Though it was something that I’d always intended to try, I had never given whitewater rafting much thought. For some reason I had always assumed that it would feel like snorkelling on a roller coaster and since I hate roller coasters, I didn’t expect to like it much. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I absolutely loved it! After 2 hours, drenched in ice cold water and shivering uncontrollably, I still wanted more. The 24 km long stretch of the Ganga that we rafted along simply wasn’t enough! It was an absolutely exhilarating experience and I can’t wait to go and do it again.
Getting to Rishikesh:
Delhi- Ghaziabad- Meerut- Muzzafarnagar- Roorkee- Haridwar- Rishikesh
Upto Roorkee, it is the same route we took for Mussourie. The road till Muzzafarnagar is still fantastic and the road between Muzzafarnagar and Roorkee is still appalling. Plan accordingly.
Rafting begins beyond Rishikesh. There are many campsites on the beaches of the Ganga in Marine Drive, Shivpuri (about 25 km from Rishikesh) which offer rafting packages. The package includes rafting, one night stay at the camp (they provide bedding and kerosene lamps but there is no electricity or running water so be prepared to rough it out) and 4 meals (2 breakfasts, lunch, bonfire snacks and dinner). We stayed at Camp White Sands by Great Himalayan Expeditions which I would recommend most highly. The package cost us Rs. 1700 per head which is great value for money.
Whitewater rafting is an extreme sport and it is important to observe certain basic safety precautions. It is important that you pay attention to the safety briefing given by your guide and that the equipment (rafts, paddles, life jackets, helmets etc.) comes from a certified source. Your guide will teach you how to paddle and how to brace yourself. He will give you instructions throughout the rafting trip and it is very important to follow them.
There are 6 grades of difficulty in white water rafting and they range from simple to very dangerous. According to wikipedia, grade six rapids are so dangerous that they are effectively unnavigable on a reliably safe basis. The rapids on the Ganga in Rishikesh are mostly Grade 3 with the exception of The Wall which is a Grade 4 Rapid. However, The Wall has been closed for rafting this season.
We rafted from the camp to Rishikesh for a distance of about 24 km and encountered many rapids from Grade 1 to 3:
1. The Balancing Rapid: This was the first rapid we encountered. It was small, possibly grade 1 and we could stand on the raft if we could get the balance right. It reminded me of ice skating and required the same kind of grounding that is needed in a side bending tree pose in yoga. It was a nice easy start to our rafting expedition.
2. Bodysurfing: Have you ever wanted to float inside a rapid? If yes, then this is the experience for you. It involves jumping off the raft in a small rapid (Grade 1 or 2 I believe) and riding the waves. However, its best to cling on to the safety ropes of the raft unless you want to surf straight into the rocks. I was terrified but I still jumped in and it was absolutely incredible! All of us enjoyed it so much, we did it at least thrice.
3. Three Blind Mice: This was the first major rapid we encountered. It is a Grade 3 Rapid and large waves come and hit you as you paddle on zealously. I am happy to say that despite the waves crashing into us, we paddled along in a perfectly synchronised manner. This was unlike another raft that had tried to attack us in calmer waters.
4. Crossfire: Another fun Grade 3 rapid.
5. Return to Sender: The name was both horrifying and horribly fascinating and this Grade 3 rapid lived up to it.
6. Tee Off: This was a hard one but just as it was over and we were getting our breath back, we saw the next one…
7. Golf Course: When we spotted this, one of my friends asked if it was called the Golf course because it was easy. Our guide laughed at us. It didn’t take long to understand why. This was by far my favourite rapid. Enormous waves crashed into us and the raft rocked from side to side as we braced ourselves and soldiered on. I absolutely loved it and it led straight on into…
8. The Clubhouse: Not as long as the golf course but it was where the largest wave came and hit us. I loved it!!
9. Roller Coaster: Needs no description. The name says it all.
10. Double Trouble: I hated this because it was the last rapid and signified the end of an absolutely spectacular experience.
Once we were ashore, we went back upstream with the rafts in a small van (we were still drenched and shivering because unfortunately, there are no changing rooms here). People who can take a weekend off and are enthusiastic about the outdoors, don’t waste time. Just go. Its an experience you will cherish for the rest of your life.
1. Shorts or fitted yoga pants for rafting.
2. Water proof sunscreen: This is very important unless you want sunburns and spots on your face.
3. Slippers or sandals which are easy to slip on.
4. Warm clothes because it can get chilly at night.
5. A flashlight.
6. Soap etc.
7. Wet wipes: These are always useful.
8. Several changes of clothes: Its only fun if you allow yourself to be soaked several times.