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River Rafting

River Rafting

 

White water rafting in India is almost exclusively confined to the northern rivers which flow southwards from the Himalayas, gushing between densely forested mountains and through steep gorges. Rivers such as the Alaknanda, Bhagirathi, Indus, Zanskar and Teesta offer 'raft-worthy' rapids, and a trip down a river can be a great way to see the countryside. Whether the expedition’s just a few hours of getting soaked and experiencing the thrills of a high-action Hollywood flick- or it stretches over a few days in which you spend time camping and trekking as well- this is an experience not to be forgotten.

White water rafting or river running, as an alternative way of spending your vacation, is being increasingly offered by a number of tour operators and travel agencies, including government tourist offices. Prices are generally reasonable, and will include food, equipment, lifejackets, helmets, an expert guide, and accommodation. Check on what you’re paying for, and whether any additional charges are likely to be levied. It also makes sense to scout around a bit before taking a decision on which agency you’re going to book with.

Most agencies allow anybody- as long as you’re over 14 years of age- to book on river rafting trips. For basic trips, which pass through quieter waters, it isn’t even necessary to know swimming, although those who can’t swim may not be allowed on certain stretches of the river. Expectant mothers and people, who suffer from epilepsy or other serious ailments, will usually not be allowed.

Rishikesh

Zanskar

Ladakh

 

When to go for River Rafting

The Himalayan rivers, being the main river rafting routes, are virtually inaccessible during the winters. Some, like the Zanskar, are frozen over, and most of the others are too cold to allow rafting. Getting soaked could lead to a long and perhaps dangerous bout of hypothermia- or worse.

The monsoon brings heavy rain to the lower reaches of the Himalayas, and melting snows in the mountains result in higher waters in all of the rivers. Summers, therefore, though a good time to go river rafting, can be a little unsafe, especially for novices who haven’t travelled on a river in spate. For novices, August and September- when waters are lower and more manageable- are the best months to go river running; veterans can opt for expeditions earlier in the summer. Spring or early summer is also usually suitable for river running.

The Teesta is one of the few rivers where river rafting is confined to the winter months, between October and April.

 

What to bring

A love for adventure and a passion for the great outdoors is top priority. More practical things to pack include a good sunscreen, dark glasses, shorts, T-shirts (or other light, quick-dry clothing) and suitable shoes- sneakers or heavy duty rubber sandals may be a good idea. Also pack in a windproof jacket, a light sweater, towels, and a flashlight- and don’t forget the first aid box and the camera.

 

Essentials

River rafting in some areas may require special permits from the government. Areas close to India’s international borders, such as Nubra Valley, Sikkim, Lahaul and Spiti may be off-limits to foreigners without a valid permit. Before venturing out with your oar and your life jacket, make sure you’ve got all the necessary permits which are needed. Permits can usually be obtained fairly easily from District Commissioners, District Magistrates or other senior officials. Enquire at the Ministry of Home Affairs in New Delhi to figure out whether you need a permit, and who can give it to you.

 

Accommodation

Riverside tent camps exist along all the main routes, especially in Garhwal. These will generally consist of Swiss tents where accommodation is on a shared basis, with separate dry-waste toilet tents. All camps have their own arrangements for dining and entertainment- the latter invariably consisting of bonfires, beach volleyball and singing. Some of the longer runs may include stops en route at riverside villages or other settlements.

In Ladakh, Lahaul, Sikkim and some of the less developed areas, pitching a tent will usually be the only course open for rafters.

 

Rafting Runs

Riverside tent camps exist along all the main routes, especially in Garhwal. These will generally consist of Swiss tents where accommodation is on a shared basis, with separate dry-waste toilet tents. All camps have their own arrangements for dining and entertainment- the latter invariably consisting of bonfires, beach volleyball and singing. Some of the longer runs may include stops en route at riverside villages or other settlements.

Grade I: Small, easy waves; mainly flat water

Grade II: Mainly clear passages; some areas of difficulty

Grade III: Difficult passages; narrow in places and with high waves

Grade IV: Very difficult, narrow and requiring precise maneuvering

Grade V: Extremely difficult. Very fast-flowing waters which can be maneuvered only by experts

Grade VI: For all practical purposes, unmanageable- even suicidal

The Ganga and its tributaries; the Kali Ganga, the Indus, the Zanskar, the Teesta and the Rangeet are some of the rivers on which river running has been developed. Most of these have good riverside camps, and are well-frequented by organised rafting groups during peak season.

Other than these, there are other rivers, nearly all in northern India, where there are possibilities for river rafting. These include the Sutlej, the Chenab, the Chandrabhaga, the Beas and the Spiti rivers- all of which offer good river running, but have not been explored to a great extent, or (as is the case of the Sutlej and the Chenab) are practically off limits at present because of instability and unrest in the region of Jammu and Kashmir.


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