Along the banks of the Mahanadi river in Cuttack, a dentist spends his weekends in the environs of nature. The avid kayaking enthusiast uses the river as a medium to sensitise local communities and his friends—some who come from abroad—in kayaks in Odisha’s rivers and water channels and discover its beauty, educating them about environment and river ecology conservation. Each rookie kayaker is sensitised about protecting the environment and the role they can play in it.
Recently, Dr Debabrata Das and his Russian friend Kamal kayaked 10 km in the Kushabhadra river to the Bay of Bengal, discovering pristine banks, estuaries teeming with hermit and red crabs, and a large variety of birds. When his friends return to their countries, they take back stories of Odisha’s unexplored natural beauty, thus generating more tourist interest for the state.
Three years ago when Das hauled his new kayak atop his car and headed for the Mahanadi river along Cuttack, little did he realise that his idea of adventure would turn into a mission of generating environmental awareness in people but also promoting the unbounding natural beauty of Odisha across the globe.
“Kayaking is a thrilling experience but also imbibes a sense of environmental awareness that really helps in the conservation of our delicate ecosystem,” says the 41-year-old dentist-cum-adventurer-cum-eco-conservationist. “Gliding on the surface of water at your own leisurely pace, you actually feel the oneness with nature. That is when you become conscious of nature and respect it. I use such moments to drive messages to people.”
During his school days, Das used to cycle to Jobra Ghat to watch boats ferry passengers and their bicycles to and from Jagatpur, 2 km across the river.
The summer of 2011 was a life-turner for Das. His friend Joe from Alaska came visiting with his pack-raft. “He had checked out the Mahanadi river on Google Maps and kept admiring it saying, ‘Dude, do you see how wide it is and how long?’ I took my first ride on his raft, and life was never the same again,” says Das.
He imported his kayak from Thailand for `80,000 in 2013. “When I get on the Mahanadi in my kayak, the whole perspective of the city changes. You start to admire its beauty, which you can never appreciate being in it. The Mahanadi is so picturesque with its small nameless islands where you can get down and have them all to yourself. I have done 10-km downstream trips, and it’s just magical. The flora and fauna, sunrises and sunsets, the riverside villages for whom the river is a way of life, everything about it is thrilling. You learn to admire and respect the river, not treat it like a waste dump,” the dentist says.
Malaysian dancer and choreographer Datuk Ramli Ibrahim says, “I experienced kayaking for the first time with Debabrata. He was doing most of the paddling while I enjoyed the scenery, marvelling at water birds as we sliced through the Mahanadi. It will be an everlasting experience.”
Das wants to carry forward his mission and upscale it for betterment of society. “My dream is to establish a kayaking club, which will help people learn and experience it and create a sense of belonging and conservation of our rivers and forests,” he says.