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Riding the Ganges

The Ganges winding its way through the Greater Himalayas and Aravallis, offers an excellent locale near Rishikesh to unwind from the city life for the religious by way of meditation, and exciting opportunities for thrill seekers by way of rafting, trekking, wildlife, and mountaineering. Uphill, the fast flowing river settles down to a sedate flow on its onward journey. Interestingly all towns in Uttranchal owe their names to Hindu Gods or Deities. The final count for this rafting trip included Praveen, Avi, Pradeep, Saurabh, Ajay, Surbhit, Aarti, Smriti and myself.

Shivpuri: The camp on the banks of the Ganges was ideally located, with serene surroundings. A quick change and we were running towards the dining tent to devour lunch. The rafting was to follow immediately. We had opted for the Shivpuri to Muni-ki-Retti circuit covering some very exciting rapids and activities in little less than three hours. Sadly, photography during rafting is not possible.

A quick briefing by our guide Negi on the pros and cons and the raft was set in motion. The thrill started when we hit the first baby rapid called ‘Return to Sender’. Waves return the punch given by the raft with equal gusto, putting everyone into shape. ‘Rapids are not to be taken for granted’ was the message now.

Next one ‘Roller Coaster’ set the entire raft rocking and took us for a spin. 15 feet high waves hit the raft in quick succession and everyone was spell bound. Everything went the roller coaster way. The best way to negotiate a rapid is to follow the guide’s commands and row quickly.

Many were so spellbound and awed by the impact that they forgot to row and were simply staring at everything around. The excitement was now in full swing. ‘Golf Course’ hit us soon. It’s a bunch of rapids that follow each other in quick succession taking the raft and rafter for a toss like a golf ball in flight. At one place the raft in full throttle was pushed towards a huge rock for a massive crash. Inches away from it, a return wave took us back…‘titanic re-lived’ averted. Nothing to worry about – it’s part of the package and thrill.

‘Black Money’ - funny name with a strange background but equally exciting and full of whirlpools. This rapid was initiated by some very rich people, hence the name. ‘Body Surfing’ - river settles down after black money and all of us quickly jumped into the river with our life jackets. Braving the initial shock of icy cold waters, it was an amazing experience to float in the wilderness. The holy waters quickly washed us clean. Saurabh the great, true to his style, refused to come back onto the boat not because of the pleasures, but it was a task to pull him up onto the boat. While Negi had a tough time doing the needful, everyone guffawed at the sight.

‘Rock jumping’ was next on the agenda. The raft was parked on the bank and the interested were to jump in the river atop a 20+ ft high rock. The moment one looks down courage fails so best is look straight and jump. Everyone took turns for a dash, some even repeated. It was fun savouring Saurabh’s fall, which created some massive waves in the river. Don’t believe me – ask the others. He even confused the Nepali guide who looked bewildered

We now had to negotiate ‘Double Trouble’ (trouble invited twice) and ‘Initiation’ rapids. The latter was the first rapid to be introduced by the British when rafting started - hence named ‘Initiation’. The rapids did create some interesting illusions while looking at the passing banks. Without describing it here, I will let it flow in individual’s thoughts so as not to deprive them of it’s pleasures.

Finally, after a most thrilling and exciting journey on the Ganges, we came ashore. Pick-up was arranged by the camp to take us back. Murphy’s law strikes - the van did not come. Thoroughly drenched and braving the cold wind, waiting was the only choice. A local selling "channa jor garam" made a guest appearance and quick orders followed. Meanwhile Avi with his jungle instincts created a bonfire and everyone sat around enjoying the warmth.

Finally it was decided that all of us would travel with the three huge rafts loaded on a Tata 407. Somehow the manager-cum-driver of the camp appeared with a qualis and we were shifted. Praveen quickly took over controls and drove us all the way to the camp. Some grocery was kept in the van for the camp and we enjoyed bread or whatever was handy. Few had serious designs on the warm gulab jamums to be served at the camp, but somehow resisted.

Quickly switching over to dry clothing, the evening rituals were formally set rolling. The camp staff, considering our hardships, had thoughtfully provided us with tandoori chicken and paneer tikkas. The cool sandy banks, soft breeze, the silence, warmth from bonfire added to the bliss, while not missing the usual fun of taking "panga" with each other. We could hear the far away rapids right there.

Negi, the guide, joined us to share some of his philosophies - Ever wondered why this region is blessed with peace and tranquility. The air, water, sand everything everywhere has traces of our ancient wisdom filtered through ages and each particle has remains of our rishis – slowly everyone drifted deeper into PHILOSOPHY. I don’t know what each one thought or said but we were in a different state of mind. Later surely none of us heard each other’s nightly "thumps" for everyone slept blissfully. Who slept where, I don’t remember nor know.

Next morning, after a hearty breakfast, the bulls were all set for the journey back home. Rakesh and his friend joined us at Roorkee on their drive back from Chopta and Auli. The drive to this part of Uttranchal is a bit crazy. The route passes through heavily congested Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Roorkee, Haridwar, and needs a lot of patience.

WOW, Just Great, Excellent, Never thought it would be so good!!!! - was the instant feedback from the travelers. It has been a different kind of experience for everyone. Keeping with the 60kph traditions, we promise to take you to an equally exciting journey next time.

Best time to go rafting is October/November or February/March. All the camps close down after April and reopen after monsoons late September. Take your pick and just GO.

Happy Trails,
Ashwani Khanna


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