the coast in these parts, I’m brimming with energy. By 8.30 am, the tide is high and the river is awash with sea water and praying tourists alike.
Two people take my kayak down to the water, but are afraid of putting it in. I kiss Shanjali a quick goodbye and jump in. Butt in first, legs across the kayak and then into the cockpit; I paddle my first strokes in almost a year. The swaying of the crystal clear green water is constant, but I love it.
I paddle slowly for the mouth of the river where, so far, the waves have been coming in calmly. In my eagerness I haven’t secured the kayak skirt. That’s when I see it - a wave building up. On land, my parents tell me later, people started gasping and ‘oh’-ing. I’m too committed to this exit to turn back and trying to escape it is futile. At two metres high, it’s going to tower over me sitting on the water’s surface. As the white tops start forming, I don’t have time to secure my kayak skirt, the only thing keeping the water out of my kayak. I paddle furiously straight at the wave and brace for impact. Boom. A truck of November-cold sea water slaps my face and torso. My kayak cuts through it, but the absence of the skirt means I’ve taken on a good 10–15 litres of water. My cap has come off and my glares have been cast aside. The coconut is swimming in my lap, and every inch of me is wet and salty. I exult, wiping the water off my face. But no sooner had I woken up, than I saw the sea forming again. There is just one way out–forward. So I thrust my paddle in again and paddle hard. Again it comes at me and again I meet it; cold salty water like the first, but twice the strength. Just as I feel I’m going backwards, I punch out of it. I quickly paddle a short distance to be clear of any other forming waves, but that is it. I’m through. The sea’s welcome. It’s day 1 in Dwarka and I have 82 more to go.
(Kaustubh Khade is an IITian, Asian Silver Medallist in kayaking and a Limca Book Record holder. He has kayaked the 3,000km west coast of India solo)