A moment in your life when you experience the true joy of being, Not a single strand of stess, strain or sorrow in your body. A mind clear, free and in the moment.
That, in a nutshell, was my experience of white water rafting. Not my first ever experience - I'd tried it years ago at Kullu. But this time was different. Maybe I am different. I know this is something I want to do again, and again, and again.
We start from a point called 'Marine Drive'. It's a glorious Sunday morning. Groups of college kids, yuppies and techies (their buses labelled 'Nucleus software') are putting on lifejackets, posing for pics. Eight at a time, they tumble onto their rafts, dip in the bright yellow oirs, and heave off.
My 'group' is the scantiest. There are just 3 of us - besides the guide and a Garwhali who's been drafted on board to provide 'balance'. He's a rock climbing expert - this is his first time on a raft and he is scared as hell.
Oskari and Marja are from Finland. That explains the thin tshirt and shorts Oskari is wearing with a smile. There's a chill in the air as we drive down from Rishikesh to the rafting site. Light jacket definitely required for a tropical type like myself.
We don our yellow helmets, tighten the life jacket until we can just about breathe ('loose is dangerous,' grins Hukumchand - our guide) and push off. There are three basic instructions:
'Forward paddle' - meaning you push the oar back to move the boat forward
'Back paddle' - meaning you push the oar forward to move the boat back.
'Relax' - stop paddling, hold on to the oar with one hand and the lifeline with the other.
Most of the time you simply forward paddle - in between you relax. And oh, you stick in your front foot firmly under the 'air cylinders' which crisscross the boat. That can get uncomfortable at times but a good grip is your only defence from falling off the boat - so I dig in deep and hold it there.
The first splash of water is bloody cold! The subsequent ones are no better. We approach the first rapid 'Good Morning Black Money'. A relatively easy one but we emerge from it completely soaking wet.
More follow. A 'grade 3' rapid - Three Blind Mice - tosses and turns the raft into the air. "Forward paddle - hard!" yells the guide. The oar occassionally hits water -mostly just air. At one point I think I might fall off but it doesn't actually happen.
Completely exhilarating and we're raring for more.
When we reach 'Bodysurf' the guide says, "You can jump in!" Oskari is the first to take the offer, Marja quickly follows. I am not too keen but the guide insists. "Aap adventure karne aaye hain na... Lifeline pakad ke kar lijiye".
I jump in. The water reminds me of the 'Titanic'. It is soooooo cold! In a bit, the body adjusts. I splash around a bit and float for a while. Only my hands aren't adjusting - they are shrivelling up and turning pink.
We swim to 'shore' - a clump of white sand with a row of canvas tents. This is one of the many camps where enthusiasts stay for 2-3 days - sometimes more - in pursuit of riverine happyness. We are merely having lunch.
Facilities at the camp are basic - each tent has two beds, blankets provided. Toilets are the 'dry variety' - Indian and Western style commodes over a pit. After every use, you're expected to shovel a mix of sand and lime on top - a kind of 'natural flushing system' which eventually decomposes all that human waste into manure (I'm guessing).
In any case, the food is outstanding. Ghar ke jaisa jhana. Dal, aloo-gobhi, paneer, rice, salad. The Finns exclaim it's the 'best meal we've had in India so far'. Maybe we're all just really hungry!
There are some really beautiful butterflies flitting on the 'beach'. Oskari observes them closely as Marja and I concentrate on 'drying'.
We're back in the boat now. And oh boy, the water is once again, just as cold! We've got the hang of paddling now. The trick is holding the oar correctly and moving in tandem. A raft nearby with 8 on board is doing a poor job of it. They're all over the place. But then there is only one direction you can go - with the current.
The main attraction on this stretch is a grade 4 rapid. Yes, grade 4! We're not afraid anymore - just excited. Just before 'Golf' is a smaller rapid called 'Tee off'. Clever, huh? Apparently some English lady who pioneered rafting in this area years ago kept all these interesting names - and they stuck.
'Golf' is every bit as up, down, round and about, splish-splash-SPLAT as it gets!
We hit the water once more up ahead. As I semi-swim/ float in the glorious, green and gurgling Ganga, it strikes me that this is the first time I have really taken a 'dip' in its holy waters.
Finally, we float to dry land. A wet n wild journey has ended. I have made two new friends and a sackful of memories to draw on in dull and dry times.
The next morning, my muscles ache. But it's a pleasant kind of ache. I am already plotting when, where and how to do this again.
How to: Ideally, you should stay in one of the many camps to get the full 'experience' but even a day trip is good enough, and it's cheaper.
The 18 km stretch from Shivpuri to Rishikesh costs Rs 400 while the 26 km stretch from Marine Drive is Rs 600 wonly. Both options include to and fro transport from Rishikesh, the second option also throws in a hearty lunch.
Money well spent! We rafted with Vagabond Adventures - and were quite satisfied.
Credits: All pics except the first one taken by me. That one's from www.lasource.f9.co.uk