(Kaustubh Khade is an IITian, Asian Silver Medallist in kayaking and a Limca Book Record holder.
It’s a sunny afternoon by the time I reach my launch site in Kozhikode, where my kayak is nestled safely at the watersports centre. The break has let me relax the fingers that have started to ache from hours of holding a paddle tight as my expedition of kayaking the 3,000 km-long West Coast of India solo starts to take a toll. I set out into the calm backwaters. Kerala’s backwaters have a well-deserved name for their beauty, and nowhere is this more evident than on a kayak, bang in the middle of it. The meandering river is wide, 1 km long at some crossings and I enjoy the river pushing me slowly out to sea. As the river turns into its mouth, it gets even wider, and I appreciate the coconut trees on either side heralding the coming of the salt tide. Things often get choppy at Calicut Harbour, but not today.
With a departing tide, I find the water levels reduced. So low in fact, that as the boys from the village spot me paddling in the middle of the river; my paddle touches the bottom of the river. As they wave and beckon me to them, I can step out of my kayak and put my two feet down on solid ground. All around me is water and I’m standing knee high in the river. I wave at the kids I will not meet and jump back in.
Calicut Harbour is a small port. To the left of me is the fish market, where the smaller ships bring in their haul. Bid for, and topped off with ice, it’s packed into the back of a truck and shipped off in-land. To the right are the big fishing vessels. Traditionally built right here in Calicut, they tower high over me. And they are colourful. Reds and Blues, Yellows and Greens, all-in-one boats with streamers flying in the light wind and bobbing to the clash of the river water and the sea. Before I can fully admire them, a coast guard boat starts out from the harbour. The gleaming white vessel fondly reminds me of the commander of the Okha port who launched me off at Dwarka, Gujarat, when I started this expedition. I paddle hard to draw up to the coast guard boat when two officers call out to me. Between strokes, I tell them I’ve travelled 2,000 km to be here. ‘On that?’ they question. I laugh as I shout out — ‘Yes’. They question me about papers I don’t have and I tell them I’ll see them very soon in Kochi.
As the mouth of the harbour comes to an end, I stay back to watch the breaking waves, as the coast guard vessel passes straight out to sea. It’s day 67. I have 16 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)