Mission Karjat, Creating India’s next Paddling Generation
By: Siddharth Seshan
Mandala. An age old philosophy that has stood the test of time, having implications in various cultures and civilizations. Mandala hails from Sanskrit origins, loosely translating to ‘circle’. However, a mandala is far beyond a notion of just being a shape. A mandala is the wholeness of life, representing the inter-relationships of all existence, with the scale of size not being a boundary. Another meaning for the mandala is community. For us kayakers, we revere our relationships with rivers and the surrounding ecology.
However within such a mandala, what perhaps might fuel our experiences on the river, is another mandala in the form of our community. And in this inception of mandalas, we believe it to be crucial to build an ever growing entity of kayakers. To be able to share the wonders of the sport with as many people as we can is our goal. With Mission Karjat, we believed it to be the one of the best ways to achieve our dreams, by nurturing talent at a prime age. As a result, we performed the 14 hour drive to Karjat, Maharasthra from Bangalore, with four boats strapped on top of our car, to create some daredevil paddlers out of the kids who were joining us from the Oberoi International School in Mumbai.
Stuti (13), Harman (14) and Keya (15) had been getting some training from their English teacher Master Luke for a few months now. Luke who has been a regular paddler on the Southern rivers was putting a great deal of time with the kids in the swimming pool available in their school. Finally, it was decided to give them a feel of a real river situation. Two weekends were planned out. Four days on the river is what we had to train the kids and we could not have been more excited. We reached our destination the day before the team from Mumbai was scheduled to come. The River Pej, where all the magic was about to unfold is dam controlled. The water is let out every morning and the awesomeness created is like no other. The top section of the river is non-stop action with a constant high speed of flow.
Manik and I decided to get our river time fix on and used the opportunity to scout out locations where we could conduct the class. This would be the second descent of the top section. As we began the run, I couldn’t help but be slightly nervous. The river was fast flowing and yet shallow. Swimming was not much of an option over here with rescue operations that could pose to be difficult. But what a day it was! Apart from venturing into a new river, it was a truly joyful river to paddle with some fun rapids to hit! Once we completed the top section, we found a great spot to bring the kids the next day for their training.
The team from Mumbai arrived early the next day. The kids were ready to get on with business right then. All boats were strapped on and gear was collected to be taken to the location for the training, excitement high. This weekend’s class was designed as our LTK courses are. As the kids had not got any river action, it was crucial to give them some underwater experience. But that did not seem to pose much of a challenge for these star kids. After a few wet exits and timed underwater situations, the kids felt at home. Stuti was born to be underwater with no form of panic ever getting the better of her. It was time to move on to some paddling. With a head start in their training, sooner or later they were performing ferries, peeling out of eddies and overall being completely comfortable with their boats.
Harman, a strong young lad, was paddling upstream in no time. Keya had excellent balance in her boat and was edging her boat even before it was taught to her. By the end of the day, all three were acing their paddling! The next day being a Sunday meant no water being let out from the dam. Hence, it was planned to utilize the day on the river to better their paddling techniques, become comfortable with the t rescue and just have some plain fun! We played a great deal of kayak polo that truly tested everything they had learned so far. A relatively more relaxed day, the kids thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Soon it was time to head back home. Everyone seemed content with the weekend but no heavy hearts as the fun was about to continue next weekend as well! The progress that the kids had shown throughout was truly amazing and it would be exciting to see them nail a river run the next weekend!
The kids were ready for the river run. The lower section of the River Pej is a fun Class 2+ section, nothing the kids could not handle. That was the plan for the first day. This would be the first big challenge for them, tackling stronger flows and some whitewater. But they were confidant and really excited. We put in right below where the tough section ends and they were greeted with a rapid relatively soon. The rapid had a tricky bend at the mouth of it and it posed a bit of a challenge. Harman was forced to swim, but nothing that deterred him, swimming on his back with a big smile on his face. Stuti and Keya seemed to fare well, making it a point to rub it in to Harman’s misery! However, that was the first and last mishap of the day. The kids completely styled the rest of the sections with no issues whatsoever.
One rapid involved a reasonably steep drop of about 6 to 7 feet that the kids nailed, making a good spot to reel some videos! The entire lower section was a lengthy 12 kilometers. We got done sometime in the evening and made our way back to the resort for a welcoming dinner and sleep. The following day again posed a challenge of having no water in the river being a Sunday. But it was an ideal day to teach the kids the eskimo roll, aiding them to succeed in another milestone in their fast moving kayaking career. The setup, sweep action and hip flick, all the aspects of the roll were drilled into their heads. With time running out, there were no expectations to completely learn the roll but merely aid their practice back in Mumbai. However, big lad Harman proved us wrong, achieving one successful roll by the end.
These two weekends was a very different experience for me, in its entirety. I was introduced to the wonders of another river, technically quite different from what all I have faced so far, in the beautiful little town of Karjat. But what was more of a delight for me was to aid in the training and molding of three awesome kids in kayaking. Their quick nature of grasping techniques and ease of tackling situations under pressure was amazing. Paddlers from all around the world who make it to the highest of levels in the sport begin their training very early in their lives, giving them that edge to achieve greater heights.
We believe it to be one our biggest intents to provide top notch training to interested younger folks, creating some amazing home grown paddlers. These kids signified the success and potential of such an intent and it was not over. This is just the beginning. For our kayaking mandala is still in its youthful stage and in no time, the numbers will multiply, the best Indian talents being presented in the world stage. Our country does require a lot of changes that can ensure it to be a far superior country, certainly more paddlers being one of them, a tiny contribution from us!
Keep calm and paddle on!