11-year-old Shraddha Shukla has taken up the challenge to swim 570 km in the monsoon-fed, swollen Ganga from hometown Kanpur to temple town Varanasi.
Shukla will cover the distance over the course of 10 days. Her journey is equivalent of 13 Olympic marathons of 42.195km on land.
She will be swimming about 60km a day, from 5.30 am to 7.30 pm, taking a break every four to five hours. During this time she will take refreshment and washroom breaks.
“I am not nervous. I am excited and confident of completing the challenge,” she said, before diving into the Ganga at Kanpur’s historic Massacre ghat, where hundreds of people gathered to cheer her.
“I am eyeing the national record,” she said, joining four guard divers in the murky water.
The girl from Kanpur’s Cantonment area has been swimming since one, under the watchful eyes of father-coach Lalit Shukla. He and the divers will accompany her on a traditional boat.
Shukla will also have a metal net protecting her from underwater, while she swims her way to Varanasi.
Shukla has been 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 said, adding that the family encouraged the girl as she wanted to swim long distances. She swam 10km from Ganga Barrage to Siddhnath ghat at age six and 6km from Kanpur to Unnao a year later. She covered 16km downstream in just 80 minutes on August 11, 2013, nipping 10 minutes from her previous best. She was eight then. About a year on, Shraddha swam to Allahabad from Massacre ghat in less than a week.
Shraddha’s expedition is also important since she has no formal training and comes from a poor financial background.