Another View of the Ganga
Six in the morning: we were on our way from Delhi to the Aquaterra camp on the banks of the Ganga, 27 kms from Rishikesh. After several years of e-mails, we were finally meeting Vaibhav Kala, whose passion for rafting and the outdoors led to his starting the outfit. Anvesh, a keen river runner, trekker and adventure junkie and Abhilash, trainee river guide and enthusiastic rock climber, were 2 of the other members of Aquaterra also travelling to the camp.
River Running in A.P.
We reached the camp in time for lunch and a long afternoon basking in the sun by the aquamarine waters of the Ganga. The fine silver sands along the extended river bank are amidst a picturesque setting of some 20-25 2-man tents, in an otherwise uninhabited area. A little way off, a bridge across the Ganga leads to the village of Malakhunti.
At 3 p.m. sharp, the sun slipped quietly behind the mountain and left a discernible chill in the air. We opted to walk across the bridge to the village and paid a visit to the Aap Rupi Mahadeva temple, a small, damp natural cave. A sadhu living nearby claimed it is Sukh Deva's cave, where the son of Vyas had meditated. There was no confirmation of this. We walked along the trail above the river awhile, before returning to the camp to share fireside stories of river running.
Anvesh has an easy friendly manner and can tell tales from start to finish and onto the next one without a breather. Vaibhav has a quiet sense of humour and nothing about him reveals the fact that he is the original wanderlust and adventure lover for whom this is the most natural state of being. Abhilash is a quiet and seemingly determined young outdoor enthusiast. Rana, another river runner and trained climber, whose avowed intention is to summit Everest, sooner rather than later, is the stereotypical image of a river runner, jocular, muscular, chatty.
Aquaterra had recently completed an amazing 55-crew member expedition with 4 rafts, 7 kayaks and a kataraft, on the upper Brahmaputra river, negotiating grade 4 & 5 rapids, which had received an enthusiastic response from the international community of river runners. In the evening, the river-running fraternity from all the nearby camps arrived in full strength for the re-telling of river tales of the Brahmaputra. It was an evening of camaraderie and bonhomie, followed by a hearty dinner, excellently cooked.
In the morning, after breakfast, we received our safety instructions before boarding the raft. Rana was our extremely competent river guide for the day. Anvesh and Abhilash accompanied us on the kataraft, the stable and easily manoeuvrable safety raft. We had been joined by 4 energetic, sporting and enthusiastic Delhi University collegians from different colleges. Also on board was Rathi, a JNU post-grad student, who had taken a year off after graduation to train as a river guide. Rathi, another non-stop talker, with multi-dimensional interests, a self-effacing manner and a healthy sense of humour was a great fellow rafter, who introduced me to the individual highpoints of each rapid.
Sitting in the safe-spot in front, having elected to enjoy the ride rather than paddle furiously, I had the best possible view of the river and the oncoming rapids, with a non-stop commentary from Rathi, who kept me well attuned to what to expect and what to enjoy most about each rapid. It was the most delightful introduction to rafting. Compared to an earlier rafting experience on the Trishuli in Nepal, which had left me shell-shocked and river-shy, this time round, I did not feel a moment of fear, and instead found myself in a situation where I could really enjoy the delights of each rapid, safe in the knowledge that I was with river-running pros who were adept at handling different situations. I was also well aware that the safety equipment and precautions were of internationally accepted quality, something which cannot be taken for granted in rafting trips in these parts of the world.
Roller Coaster, the longest rapid of the day, was a series of grade 3 and 3 plus rapids, Without doubt, Golf Course, another 3 plus, with it's preceding tee-off, 9 holes and the subsequent club house could not have been named more imaginatively. I had to agree with Rathi that it was visually the most spectacular rapid of the day, and the one I enjoyed the most.
I watched several of the team jump in for a dip into the freezing winter waters of the Ganga at different points of the ride. Almost everyone elected to enjoy the rapid, Body Surfing, minus the raft. They all climbed back onto the raft with teeth chattering but richer for the experience.
After three and a half hours of the Ganga, we clambered onto shore and a 25-km ride back to the camp for a well-deserved lunch. The campfire in the evening was accompanied by a barbeque and the sharing of favourite adventure stories and an easy friendly familiarity born of a shared journey, the inevitable fallout of adventure activities. The silver moon, the mist over the surrounding mountains and the sound of the well-loved Ganga were as much a part of the evening as the flames and the smoke of the logfire and the quiet chatter.
Photo Credit: Vaibhav Kala
Editor: Romola Butalia   (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.