Thursday, September 1, 2011

Once upon a time in March (Deoria Tal, Tungnath, Rishikesh Rafting) - 3

Part 3: Whitewater Rafting in Rishikesh

[Part 1 can be found here: Deoria Tal.]
[Part 2 can be found here: Tungnath.]

When we woke up the next morning the sun was shining down brightly on Syalsaur GMVN. The cottages here are pretty good, and the views are breathtaking. Syalsaur is becoming a popular destination for honeymoon couples.

We started our journey to Rishikesh by around 10. We lunched again at Cozy Restaurant in Shrinagar. 
Starting from Rudraprayag, we could see the occasional beaches and camps on them by the side of the Ganges. The road traces the path of the river, and we spotted a good number of rafts navigating the river.

By around 3 or 4 in the evening we reached the signpost which said “Camp River Wilds”. We could see dense vegetation for a long distance ahead and a steep trail down, but no human presence, save us. [Smacks head, for expecting a receptionist in the wilderness.] We called up Sanjay, who runs the operation who was on his way from Dehra Dun to meet us at the camp. He told me that we were supposed to yell “Virender” at the top of our voice and the blow the bus horn three times! It worked better than Morse code, as Virender yelled from somewhere inside the vegetation “Coming Sir”. "Virender" apparently was no "Abra cadabra", but the guy in charge of things.

Virender came up and we dragged the luggage down for a couple of hundred metres. The worry of hauling our luggage up while going back did cross all our minds. But, that worry had still two days left to fester. Anyway, soon we were greeted by the sight of our camp and the vast expanse of our private beach on the Ganges!

Though we had seen pictures on the Internet, I was a bit concerned whether the beach would be as good as was being claimed. This was more than what we expected. 

There were close to 12 camps, out of which we took 8 on a twin sharing basis. After dropping the luggage, some of us played volleyball, some just sat around chatting, while a few ended up just gazing at the place. 

The mound in the picture below buries the volleyball.

Sanjay joined us for the camp fire and he briefed us about the camp, its facilities, and the flora and fauna surrounding it. He warned us against venturing into the water without lifejackets. Many a people have learnt that lesson in the past, without living to tell the story. He explained the story of the evolution of rafting in India, especially in the Ganges. 

A few notes about the camp:
Makeshift restrooms are called “Thunder-boxes” here. :-)
They keep lanterns in front of each tent. Trust me it’s too romantic an atmosphere.
Food is really yummy. If the camp fire is going on, they keep serving you starters. 

The camp fire lasted a long time and it started with jokes, stories, and songs, and ended up with the bane of most Indian gatherings – the Anthakshari. It was fun in the end as some of us managed to cook up songs (the dreaded Laksmikant-Pyarelal combination) without the others not even noticing. 

Our rafting would start by 10 in the morning the next day. The day’s session was going to be long, as we would raft the complete stretch from our camp to Rishikesh. I think whitewater rafting is an undersold or misunderstood adventure sport in India. The excitement it gives and the relative safety of the sport should be enough to keep all rafts in the country occupied. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. I remember watching “World of Sports” in Doordarshan years back, and wondering “Are these guys crazy, what’s the fun in the that?” All of that attitude changed when we rafted in the Kali River in Dandeli (Karnataka) during our office outing in 2010. It was electrifying and at the end of that session which was about an hour or so long, all of us ended up asking for more. Tomorrow we’re going to heed that request.

By the way, we call it whitewater rafting because white is the color of the water in the rapids, because of the turbulence, bubbles, and foam. 

The third person from the left in the picture below is Kruthi, the fastest currency counter in the world.
Another currency counter.
Water level was good the next morning, and we started after a briefing by our two captains – Sudheer and Virender. The raft manned by Sudheer had two huge paddles, which meant relatively less rafting effort on the occupants. I ended up in the other normal raft where we had to work our ass off, thanks to my immediate show of hands when they asked “how many of you have rafted before?”

All good rapids have names, and a story behind those names. In today’s stretch, we would cover rapids like Three blind mice (there are three rapids in this - one after the other, and you wouldn’t see the next one till the current one is over – hence the “blind” analogy), Golfcourse, Money Maker (an innocuous rapid named so because early rafters made a good amount of money with it.), Black Money (an industrialist has a huge property by its side. Duh - Don’t ask me why the name?). We started off with a Level 1 rapid, called Sweet Sixteen. It's a mild rapid, and I don't know if it's named so because nonrafters lose their rafting virginity here.

Hours went by, as we rafted like crazy, jumped into the water occasionally in placid stretches, splashed water at each other, (what is it about splashing water at others that people love so much?). Splashing also led to Sudheer’s famous quip – if I use my long paddle, you are going to be in trouble.

We negotiated one rapid by standing on the raft. It felt almost like standing in a BMTC bus going through a heavily potholed road. In another rapid, we entered the water and caught hold of the ropes on the side of the raft – something called body surfing.
This was the eureka moment. People tend to weigh less in water. Pulling them up is a breeze.

Golf course turned out to be the toughest, and Saurav actually fell into the water by mistake. We somehow got back to rafting, and he somehow came back into the raft. Those were anxious moments, but one good thing about rafting is the safety jacket and helmet. Unless you get stuck somewhere, you wouldn’t drown, even if you don’t know how to swim. Presence of mind is however the key - and we found that he has oodles of it.

We stopped by the wayside for some snacks and some of us went cliff-jumping – jumping off the top of a 30 ft(?) rock into the river. Yes, unless you have guessed it by now, our team does have some serious thrill issues.
By around 2 or so the rafting for the day was over. The hard part was getting the rafts on to our vehicle. We helped (most of us I think pretended to help, by putting a few fingers on the raft already up in the air.) 
That's Kumar, playing javelin with the paddles.

The basic lunch tasted pretty good, thanks to the exertion of the past few hours.

We drove back to our camp and relaxed for a while. Most of us found relaxation a painful task and took to playing games again. 
An idle mind is a devil’s workshop. Want proof?

In all this, there was one nagging question. Did our captains judge us good to scale The Wall? The Wall is a level 4 rapid (the biggest that we did was level 3, but the rapid scale is kind of exponential.), and easily the mother of all rapids in accessible India. One of the office posters was in fact centered on the Wall. 

We checked with them and both Sudheer and Virender said that our level of rafting was not fit to scale The Wall tomorrow. We went by their recommendation that “The Wall is no joke” and would do a smaller stretch tomorrow.

That night was a repeat telecast of the previous night’s proceedings. Next day morning, we bid goodbye to Camp River Wilds and took our oars again. The imagined agony of hauling our luggage up turned out to be a non-issue, as the camp folks took care of it. Our luggage would meet us downstream at the end of our rafting session.

There’s no point in discussing the day’s rafting, as it was only part of the previous days stretch. It was more enjoyable though because we got into the water more often and took it at a relaxed pace. We also visited the Agustya Gupha (cave).
Walking back to the raft.

I joined the paddle boat so we could shoot some videos. Unfortunately, we couldn’t shoot the Level 2+ rapids, because we might lose the camera too.

The rafting that day ended in a free massage in a rivulet that feeds the Ganges. The water here massages you in a way no masseur (or masseuse for that matter) can.
Gossip session, in the middle of all this.Can you believe it?

This video captures 30% of what we did.

In the evening, we reached Haridwar, and watched the Ganga Aarti.

 Waiting for the Aarti to begin, boredom not showing in Nirmal's and Sudhir's fcaes.
We did some shopping, and while doing that, realized that the original plan of playing Holi in Hardwar the next day was shot. Holi is supposed to be India’s festival of colors – a happy event. I don’t know if this is true of entire North India, but Holi (as we saw it) was just an excuse to ched (is there an English equivalent of that word?) girls. We found guys in bikes telling small kids, which girls to target with colors. Obviously you wouldn’t hit a kid, would you? We found color packets raining down from the upper floors of the dense crossways of Haridwar. Thankfully, none of us got drenched or anything, and we made it back to the comfort of our hotel, but it was disturbing. 

We went with the hotel owner’s recommendation and just relaxed in the hotel the next day. Which turned out to be a good thing after all, after all the efforts of the past one week. Zipped to Delhi (on the the way we had our dinner at Sher-e-Punjab in Rudrapur) and flew to Bangalore. Case closed (for now).


  1. enjoy every bit of your narrative. planning on doing this trip this may.thanks

  2. great narrative .but how much did the white water thing cost per person

  3. Thanks Manuel. We did it this year also, it cost us 5,850 per person (we were a group of 15) - including stay, food, and rafting for 2 days. I think I have given the contact info in the blog.