It was turning out to be a cloudy day. The sun had evaded us this morning. Clouds slowly began to overpower the blue sky. It was not long until we began to hear the roaring of thunder that seemed to have attacked the great Sivaliks, of the outer Himalayas. The mountains were hidden behind a curtain of clouds and moisture. A storm was coming! And how desperately we were welcoming it, with the unusual heat we were faced with the last couple of days. “It is going to rain!” many of the rafters exclaimed. Some even displayed their dancing skills for a brief moment, egging the heavens to display their wrath with a version of a rain dance. It was not long before the wind hit us in the valley. The sandy beaches of the mighty Kali River began to rise. The fine silver sand particles had taken over the atmosphere providing us brief visuals of a sand storm that you might find in the deserts. The Kali River had instantly changed color, from its blueish grey to a tinge of brown. 

While we welcomed the change in weather, it created a problem to the logistics. We must complete the packing and securing of the luggage and supplies to the raft before it started to pour. As the supplies were secured, the kayakers began gearing up for the final stretch on the river. While I kitted up, I could not help but remember the faint halo that we witnessed around the moon the night before. Ancient folklore believed such a phenomenon to be a warning of bad weather. In fact, such a notion is corroborated by science and it appears to be further supported by what we witnessed that day. Soon we were on the river, on our rafts and kayaks, ready to tackle a few more fearsome rapids of the great Kali River. As I peeled out into the main current, I felt the force of the river once again as I have been the last couple of days, something I seem to have gotten relatively used to. But then the upcoming rapid seemed to have gotten some of us of guard. As the first few waves hit me, I realized that I was far too right from where I should have been and before I knew it I entered a hydraulic system known as a hole and was flipped over…  

4 Days Earlier

We arrived in Delhi at night and rushed to the railway station to catch our train to Kathgodam, where the entire group were to assemble. After a night’s journey on the train, the group was ready to embark on another leg of travel to the river, by road. Mind you, the car ride is not for the faint hearted. With windy roads for 7 hours straight, it required great self-control by some of us not get sick. However, the scenery of the drive made up for all the discomfort. With the beautiful greenery of the Kumaon region, a sight of the mighty Himalayan peaks, the picturesque visuals were mesmerizing. The end of the road trip got us all the way down the valley and to the confluence of two beautiful rivers, the Saryu and the Kali, which would be our first camp site of the trip. After a brief set of instructions on the trip, we had the time to ourselves to just relax and take in our surroundings. Interestingly, the River Kali acts as the natural border between India and Nepal, making Nepal a stone’s throw away on the opposite side of the banks, for the entirety of the trip. 

Beautiful Campsite, located at the confluence of the Rivers Sarayu and Kali./ Photo Courtesy: Expeditions India

Beautiful Campsite, located at the confluence of the Rivers Sarayu and Kali./ Photo Courtesy: Expeditions India

The next day would begin our 75 kilometer expedition on the river. The rafters had their briefing while the kayakers warmed up, ironically getting used to the glacial cold water. Soon the group was ready to go. We were greeted right away with a good rapid with big waves, truly giving us a feel to the sheer strength of the river. With big strong eddies and eddy lines, the challenge to paddle downstream was great. As we made our way down, there were two great rapids that greeted us for the day, one known as the Dimber Ghat and the other as the Creek rapid. These Class 3 rapids were the true challenging moments of the day. However everyone paddled greatly and a great incident and rapid run to look back to. Our progress down the river was marred slightly with a smoky setting, inhibiting the sun to pass through, ensuring the top of the mountains were hidden. This somewhat odd setting resulted in us to believe that the forests were under attack by fires that has widely spread throughout the landscape. Various blackened portions supported the claim. Once we reached our next camp site, on top of a beautiful sand bar over- looking Nepal, we witnessed the forest fires more intimately. A portion of the mountain above us appeared to be blazing. Everyone looked on in saddened wonder, reflecting on the injustice our actions as a human race have on our lovely forests that are more important than ever. We were resigned to the fact that these fires will be overshadowing our trip, emotionally as well. However, a tasty dinner lightened the mood along with a memorable camp out that produced moments of unique nature.

Riding the waves with an AlPacka Raft.

Riding the waves with an AlPacka Raft.

The following day was special. This river stretch houses two of the most famous rapids on the River Kali, Chuka and Doh Chuka. The beginning portion of the day was relatively calm with easy rapids and beautiful scenery. As mid-day approached, it was time to tackle the infamous Chukas. We got out of our boats to do a quick scout of the rapids, to understand the line we must take and understand some key information. As we settled the running order of the first rapid, Chuka, we made our descent. The rapid was chaotic to the say the least, with rocks behaving as obstacles. The river turned a sharp left with a good fun ending. Doh Chuka turned out to be even more challenging as the water pushes you towards the right towards a big rock, while your main goal is to paddle away from it throughout the run. The cataraft that carries all supplies for expeditions, was forced to flip with the thunderous flows that were hitting that rock. A wondrous site to see judging the extremely heavy weight that was left to capsized. It certainly added to the nervousness as we hurried down to hit Doh Chuka. However, all kayakers pulled through with flying colors, with the adrenaline sky high. 

The mighty Kali showing these folks a great time. / Photo Courtesy: Expeditions India

The mighty Kali showing these folks a great time. / Photo Courtesy: Expeditions India

A successful run. / Photo Courtesy: Shreyas Panse

A successful run. / Photo Courtesy: Shreyas Panse

With the end of the main event for the day, we reached our new campsite, a massive sand bar overlooking the river making a smooth turn. As the moon began to rise at night, the scenery was palpable. After the hard day’s work, we earned a good meal, some refreshments while making merry. The moon was bright, lighting up our home for the night and the great River Kali as it made its course down with authority. We finally laid down to rest, witnessing the unique phenomenon of a halo around the moon…

I managed to eskimo roll up, slightly dazed. Once I figured out head from tail, I began paddling my way out of the rapid. That seemed quite the dramatic start to the day of paddling. This final stretch that we broke up into two was known to be the most eventful, with a series of rapids. Now that I had a taste of what I should be alert to expect, I needed to be at my best. The first few rapids were enjoyable with some tricky sections. The storm appeared to have been following us as we seemed to just about miss it with every kilometer we paddled. Finally, we hit a single feature rapid which was strong enough to get a better of some of us, which added to the fun and humor. As we progressed down a bit further we noticed a beautiful beach which was by far the most massive one we had encountered. Plans were changed and we decided to camp there for the night, despite of completing half of what was initially planned. The tents were set up as quickly as possible, as the storm had finally caught up to us and was ready to display to us in its entirety. The tarp was erected for the group to huddle together as the heavens split open upon us, finally giving some form of respite to the burning and raging forests. The storm appeared to have cleansed the forest from the heat it faced the last few weeks, bringing out its true vibrant colors. A dramatic roar of thunder blasted over our heads which marked the end of the storm, with the sun slowly appearing behind a cover of clouds in its evening setting. The next day we finished the remaining 10 kilometers towards our takeout that also marked the transition from the mountain to the plains. 

Magnificent scenery./ Photo Courtesy: Expeditions India

Magnificent scenery./ Photo Courtesy: Expeditions India

The expedition provides an experience that cannot possibly be matched by any other, all thanks to fantastic organization and execution of Expeditions India. Their attention to detail to provide the best experience for us river rats is immense and one of a kind. With safety being of utmost priority, Expeditions India are a frontrunner in the business. Over and above the river time a kayaker gets, particularly paddling a new river, it also provides some unique insights on nature itself that is horribly lacking as we live in our own concretized jungles. The process of sensitizing towards our environment is of utmost importance in the world we live in today, which cannot be understood unless you have witnessed and experienced it firsthand. The Kali River, for example, is widely debated to be the new river where a dam will be built, that can jeopardize and destroy a whole ecosystem that the area is revered for. Perhaps, our people do not understand the very magnificence of our nature that must be worshipped, just as we ritualize our offerings to the Gods. A few of us in this expeditions understood the significance, all thanks to the members who organized such an expedition. One can only hope more people believe in such a manner to impact decision making to a level that our broken compass of a society will prevail to point back towards North again. 

Great river, great memories!!

Great river, great memories!!

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