What is River Rafting
Rafting, the high-adrenaline sport of navigating a river in an inflatable raft, involves several levels of difficulty, depending on how choppy the river is. These ‘grades’ of difficulty are arrived at according to the presence of rapids, which evolve due to sudden plunges in the river’s height, and also because of rocks – small or large – that may be lurking in the waters. Rafting is a challenging but tremendously fun activity – just remember to keep the instructor’s safety tips in mind! White-water (rapids) does invoke fear but river-running done properly – under professional guidance, with the right training, using the appropriate equipment, taking all safety precautions, and by following a set of international safety and ecological norms – can be an extremely safe, enjoyable and exciting soft-adventure sport.
The sport’s popularity is probably due to the fact that almost anyone, including non- swimmers and those with no prior experience can, go rafting. All it takes is 15 minutes of instructions and you can have the time of your life – riding the waves, getting splashed and enjoying the peace and tranquillity of the river.
Rafting in India
Boasting world-class rafting potential, cultural and geographical diversity, easy access to most rivers, a host of international-standard river-running outfitters (with state-of- the-art equipment), an ethos steeped in hospitality, and – conveniently – no permit requirements for river running (except in the ‘inner line’, close to the border areas), India is emerging as ‘the river-running destination’ of the world. Rafting is certainly well on its way to becoming the most popular adventure sport in the country, and India a Shangri La for river-runners. With myriad rivers gushing through its heart, unspoilt environs, the riverine flora and fauna and the region’s rich and ancient culture, the Indian Himalayas make up an exciting destination for hard-core rafters. And while commercial rafting has come of age in the country, there are opportunities aplenty for first-timers, from juniors to septuagenarians, to learn and master the skills of ‘river-running’ – 9-year-old schoolchildren and 70-year-olds have rafted down rivers in India.Currently there are over 50 commercial outfitters in India organizing trips ranging from two-hour runs to multiple-day expeditions.
Know more about popular options for River Rafting in India.
It was the “Ocean to Sky” expedition of 1977 – led by Sir Edmund Hillary and organized by Capt. M.S. Kohli – which evoked tremendous interest nationally, and quite a flutter abroad, about the potential of river sports in India. The jet-boat expedition started in the Bay of Bengal, going up the River Ganges and on towards Nandprayag on the River Alaknanda. In 1984, the Uttar Ganga rafting expedition led by Ken Warren and organized by A.C. Kohli, rafted over 300km on the Alaknanda, Bhagirathi and Ganga rivers. This marked the first time that Indians had actively participated in a river-rafting expedition - Shaukat Sikand, Yousuf Zaheer, Akshay Kumar, Pawan Sher Singh and Ajeet Bajaj were part of the first pool of Indian river-runners. Glen Upperman, an American rafter, stayed back after the expedition and trained the first batch of Indian rafters in oar-rafting techniques. The following year, two Canadian rafters, Mark Daniel and Ben Webster, trained Indian rafters in paddle-rafting techniques and kayaking.
The age of river exploration in India took off when local river-runners logged enough experience to join rafting expeditions, including the first descent of the Sutlej from Rampur to Tattapani below Shimla (1985); the first descent of the Teesta in Sikkim and West Bengal (1986); and the first descent of the Sarda in Kumaon, Uttaranchal (1987). The Indian Armed Forces have also played a pivotal role in the development of river- running in India, organizing training courses and leading expeditions. Although many rivers in India have been explored, with some being rafted commercially, this is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.To quote Peter Knowles (chairman, British Canoe Union Expeditions committee), “There is still probably more scope in India for ‘first descents’ and exploratory river-running than in any other Himalayan country.”
Along the entire expanse of the culturally diverse Indian Himalayas – more than 3000km long and between 150km and 300km wide – there are rivers still awaiting descent. Furthermore, there’s tremendous scope for river exploration in the states of the northeast and in South India.
Rafts are inflatable boats made out of either multi-layered synthetic rubber (Hypalon) or vinyl fabric (PVC). They measure anywhere between 3.5m (11ft) and 6m (20ft) in length, and 1.8m (6ft) and 2.5m (8ft) in width, and are exceedingly durable.Rafting destinations in IndiaNature has been generous to India as far as rivers are concerned. The four most popular commercial rafting rivers are the Ganges, Beas, Indus and Teesta. Uttaranchal in the north is home to many world-class white-water rivers, with easy access from Delhi.
Till date, river running has been concentrated mainly along the River Ganges in the Rishikesh-Devprayag area, but the Bhagirathi, Alaknanda and Mandakini rivers are also very much on the tourist map when it comes to rafting and kayaking.A number of other rivers in Uttaranchal – among them Tons, Yamuna, Ramganga, Kali Sarda and Saryu – have been explored and all offer excellent potential for river-running. And there are still a number of rivers, such as the Bhilangana, which, excitingly, remain to be explored.In Jammu and Kashmir, the most popular river for rafting is the Indus, in the Ladakh region, though an expedition on the Zanskar – highly recommended – is regarded as one of the best wilderness river runs in India. And with a number of riverine systems crisscrossing the entire state,Himachal Pradesh is a year-round river-running destination.
Most of the rivers in South India remain unexplored for their white-water promise, though a few like the Kaveri have been reconnoitred and certain sections found suitable for river-running. And unlike the north, rivers here are better preserved and not overexploited.
Know more about popular options for River Rafting in Rishikesh.
Uttaranchal: Ganges, Alaknanda, Bhagirathi, Yamuna, Tons, Kali Sarda (Mahakali),Pindar, Ramganga, Goriganga, Saryu, Mandakini
Jammu and Kashmir: Chenab, Lidder, Sindh (Kashmir); Indus, Zanskar, Tsarap, Doda,Suru, Dras, Nubra, Shyok (Ladakh)
Himachal Pradesh: Beas, Sutlej, Ravi, Chandra, Spiti
Sikkim / West Bengal: Teesta, Rangit, Lachen Chu
Arunachal Pradesh: Siang (Brahmaputra), Subansiri, LohitSouthKarnataka: Kaveri, Kali, Sita, Varahi
Grading system for rapids
Rapids are graded on an international scale from I to VI progressively increasing in difficulty and danger. The size and type of waves, the hazards, remoteness, water temperature and nature of river (continuous rapids or a calm section between the rapids), the geographical terrain (a stretch of gorge or flat, open country) all go into deciding the grade of a rapid. The overall grade of a river depends on the hardest rapid on that river.
Grade I: Fast flowing water with small waves / ripples
Grade II: Easy
Grade III: Difficult
Grade IV: Very difficult
Grade V: Extreme, should be attempted by an experienced team only, danger to life and limb
Grade VI: Impossible to negotiate, suicidal.
Basic to medium swimming skills are required for Grades I to III, while a decent experience of white-water rafting is necessary for Grades IV and VI.
You are likely to have a few concerns before you hit the river for the first time and justifiably so. Here are certain points to watch out for that will help you have a safe and enjoyable rafting trip.What to watch out for before rafting India has a number of professional international-quality rafting outfits with skilled and safety-conscious guides who can introduce a beginner to the joys of river rafting. So how do you choose the correct one? Before planning your trip, ask the rafting tour operator a few questions:
1. How long has the company had a rafting operation?
2. Talk to people who have been rafting with the company recently.
3. Ask about their guides and their experience. If you can talk to the guides themselves, you can figure out whether they are well trained, informed, can communicate well and whether they are safety-conscious professionals.
4. Life jackets: According to statistics, eighty per cent of accidents in river rafting happen either because of not wearing life jackets, not wearing life jackets properly (zipper done up and buckles fastened securely) or not wearing proper life jackets.The life jackets must have adequate buoyancy (minimum of 6kg, preferably 9-10kg), must be of a proper type (U.S. Coast Guard Type-III or V) with the provision of ensuring a snug fit by means of straps etc., and must be worn correctly. Inflatable life jackets and ‘keyhole’ type jackets are not suitable for white-water rafting. Guides must ensure that life jackets are fitted ‘snugly’ before the trip starts and above all major drops.
5. Helmets are mandatory on all rapids and it is recommended that helmets be kept on throughout the trip. The helmet should be properly strapped – when you slide a finger between the strap and your chin it should feel snug.
6. If possible take a look at the rafts and the river equipment. Torn life jackets, helmets with broken straps and highly patched and leaky rafts do not inspire confidence.
7. Are the guides qualified in basic first aid and CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation)?
8. Ask if the company carries a first-aid, emergency-repair kit on the river, and if all rafts have rescue throw bags. All rafting trips must carry a well-equipped repair kit containing repair material, glue / accelerator, sandpaper or roughing tool and waterproof repair tape / duck-tape. Oar rafts must carry at least one spare oar / spare oarlock. All rafts must have a safety line going all around the raft, a bow-line and preferably a stern-line as well. All rafts must have a throw bag, and non-self-bailing rafts must have a bailing bucket (two are recommended).
9. Some of the worst international accidents have happened when there has been only one raft on the river. As per rules of the Indian Association of Professional Rafting Outfitters, if you are on a section of the river which is grade III (difficult with big waves requiring maneuvering the raft through boulders/obstacles, slightly remote and/or away from the road), do ensure that the company you are going with uses a minimum of two craft, i.e. two rafts or a raft and a safety kayak. The two-craft rule can be relaxed for easy float trip sections (Grade-I to Grade-II) close to a road.
10. Do insist on a safety briefing before you start the rafting trip. The guide/trip leader must give a thorough safety briefing covering all pertinent details for that particular trip.
11. Ensure that non-swimmers are not allowed to body-surf.
12. Ensure that trips are timed to finish at least an hour before dark.
What to watch out for while rafting
1. Always wear your life jacket while on the river. The life jacket should fit snugly. Do always check with your guide before you remove your life jacket even on a calm section.
2. Helmets are more to protect you from the paddles of your enthusiastic rafting companions, and the oars/frame on a raft (in case of a flip on an oar rig), and very rarely as protection against the rocks on a river.
3. Even if you go only to look at a rapid, keep your life jacket and helmet on. It is all too easy to slip into the rapid. Even if you fall while scrambling on the rocks above the rapid, your safety gear will protect you.
4. Do not tie/wrap any rope around your wrists, arms, legs or neck! This can be dangerous in case of a flip, or if you fall out.
5. Do not place your feet in the safety line outside the raft while paddling. You are likely to get hurt in case you hit a boulder.
6. In case the raft is about to hit a boulder, do not try and stop the two-ton momentum of the raft with your lightweight paddle, foot or hands – you are likely to get hurt. Let the raft bounce off the rocks – it is a lot easier (and cheaper too!) to repair rafts!
7. Do stop water fights and other fun activities above rapids and let your guide concentrate on his line above the bigger rapids. Do ensure that your personal safety gear – lifejackets and helmets – fit snugly and that your feet are well braced-in under the tubes or in foot cups, above a big rapid.
8. Body-surfing is trying to negotiate a rapid without a raft. You are allowed to do this only on easy rapids and on sections with not too many rocks. Once you get comfortable doing it, body-surfing is a whole lot of fun. Once in the water, lie down on your back with your feet pointed downstream, your toes just sticking out of the water. A few tips to remember:a. Do not jump out till you have permission from your river guide.b. Not all rapids are safe for body-surfing and if you do jump out without permission remember you may well be walking ‘funny’ for a few days!c. Never dive into the river from the raft. Always go in feet first since there can be rocks below the surface that are not visible.d. Breathe as you go down a wave and stop breathing as you are going up and under the wave.e. You can gently push up with your hands as you go up the crest of the wave – this allows you to gasp for breath a fraction longer!f. Body-surfing rapids is not recommended for non-swimmers.
9. If you do fall off a raft and are forced to body-surf, do remember the following:
a. Do not panic – relax.
b. As soon as you fall off the raft, your life jacket will immediately bring you to the surface.
c. There is a ninety per cent possibility that you will surface right next to the raft. Grab hold of the raft. Remember the raft is your biggest life jacket on the river.
d. If you are close to the raft (a metre or two away) and a swimmer, swim to the raft
e. If you are away from the raft, adopt the white-water position (also referred to as the white-water missionary position!): lie on your back with your feet pointed downstream.
f. Do not try and stand up in a rapid since this can lead to a foot entrapment in a rock or other obstacles underwater.
g. Hold on to your paddle. You will be fairly useless without your paddle in the raft and your team is likely to throw you back into the river if you come back in without your paddle! You can use your paddle to extend your reach and get help. Always give the grip end of the paddle to someone trying to help you, or someone you are trying to help.
h. Listen to your guide, even though it may be contrary to your instinct. If your guide points in any direction, swim in that direction. Your guides always point towards safety.
i. Watch out for the rescue throw bag your guide is likely to throw at you. Grab hold of the rope sticking out of the bag and not the bag itself. Do not wrap the rope around your wrist or neck. Put it over your shoulder with your face pointing away from the direction you are being pulled since this creates an air pocket (this will be explained to you before you go rafting during the safety briefing), and get pulled back into the raft.
j. If any of your fellow rafters have fallen off the raft, pull them back into the raft from the top of their life jackets (shoulder section) only.
k. Smile. The most important thing to do on a river – enjoy yourself!
What to watch out for after rafting
There have been a number of fatal accidents in India involving swimmers camping after a rafting trip. A few dos and don’ts for swimming in the river:
1. Never go out swimming alone in the river – always take a companion along.
2. Inform your guide and swim in sight of your camp.
3. Even if you are a swimming champion and a budding Mark Spitz, DO NOT swim in the river without a trained lifeguard watching over you.
4. If you’re swimming in the river, always keep a life jacket on. There can be cross currents, and since most rafting rivers in India are cold glacial melt rivers, you can easily get tired or even get cramp.
5. Do not swim in the river immediately after a meal
6. Never go out for a swim after drinking alcohol.
7. Do not go for a swim after dark.
8. Be especially careful in large/mixed groups since high testosterone levels in some males can instantly make them strong swimmers – even if they are weak swimmers (and sometimes even non-swimmers!).
If you have a previous medical condition, mention them to the instructor, and do remember to carry the necessary prescribed medication.
Rivers are worshiped as goddesses in India and are considered worthy of respect. All rafters have a responsibility to preserve the river environment, an environment that is beautiful but also fragile.As a rule, do whatever it takes to leave a positive impact on the river environment. Do leave the beaches cleaner than you find them. A beach sweep, where all rafters line up and sweep the beach for any litter before you get on the river, is always a positive move.If you see any floating plastic bottles etc. on the river, do take the trouble to fish them out and dispose of them sensibly.
A to Z of Rafting
White water: Turbulent or frothy water, as in rapids or surf.
Rapids: An extremely fast-moving part of a river, caused by a steep descent or a rock in the riverbed. Often used in the plural.
Put in: The point where the rafts are put into the river for starting the rafting trip.
Take out: The point where rafts are taken out after rafting.
Eddies: Small whirlpools.
Body-surfing: Riding a river rapid with just a life jacket on.
Wet suits: A protective garment used for water-sports. These suits help preserve body heat by trapping a layer of water against the skin; this water is consequently warmed by body heat and acts as an insulator.
Oar rafting: In an oar raft, a metal frame is strapped on to the raft and the guide sits on a seat in the middle. An oar/paddle combination works well on some rivers where the guide still has control and maneuverability and is assisted by paddle power.
Paddle rafting: Paddle rafting is more active and participative than oar rafting. In a paddle raft, all rafters paddle to the command of the guide while in an oar raft, the guide does all the work – the crew helps out by bailing water (in a non-self-bailing raft) and by high siding (a technique for weighing down the high side of a raft in big waves)
Punter: An inexperienced rafter