A new chapter in Indian ecotourism is unfolding along the upper reaches of the country’s holiest river, where a ban on rafting camps and the area’s first upscale wilderness resort are contributing to a greener ethos on the white wat
Under the shadow of Mount Kailash, water from the glacier-fed Mansarovar Lake spills through the ‘Horse’s Mouth’ and begins its descent towards the great holy ‘Father River’ of Asia, the Brahmaputra. Meet the river that has no less than ten regional names.
Victoria Falls was once admired by explorers at a distance, today it is the playground for adventurers and adrenaline seekers. Dangle from 50 metres of elastic bungee cord, raft down the rapids or fly above it with the angels in a microlight. The rush is here.
A “ducky” is best described as a small, two-man inflatable kayak. “Only have a go in it if you’re thirsty for adventure!” advises trip leader Harendra “Gappu” Rawat. “You need to be happy with the idea of taking a few dips!” Thrill-addict that I am, I opted to trade my place in the relative comfort and safety of a big selfbailing raft for a front seat in the unstable ducky as we prepared to run the mighty Chookha, the biggest of the Kali Sarda’s infamous rapids
This is a very rocky one, so I need everyone to keep pa d dli ng t h r o ug h t he rapid. Speed is essential for us to steer and to avoid all the rocks; if it looks bad, then I’ll give you the ‘get down’ command, so just be ready for anything,” yells Rana in an attempt to be heard above the roaring river.
An expedition down the Mahakali can quite aptly be described as ‘a trip right out of The Jungle Book’: perfect weather, warm water, pristine wilderness, no roads, plentiful wildlife and big sandy beach campsites crisscrossed with fresh leopard tracks! I was expecting a fun-filled week dominated by aquatic adventures, yet the Kali surpassed even my wildest expectations.
Slowly, slowly catch the monkey” was the bizarre mantra reverberating through my oxygen-deprived brain as we approached 6,000m. Vikram Hirani, one of our mountain guides, had spoken these wise words as we fastened crampons onto our snow boots and roped up at the foot of Stok Glacier five hours earlier.
Everybody get down!” yelled Vaibhav to his laid-back crew. I looked up to see the raft just ahead of ours get sucked into a big hole where it began to surf on the recirculating water. As the river thundered over a submerged rock, the pourover created a strong backwash that latched onto the 14-foot raft and prevented it from breaking free. The boat gyrated wildly as it surfed the powerful hydraulic. Bow paddler Rohan Guptan was the first to go.
Many of north India’s finest rafting rivers remain largely unvisited: the preserve of adventure-seekers and wilderness-lovers alike. Here’s where to begin your rafting adventure.
As I approached the roaring rapid, I looked down stream and saw Canadian safety kayaker Daveprothero vigorously pumping his fist in the air: it was the signal that the rapid was safe and we could run the meatiest part of the wild water-water just ahead. As I lined up my small boat to hit the guts of the rapid,I watched Captain Rana guide his raft into the white-water mayhem in front of me. One moment the raft was cruising through the big waves, next second it disappeared