It’s beautiful clear midnight sky, close to freezing temperature with snow-covered peaks of the Himalayas on my right and young river Yamuna flowing on my left as I stand alone in the middle of this road in dark. I haven’t seen a human for past many hours and the last ones I met, warned me of leopards and bears in the woods. I collapse on a pile of crushed rocks and burst into tears. Under the fading light of my headlamp, I remove my shoes-socks to check my feet. I have lost two toe-nails already and three more are bleeding. My last meal was the previous night, I’m hungry. I take out Snickers bar from my bag and this is the first time I realize how cold it is out there. The bar is frozen solid. I use all my energy to peel off the wrapper but fail to take a bite. Dressed in three layers of t-shirts and just shorts, I’m cold and have lost all hopes. I think this is all I could do with this tiny body. I want to die.
I’m Chasing Yamuna. I started running yesterday early morning from the foothills of Himalayas and have covered more than a hundred miles in search of a glass of water from the river Yamuna which is safe to drink. Right now, I’m somewhere close to the glacier from where the river origins. But, the chase has not ended yet. I was born on the bank of Yamuna some twenty-nine years ago in Delhi, and the river has always been special to me. I have always defined myself with her. I’d visit my maternal grandparents just because we’d cross the river on the way. However, all these years what I craved for most was sipping a cup of coffee on the bank of the river – flowing with all her charm, reflecting the golden light of setting sun through the ripples under the background of chirping birds and cool breeze of spring caressing my face. That’s what we expect from a river, right? But, let me tell you what we’ve got.
There was a beautiful city, set a thousand years ago on green bank of a river worshipped as pure as The Ganges. Settled on the bank of that mighty Yamuna, Delhi of modern times is home to a population larger than entire Canada. But, what’s special and most storied off late about this city is her dying lone natural freshwater resource, The Black River Yamuna.
So, I decided that I’ll be running from the foothills where the Yamuna gets on plains, all the way to the source in Yamunotri, all by myself in two days. The distance was 177 km comprising of trails, highways, and a tough exponential uphill climb. Whatever I need, like food, water, clothes – I’ll carry on shoulders in my bag that weighs over 10 pounds. I started before sunrise, climbed the first mountain and saw the Yamuna for the first time on the other side. Pristine Blue! But, locals claimed not safe to drink. I ran through the day, spent the night in a tiny hut on edge of the road with highway construction men. Since tourism season was over, all motels were closed; I could not grab even a single meal today. Blisters, that I got yesterday because of wet shoes, have got worse. Every step has been excruciatingly painful and I don’t know how far I still must climb.
Now, here I am. Face in the ground, waiting to die. Suddenly, I see a pair of bright eyes descending from the mountain on my right and silently I pray – better this be the leopard to kill me and end this. But, I’m scared. I can hear his loud heavy breathing. I twitch my fingers, grab a few pieces of rocks and ready myself for the fight. As eyes approach closer, I throw the rock, and that thing runs away back in the woods. I get up, take a sip of water, pop in the last glucose candy and start crawling up the hill. Countless switch-backs, waterfalls, and puddles later, I see flickering lights of a village on the other side of the river. That is Yamunotri, the last village next to the glacier. I’m in tears, crying louder than ever as I made it – ALIVE!
But, is the chase over? Unfortunately, not. Next morning, it’s raining. I tape my toes, climb further up the temple and then a kilometre more scrambling on boulders to fill my glass with water from the waterfall that is the origin of the Yamuna, just half a kilometre away from the glacier. This is how far my home river travels before it becomes unsafe to drink. I drank from 19 different locations over two days and it took me 180 km to find the first drop of our black river that was fit to drink.