DHAKA: After nearly half a century navigating Bangladesh’s thousands of miles of rivers, the country’s most celebrated swimmer has hung up his trunks — but not before one final, arduous paddle upstream.
Kshitindra Baisya, 67, plans to spend his retirement on dry land inspiring younger generations to embrace the water in a country criss-crossed by huge rivers but where few swim.
“I didn’t have much idea about the beauty of this country until I swam dozens of its rivers,” Baisya told AFP.
A veteran of Bangladesh’s 1971 independence war against Pakistan, Baisya taught himself to swim at 18 and before long was paddling marathon distances along murky channels.
A decade later, the father-of-two earned some notoriety when he swam 74 kilometres (46 miles) of India’s Bhagirathi river.
He opts for a methodical breaststroke, head above water, rather than the freestyle preferred by purists.
“It helps preserve energy,” he told AFP as he stretched before a dip in a Dhaka pond recently.
Baisya has not broken any speed records — but his self-taught technique has allowed him to cover vast distances solo during a career unrivalled in Bangladesh. “I am addicted to swimming. Every day, I swim three to four hours,” he said.
Always eschewing the pool, Baisya prefers to swim along Bangladesh’s lengthy river networks — more than 700 channels draining south into the mighty Bay of Bengal.
He has never strayed from a winning formula of yoga, basic exercise and a humble diet complemented with dates and bananas for energy.