Ocean Hermit – sailing, solitude and stories

My plans to retrace Captain Cook's unfinished voyage have been postponed a year while I work on the next Marine Diesel Basics book and get my new boat SV Oceandrifter ready for sea.


A Walk Along the Ganges

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buy now: Walk Along the Ganges

I can still remember many of the people and incidents as if the 2000-mile walk happened recently, though it is almost 25 years since I completed my solo pilgrimage along the length of the river Ganges, across northern India.  Even as a boy, growing up in England and Scotland, I’d dreamed of going to India.  Which British schoolboy did not?  But how to do it without just scuttling from city to city by train and not getting out into the countryside where more than 80% of the people lived at that time.

I decided that I could walk out of the cities and that if I just kept walking it would be possible to travel from Ganga Sagar, where the holy river enters the Bay of Bengal, to the sacred source at Gau Mokh, at the mouth of the Gangrotri glacier at Gau Mukh.

Author’s Note
1 Finding My Feet
2 By the Banks of the Hooghly
3 Calcutta: A Hell Filled with Good Things
4 Led North by the Sacred Thread
5 The Inland Sea
6 Where Angels Fear to Tread
7 Round and Round the River Bends
8 Benares: City of Light, City of Dark
9 When the Land Dies
10 ‘Is it Cholera?’
11 Burden of Heat
12 Tiger! Tiger
13 Up the Mountain Road
14 Bathing at the Cow’s Mouth
Appendix: Equipment List
Selected Bibliography

Author’s Note from the book
The idea of walking the length of the Ganga fixed itself in my mind suddenly one morning while gazing over the Nile, but it was several years before I felt myself ready to undertake the journey. My motives and ambitions were mixed. I wanted to make a great walk, to set off with no prospect of ending for months. I wanted to see the land that had fired the British imagination for generations. I wanted to travel at the pace of rural India, where four out of five Indians live, and to walk in the footsteps of the peasants.

And why the Ganga? I was searching for answers to one question: How could a river also be a goddess? For millions of Hindus, the river Ganga is the physical expression of the goddess Ganga; bathing in her waters is both spiritual ritual and necessary ablution. We have learned so well in the West to separate sacred from secular that the very notion of their being indivisible, like the Ganga, seems absurd.

However, the Native Indians of Canada have a saving. ‘Never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins,’ and this was something I took literally. I was determined to wear village clothes, eat local foods, adopt local customs for washing and toilet and as much as possible speak the language. I felt that meeting India’s people and walking through her villages and beside her most sacred river was the only way to learn about the country. Perhaps then, I thought, I might begin to understand something of the relationship between the Ganga and her devotees and might find answers to my question.

My walk beside the Ganga was also being used as a money?raiser by Save the Children Fund in England. ‘If you’re crazy enough to make the walk, can we use it to raise money for our work in India?’ the Fund’s head of public relations had asked. Project Ganges was thus born under the direction of my mother, who was vice?chairman of the Fund’s United Kingdom Committee at the time. This aspect of the journey was to become more and more important to me as the walk continued and I saw the conditions of some of the poorest people in India. It was with immense gratitude to the people who donated to Project Ganges that I had the honour to present the final cheque to HRH The Princess Anne, President of Save the Children Fund, when she visited Bradford, West Yorkshire in November 1984.

The walk along the Ganges was made between November 1983 and June 1984.

10 comments on “A WALK ALONG THE GANGES

  1. Paul Wilson
    April 5, 2010

    Hi Dennison.
    I’m still completely inspired by this story, two years after you first told it to me, while we sat having lunch in Calcutta. You also told me to never stop believing in myself as a photographer and that’s always stayed with me. I just built a new blog last week to showcase some of my work. I’ll be adding some written work and maybe some of my videos too, as I go along. Still trying to work out how these blog pages work to be honest.
    So…. happy wandering Dennison. You’re always in my thoughts.


  2. Dhananjay Joshi
    June 19, 2010

    Dear Dennison, an amazing journey indeed, even for someone like me living in India……and all along we have grown-up thinking that he English only exploited India as a colony. We have just finished publishing a book on 1857 titled “Operation Red Lotus”, so that explains the not so completely unjustified bias. I liked the serendipity part of it. You are indeed living here and now, the life that most of us around the world only wish we could but, are scared to leave our secure jobs and family chores. I will soon be buying your book simply because, you chose to live the Indian way of life for the period. I think it would be a departure from just another foreigner “discovering” the exotic oriental. Good wishes happy tramp!


  3. Deshawn Gira
    July 2, 2010

    hello there, I found your Website via bing while searching for first aid for a heart attack and your post looks very interesting for me.


  4. André
    August 31, 2010

    Hi Dennis, j’espère que ton voyage se passes bien et te souhaite une autre expérience de vie des plus agrébles, a great trip
    Amdré, skipper ‘La Grande Virée’


  5. Anu Sen
    February 17, 2011

    Hi Dennison,
    I was raised in Kanpur (I live in Toronto now), and my parents knew Dr Dutta and Marjorie very well. I am full of admiration you chose the hard way to discover India and one of its lifelines, the Ganga, and in doing so, you were able to see right into the heart of its people since India lives in its villages while urban India is growing fast and at a hectic consumeristic pace. Your book is refreshing. Very well written, totally enjoyed reading the book, and loved the dry humour: “A spell of questioning ensued and was only concluded when everyone knew the caste, birthplace and occupation of his neightbour”. Very Gerry Durrell.

    By the way, I’ve had the devil of a time finding this book through an online retailer. Chapters does not carry it.


  6. Valentina Scaglia
    March 17, 2012

    Hello Mr. Berwick,
    just I wanted to tell you that my boyfriend, next April, will walk on the Gange river for 2 months. I would like to follow the “Char Dahm Yatra” for roughly 600 km to the Gange springs, but also will go to the upper Gange gorges. He will travel solo, and with very light gear (no tent, few clothes and equipment).
    Every advice is welcomed!
    We are both Italians.


  7. Tanneguy Gaullier
    September 22, 2012

    Hello Dennison,
    Thank you for your wonderful book! And you know what: I’m going to do exactly the same thing as you, the Ganges on foot from Ganga Sagar to Gaumukh! I’m a 35 French boy living in Paris, I like India very much and I’m fond of nature and long walks (I’ve already walked several thousand kms). I’ve planned to start the walk at the time of the Diwali feast (November 13th) and I’d like to know if you have any advice. For example, it’s difficult to find Indian maps with large scales. I have maps at 1/1 500 000 scales but it would be nice to have maps at 1/1 000 000, like you had in your journey. I can’t find some on the Internet and people say that it’s difficult to find any in India. Do you have any idea? Moreover, I found your idea very good to help an organization to raise founds thanks to your adventure and I’m wondering if you can tell me how it works (I’m going to ask associations on my behalf off course). Finally, if you have any addresses of people you know in India who could invite me for one night or just having a chat, it would be nice. I think you have my email as I registered in your blog. If you want to mail me I will give you the address of my blog when it’s done so that you could follow my adventure.
    All the best.


  8. dhwani vaishnav
    January 17, 2013

    Dear Dennison,
    I am from Gujarat, India and working on your ‘A Walk Along the Ganges’ for an International Conference research paper. It was a good read. i would like to discuss few points with you from the text from author’s point of view. Would it be possible for you to get in touch with me through mail?? it would be a great help in clarifying my few inference that i have drawn from my reading of your text.

    Thanks and regards,
    dhwani vaishnav


  9. Hannah Dixon
    July 21, 2015

    Hi Dennison,

    I have decided I want to walk the length of the Ganges. I decided this this morning, although spntaneous this is when my best ideas happen. I came acorss you whilst searching to see if anyone else crazy had done this, so I salute you and look forward to reading your book. I intend to go from source to sea, is there anything going this way around that you think may hinder my journey? What I mean is, is there a reason you went the other way?




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