Ganga Girls: Building an All-Female Crew on the Ganga River


There is immense power when a group of people with similar interests comes together to work toward the same goals. They say the strength of a community is measured by the selfless actions of each individual member towards the well-being of the whole, and the entire crew of Ganga Girls lived up to just that.

When I started kayaking in 2013 there were hardly any other women paddlers around. It took nearly a decade to finally form a community of serious women paddlers on my home river in Rishikesh. Just a year after I started paddling, I competed in the annual Ganga Kayak Festival and was one of few female competitors. At the 2023 Ganga Kayak Festival, we maxed out the women’s roster, which sparked an idea: an all-female multi-day expedition on the Ganga. I immediately started planning and recruited a group of women who had competed at the festival.

For months I worked with the girls on and off the water. We paddled together, strengthening our skills and trust in each other. On land, I helped them pack and assured them—and their seniors and parents—that they were capable of this expedition.

Then, in April, eight young women from Rishikesh set out on an expedition on the Ganga River and formed the ‘Ganga Girls’.

We paddled from the confluence of Bhagirathi and Alaknanda. For most of the girls, this was their first multi-day kayaking expedition. In fact, I had never done an expedition on the Ganga despite it being my home river. This trip was special to each of us, but to have so many girls come together and do an expedition was a remarkable milestone for our kayaking community.

The most pivotal moment for my kayaking happened in 2022 when I took my first international kayaking trip to Chile. Before then, not only had I never left my country, but I had also never paddled with an all-female group. I had never had that opportunity in India. All my instructors growing up, and most even today, have been men. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Paddling with Chicas al Agua gave me a new perspective on kayaking community. It demonstrated how having women mentors can psychologically bolster a young girl’s morale and self-esteem. Just like in a child’s development, having both a mother and father figure in their lives contributes to healthy growth. So, too, in sport. One woman mentoring another is a unique form of solidarity and kinship.

Day one of the expedition was all about introductions—to the river, to each other, to camp. The first section of the river was mellow, giving us plenty of opportunity to practice rolling in a predictable environment. At camp, we worked on throwing rescue bags and showed the girls how to pitch a tent. Over dinner, we shared our personal stories and bonded over both our similarities and our differing backgrounds.

Motivation and energy were high when the sun rose on the second morning. Everyone was eager to get on the river and challenge their skills on the boily, Class II rapids.

Practice continued again at camp—from swimming to rolling and throw bagging. Later, we hiked to a beautiful waterfall. Anticipation for day three made the girls nervous. It would be the most challenging section. Throughout the evening we discussed reading water and choosing lines, the rapids and chance for swims, or making the choice to portage. I listened, mostly, gurgling with pride to hear them all talk so professionally about these things. To not only have their own perspective and opinions but feel confident enough to voice them proved we were doing something right—and important.

Aside from the paddling discussions, we shared the principles of Leave No Trace, as it’s important to make sure the people you introduce to the river also learn to respect it.

We wrapped the evening discussion with a topic rarely spoken of in our culture: menstruation. From my personal experience, I knew there were questions. Questions that, had we been in mixed company, no one would have asked. The day I got my first period, I was just learning to kayak—and surrounded by boys. I recall the mental battles and self-consciousness, and the discomfort of the situation. In this safe space, this experience was relatable. I gave the women my best tip—the menstrual cup. While everyone was quite shy in the beginning, I’d like to think the discussion laid the groundwork and boosted confidence for future situations irrespective of which gender is present.

We faced the most challenging rapids on day three. Paddlers describe the Ganga as a big volume river featuring massive waves and holes. On our third day, the rapids were longer, the runouts littered with powerful holes, boils and whirlpools that required constant vigilance. But it was great practice for the major rapids on our last day.

On the final day, we faced the decision to run or portage The Wall. Some paddled it, others hiked. Next, we hit a massive boof at the entrance of the Golf Course, rode out its gigantic waves and finished the expedition on Double Trouble. As we guided the girls through each line, it reminded me of my time in Chile. Following the amazing women at the start of that trip, their patience and encouragement reassured me that I had the skills to paddle those rapids. I thought of those women as this group of Indian paddlers now followed me.

Organizing an expedition like this and being an expedition leader was well out of my comfort zone. But there is no change without discomfort, and I learned so much. Like the importance of laughter and how a simple smile and word of encouragement can push your crew through the physical exhaustion. I learned to stay in tune with how the other girls felt emotionally and physically so that I could create a comfortable space for them to be—and admit to being—uncomfortable.

Additionally, good planning and organisational skills are a must for an expedition. As is flexibility and being able to roll with the punches when unexpected things happen. The power and emotion I felt with this group gave me the confidence to plan future expeditions and to continue inspiring the next bunch of girls.


Writer’s Note: Ganga Girls is the first all-women whitewater kayaking expedition crew in India with the mission to instruct, empower and guide other women on and off the river. The inaugural expedition couldn’t have been as successful without support from the Rishikesh kayaking community. Special thanks go to Bhuwan Adhikari, Camp Sea Hawk, Harender Singh Rawat and Chamkor of Cafe7.

Guest Contributor Naina Adhikari is India’s top female kayaker. She hopes to bring more girls into the sport and inspire the next generation to fight for rivers.