19K River Bhagirathi Swimming Competitions

Courtesy of Jitendra Khasnis.

River Bhagirathi is a turbulent Himalayan river in India that is the source stream of the Ganges, the holy river of Hinduism.

It is also the venue of the annual 19 km All India Swimming Marathon and the 81 km India National Open Water Swimming Competition, the world’s one-day longest amateur marathon swimming competition.

For 72 years, the 19 km River Bhagirathi Swimming Competition has been held in Murshidabad, West Bengal. Jitendra Khasnis reports on this year’s event.

Sampanna Shelar and his teammates from Shark Aquatics viz. Varada Dharmadhikari, Anushka Purandare, Khushi Parmar, Devang Shah and Upendra Wagh were eager to participate in 72th edition of 19 km River Bhagirathi Swimming Marathon which is held in conjunction with 81 km World’s Longest National Competition on September 6th.

Experienced Sampanna was fourth in the Open Category. This 14-year-old lad sprinted right from the start, but faded after 10 km against taller, stronger and youthful swimmers from India and Bangladesh. But his 2 hour 22 minute effort was just 6 minutes away from the winner from Bangladesh.

13-year-old Khushi Parmar who is inducted in India and Asia Book of Records because she swam non-stop 6 hours 30 minutes in a lake, proved her stamina by completing the race in 3 hours 15 minutes. Varada Dharmadhikari finished her fifth race in 2 hours 42 minutes just before her 16-year-old teammate Anushka Purandare. Varada recently completed the International Self-Transcendence Marathon Swim in Lake Zurich in 10 hours 2 minutes to finish fourth position in the women’s non-wetsuit category. The youngest and most enthusiastic Devang Shah rejoiced in finishing in 2 hours 52 minutes.

This year the restriction on numbers of swimmers was a little relaxed with 40 participants, 24 men and 16 women. Due to shortages of rescue boats for the swimmers and precautionary measure and government’s new regulation for proper safety to the competitors, the entries were usually restricted despite many applications from home and abroad. The government has specified certain criteria for rescue boats such as the required length of the boat, rescue materials and other parameters which are easily available. Swimmers are invited only after verifying their experience in the past. The competition, organised by Murshidabad Swimming Association, also offers cash prizes, various gifts and 5-foot trophies for the winners.

The swimmers are now training for two upcoming events, the 10 km India National Championships in Goa on November 29th, followed by the 14 km River Swim in Kolkata [formerly Calcutta] on December 20th
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