Rafting on the Ganges
By Mridula Dwivedi
It was a trip that almost didn’t happen. I substituted someone in a large group at the last moment on a rafting trip to Kaudiyala with Rimo Expeditions. We boarded the night train to Dehradoon from Old Delhi Railway station and got down at Haridwar at 6.30 am. Two buses were waiting for us to take us to Kaudiyala which is 60km ahead.
I kept watching out of the window for a while but the motion of the bus was soothing. When I opened my eyes again we were pulling next to the Rimo Expeditions camp.A Camp by the Riverside
There were two rafts waiting for us so that we could cross the river Ganges and go to our camps. As I took of my slippers off the water felt icy cold against my feet even in April. Thus I entered a raft for the first time in my life.
In about five minutes we were on the other side of the river with sand under our feet and tents for our accommodation. We were greeted with hot tea and breakfast and stern instructions as to not to litter the camp. I actually welcome such instructions otherwise it is not uncommon for people to just keep throwing stuff everywhere.
Rock Climbing, Rappelling and Body Surfing
The first two activities on the offer were body surfing and rock climbing and rappelling. There were a lot of takers for body surfing and few for climbing and rappelling. So I went for the climbing activities first.
I have done rappelling before and they tied me so well that I came down the rock pretty fast. But going up the rock was another matter. I gave up half way in spite of being securely tied and being in capable hands. I, after all, can’t do it all!
After each one of us was done climbing, we had the luxury of body surfing. Basically there is a rope going all around the raft and you are asked to hang on it and get a dip in the Ganges! Initially the water felt very cold but once I got used to it, the experience was great.
After body surfing we had it easy, a late lunch and then pretty much nothing to do till dinner. In the evening I sat on the river bed which was of full of smooth stones. There was no power at the camp and I like it that way. It is only then you realize that many a times just the stars are enough.
But I Need Avomine!
I came to know the next morning that we were traveling 30 km to reach Devprayag, the starting point of our rafting. I asked the camp leader, Tara, if he had an Avomine (anti nausea medicine for my motion sickness on mountain roads). I just about managed to reach Kaudiyala without throwing up but I was not sure if I would last up to Devprayag.
Tara told me he had none and I had to do with cloves! I was in no way going to give up on rafting. So clutching the cloves in my hand and with my heart in my mouth I boarded the bus. I managed to reach without any mishaps. But I was quite glad that I was rafting back all those 30 kilometers and not taking a bus.
Rafting from Devprayag to Kaudiyala
The stretch from Devprayag to Kaudiyala is calm and ideal for getting introduced to rafting. So what do you have to do when you go rafting? Basically we were given a life jacket, a helmet and a paddle each. You put on the life jacket and the helmet and assemble to listen to the instructions by the experts who are going to be present in each raft.
Usually six people plus an expert go in a raft. Also rafts have a safe bag in which you can keep your camera. They let you take it out in calm waters and click pictures. Soon we were on our way and doing fine.
Cliff Jumping on the Way
When I look at my picture where I am jumping off the cliff, I wonder what made me do it? I still remember climbing up the hill quite clearly and standing at the edge. Gunpal was there and he asked me if I was sure about it?
I said, “Yes.”
He muttered, “Then hold the straps of your life jacket while going down or your hands may hurt when you land”. And then he gave me a light nudge and I was on my way.
When I showed that picture to a colleague he asked, “So did you go down screaming?” When I said no, he replied, “I would have gone down screaming just in case it was the last thing I ever did.” Will I do it again? I think so, though I do not promise. This happened on our mid way break from rafting.
Paddle, Paddle and Paddle Some More
When we started again, I had changed rafts on someone’s request. I was quite happy to change as a lot of members of Raft 1 were not keen to paddle.
Little did I realize that Raft 2 was the same. At one point the raft expert, Vikram, asked a girl, “Are you stirring vegetables or trying to paddle?” After five hours of rafting we were on dry land once again. It was a 4 pm lunch.
Most of us just gulped it down without saying a word. At night I managed to drag myself for a short night trek close to the camp area itself. I was wondering if I would fall sick, I was that tired.
The Real Rafting!
But I woke up quite fresh the next day. We were rafting from Kaudiyala to Rishikesh. On the way we had to cross ‘the wall’, which is a grade 3 plus rapid.
I did not wish to be with non-paddlers, so I went with two other people who I knew were keen. We were then paired with three other people unknown to us to make our team of six. I had Vikram once again as the expert.
Vikram kept talking about rafts flipping at the wall even before we started. I could see they were much more task-driven on this day than on the calm stretch we did the day before. However it did not prevent us from having water fights. It turned out that the other three people had done rafting before. All six of us would follow instructions and paddle as if our life depended on it.
After what felt like just a few minutes Vikram told us we were nearing the wall. There were seven rafts in all from our camp. We were the second to cross the wall. We were paddling for our life for what felt like 3-4 minutes while there were waves drenching and dancing around us. But we were in the clear quickly.
And then we saw the raft in front of us! It had flipped and everyone was thrown out in the water. We turned back, there was another raft and even though it had not flipped, everyone was thrown out. Three rafts were now accounted for, only ours had people in it.
After that we kept looking back and saw three more rafts either flipping or getting ‘all out’. We thought that the seventh raft would make it, but then at the last wave it flipped too. Now there were six rafts with all the people thrown out and paddles and paddles on the water. The kayaks with us were overworked.
Soon people were being hauled out of the water and put back to their rafts. Four of the rafts regrouped and proceeded. But shortly we decided to wait for the others to join us. We banked on the left side of the river, which is shallow.
We were also instructed that in case we were thrown out we were to go to the left side. As soon as we were on the dry ground, the stories started. Who drank how much water, who remembered whom and who thought they would not come out of the water ever again!
I enjoyed an expert’s story most. He said, “Don’t you think the rapid gives you enough time to ponder under water? I went down thinking, where is my boat, where are my clients, I need not worry about the paddles, someone will pick them up and only then did I surface out of the water again!”
After a while the stories stopped and worries started. Even after 45 minutes there was no sign of the other rafts.
The cell phones came out of the safe boxes but we were out of range. After about an hour and half others came and we got to know that two people got stuck on the right side of the river along the cliffs and it took about 50 minutes to rescue them.
In the end we all were safe but some people decided not continue any further. They got down at a point called Marine Drive and a bus from Rimo Expeditions was waiting for them.
All Good Things Come to an End
Because of the lost time we had to cut short the trip. So instead of going to Rishikesh, our trip ended at Shivpuri. On the way there were other rapids with colorful names like three blind mice, golf course etc. but none of them even mildly resembled the wall!
After a pleasant ride and no more unplanned dips in the Ganges, we reached Shivpuri. Our food was served from a truck and it was the best food I ever tasted.
Our luggage came on a bus and they put in changing tents for us to get out of wet clothes. Soon it was time to board the bus and then our train back to Delhi.
Will I go rafting again if I got a chance? You bet I would, even through the wall, even if I end up taking an unplanned dip in the Ganges.
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