Without doubt this has been my best month in India to date!
December kicked off with an epic 10-day descent of the Subansiri River. Snaking its way through the rugged wilderness of Arunachal in the remote northeast, the Subansiri is arguably Asia’s ultimate river journey. With idyllic weather, exhilarating white-water and picture-perfect beach campsites nestled under star-studded skies, it was a rafting adventure to savour. The Aquaterra (www.aquaterra.in) trip afforded an incredible opportunity to paddle through wild jungle-clad valleys devoid of people: a rare privilege in India. I feel incredibly lucky to have been one of the fortunate few to experience this rare and unique Indian wilderness. In April 2014, this amazing river trip, along with 38 000 square kilometres of pristine jungle, will be lost forever when the new Hydel hydroelectric dam on the Lower Subansiri is flooded.
With the arrival of our first Christmas visitors, we headed off to Varanasi to share an authentic Indian cultural experience with Katherine’s family ahead of two weeks in the Andaman Islands. Varanasi was a pleasant surprise to me and, although I feel its claim of being ‘the Venice of India’ is dubious at best, we did spend a thoroughly enjoyable long weekend in the holy city. We boated along the Ganga at dawn spellbound by the scenes unfolding all around us. From the wood pyres of the busy crematoriums with gangs of stray dogs chewing bones to the swimming Ghats and evening religious ceremonies, exploring Varanasi proved a lively, invigorating and eye-opening experience.
Between Varanasi and the Andamans, I squeezed in a work assignment to Hyderabad to document a CRS-sponsored project rescuing and reintegrating woman who had been trafficked into sexual slavery. These brave ladies shared their harrowing tales with me recounting the unthinkable abuses they’d suffered after being enslaved as sex workers before eventually escaping or being rescued. It was a sobering experience that stood in stark contrast to our family excursion to Agra and the Taj Mahal the following day.
The month culminated with an epic two-week trip to the Andaman Islands over Christmas and New Year. The Andamans were nothing short of superb. The laidback island lifestyle couldn’t have been further removed from the frenetic pace of mainland India. We alternated our days between scuba diving and chilling on ‘the best beach in Asia’ (according to Time magazine) with body surfing, biking and beach bats to keep us suitably entertained. Every evening we feasted on platters of delicious fresh seafood and cold beer. However, the unanimous highlight of our time in the Andamans was chartering our own boat for a four-day excursion to explore little-visited Long Island and its surrounding waters. Lalaji Beach and diving on Campbell Shoals were the ultimate highlights of this great island adventure.
Returning to work in cold, foggy Delhi on January, 7th was a real shock to the system.