Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.Norman Maclean
It isn’t that I do not appreciate the beauty of oceans. I have so often revelled in the sound of the sea, been lulled into sleep by the rhythm of calming waves washing over soft sandy beaches. Have been awed by the sheer fury of a stormy sea relentlessly pummelling magnificent craggy cliffs and experienced the blissful silent stillness far out in the middle of the ocean on terrifying catamaran rides.
It is a gently flowing river, however, that runs through my nostalgic daydreams.
I suspect my connection with rivers goes beyond the fact that I grew up beside one. It feels like a genetic memory tied to a time long before paved roads replaced the waterways to ancestral villages where row boats were the preferred modes of transport.
My oldest memories are intertwined with rivers and boats. Much anticipated visits to ancestral homes along the backwaters. Endless summer evenings spent on the stone benches along its banks watching otter mums fiercely protecting their pups from ours. Watching roof tiles being loaded onto boats that carried them to waiting dhows on the horizon.
I learned early that rivers aren’t always benign. One time, a young girl, the teenaged sister of a labourer in our tile factory went missing. Two days later her body was found several miles upstream. I remember pre-empting my mother’s ban and quietly slipping away from the back door with a cousin to join the crowd gawking around their house. The horror of that day has long faded, but the picture of the disfigured face of that unfortunate girl still pops into my mind when I remember the river. And then the memories of good times crowd it out.
I didn’t ‘see’ the river then. Never perceived it as a thing of beauty. Didn’t realise how much a part of my subconscious it was and would continue to be. It was just there. Swollen brown in the incessant monsoons of the region. Diminished but bright jade in the summer sun.
What a beautiful world it was once. At least a river of it was.
I only have that one image of the river from my childhood. But let me take you on a virtual journey through some special river moments I have gathered from around the world. From sublime do-before-you-die experiences on ancient bodies of water to the storied rivers that birthed each of the European cities I travelled to in 2017 and singularly influenced their destinies.
First, an obeisance to the Ganga (Ganges) – that most sacred of Indian rivers in India’s holiest city.
A sunset ride on her tributary, the Hooghly, in Kolkata was an unexpectedly tranquil experience far removed from the ‘City of Joy’ imagery of the city.
A dreamy afternoon on the Nile (Aswan) is a highlight of any Egypt itinerary.
The mighty Mekong followed our footsteps across Indochina. Above, a slow boat ride in Luang Prabang.
A sublime nine day cruise down the Irrawaddy.
I highly recommend bar hopping with a view of the Chao Phraya (Bangkok)
A whole day out on the Tigre (day-trip from Buenos Aires)
Can you beat a walk along the Siene? (Paris)
The beautiful Rhone and the abandoned pont d’Avignon
Maastricht takes its name from the river Maas (Meuse).
Admiring the skyline of Antwerp from the left bank of the Scheldt.
The Tagus: the lifeline of Lisbon.
The Douro snakes through steep terraced valleys that are home to the region’s signature spirit…
And then it cuts through charming Porto enroute to its date with the Atlantic.
PS: My digitised slides of the Thames, the Tiber and the Rhine did not pass muster…..time to return.