A spirited Shraddha Shukla, all of 11 years old, has taken up the challenge to swim 550 km in the swollen Ganga river from Kanpur to Varanasi in 10 days.
Even as the river continues to rage and devastate many parts of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Bihar, Shraddha took the plunge on Sunday at the Massacre Ghat in Kanpur for the swimming feat as locals cheered on.
She aims to conclude at the Gau Ghat in Varanasi on the 10th day. Shraddha will be taking refreshment and washroom breaks. Her feat will be the equivalent of 13 Olympic marathons and she plans to swim about 60 km each day, taking a break every four to five hours.
On the first day Shraddha covered 100 km between the Siddhnath Ghat to Chandrika Devi temple in Unnao. On her second day she is scheduled to swim from Chandrika Devi to Sankata Devi in Rae Bareli (40 km), followed by Sankata Devi temple to Singhverpur (60 km) on the third day then Singhverpur-Naubasta Ghat in Fatehpur (40 km), and on the fifth from Naubasta Ghat to Kadedham in Kaushambi (30 km).
On the sixth day she will reach Sangam in Allahabad from Kadedhaam (30 km). On Day 7 Shraddha will attempt 60 km and touch Vindhyavasini Ghat in Mirzapur. She will then swim from the Vindhyavasini Ghat to Katlaghat in Mirzapur (60 km), Katlaghat to Barauli Ghat in Varanasi (60 km) on the penultimate day and swim to the Gau Ghat from there, which is a 70-km distance.
Shraddha started swimming at the age of two when her grandfather, Munnu Shukla, a diver, took her to the Ganga.
She soon developed "fins of her own", her father Lalit Shukla told IANS on Monday, and said the family encouraged the girl as she wanted to swim long distances.
Eight divers are accompanying her to Varanasi. A doctor is also on board for any emergencies. "The current is very strong and the river is in spate, so we cannot take any chances" her father added.
At the age of six in 2010, Shraddha swam from Shuklaganj to Agrasen Vyayamshala — a distance of six km. She enhanced her swimming distance the very next year to seven km (between Shuklaganj to Jajmau bridge) taking it further in 2012 when she swam between Ganga Barrage to Massacre Ghat.
In 2013, she slowly stepped up the distance and swam from Sarsaiyya Ghat to Siddhnath Ghat (16km). On March 25, 2014, she set a record of sorts when she swam the Ganga from Kanpur to Allahabad (282.5 km).
Shraddha’s expedition assumes significance as she has no formal training and comes from a poor financial background. Locals say if the girl is given proper training, she could well be on her way to bringing laurels to the country in a few years like P.V. Sindhu and Sakshi Malik.