River rafting is undoubtedly one of the most enthralling and physically demanding adventure sports in the world. The adrenaline rush and the excitement experienced while riding and tumbling down the white waters of fast flowing rivers across boulder strewn beds is simply unmatched by any other sport. In fact, India is the go-to destination for river rafting, owing to the powerful rivers that offer `raft-worthy’ rapids, like Teesta, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Zanskar and Indus, gushing down from the enormous heights of the Himalayas across suspended gorges and high cliffs, bordered by plush greenery.
The ideal destinations to enjoy river rafting in India are the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Karnataka and Maharashtra. They are easily accessible, have scenic locale and varied levels of rapids to choose from, according to level of expertise and skill of non- swimmers, first timers and serious adventure enthusiasts.
On the basis of difficulty in white water rafting, the rivers are graded on five grades, ranging from easy and simple to extremely dangerous.
• Grade 1 (Skill required-Very basic): Smooth water with little current.
• Grade 2 (Skill required-Basic paddling skills): Small rapids with bubbling current, rough water and maybe few rocks.
• Grade 3 (Skill required-Experienced paddling skills): Small waves with a small drop that’s not dangerous. It is exciting and technical and therefore calls for a professional guide.
• Grade 4 (Skill required-Whitewater rafting experience): Big rapids with medium waves, maybe a few rocks and a considerable drop.
• Grade 5 (Skill required-Advanced whitewater rafting experience): Large waves with large volume and possibility of huge rocks, a large drop and hazards.
So this summer, pack your bags for a rafting trip, camp under the skies illuminated by the lanterns and get ready for an experience of a lifetime. Some of the popular places for River Rafting in India are:
Rishikesh, world-renowned as the River Rafting Capital of India, offers some of the most sought after rafting tours. There are mainly four starting points for rafting in Rishikesh, namely Kaudiyala(35km, 5hrs), Shivpuri (16km, 3hrs), Marine drive (27km, 4hrs), and Brahmapuri (9km, 2hrs).The 16 km stretch from Shivpuri to Lakshman Jhula, rich with whirlpools, on the Ganges River at Rishikesh is acclaimed as one of India’s most popular stretches for white water rafting. In fact, with about 13 curiously named rapids like the Roller Coaster, Return to Sender, Three Blind Mice, Tee Off, Double Trouble and Golf Course, ranging from grade 1 to grade 4, along this stretch, it is a perfect escapade for amateur rafters as well as the hardened veterans. In the grade 4 rapids, the currents are so powerful that once you are in the water, you get sucked in instantly for over a couple of seconds and only expert maneuvering and firm rafting can save the day.
Being the nearest river rafting destination to Delhi, about 225 kms away, Rishikesh lures in many tourists every year looking to beat the summer heat and engage in adventure sports. It is well connected via road to most of northern India with regular bus service to Rishikesh from Haridwar, Delhi and Dehradun; the nearest airport is at Dehradun while the closest railway station is at Haridwar. Once you are at Rishikesh, hire a cab to reach the river camp and if possible, hire the cab for your complete stay, so you can explore the famous religious hotspots in the vicinity like Haridwar.
The best time to go to Rishikesh is between September and June, when you can enjoy rafting along with the cool and serene white sand beaches set against the picturesque Kumaon Mountains. You can camp along the river banks at night and battle the rapids during the day to have an intense experience at Rishikesh.
Zanskar, Ladakh Region
Rafting on Zanskar River, arisen from the confluence of the Tsarap and Stod Rivers near the border of Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh, is one of the world’s most exotic rafting expeditions. While rafting down the Zanskar in Ladakh, enthrall witnessing the unparalleled beauty of the region; discover the spectacular landscape with hillside villages, hilltop monasteries, lofty snow-capped peaks, deep gorges and glimpses of the exceptional wildlife.
The Padum–Nimmu run, with grade 3 and 4 rapids in between, is a popular run on the Zanskar, suitable only for the fairly experienced white water rafters as it is a 10 to 14 days trip that involves camping out in the wild. In fact, Padum (approx. 12,000 ft) is the highest rafting location in the world, from where the river traverses through the deep gorges and flows across coarse hostile terrain of Ladakh, world’s one of the sparsely inhabited and remotest regions. The sheer walls of the deep gorges, found on the way, rise thousands of feet above the river bed and are renowned as the 'Grand Canyon' of Asia.
The Phey–Nimmu run, situated about 36 km from Leh at the confluence of the Indus and the Zanskar Rivers, with mostly grade 2 and 3 rapids is an easy run that begins at Phey and terminates at Nimmu. In this run, you will witness some amazingly beautiful mountains, most of them housing magnificent old monasteries and small villages nestling amongst the valleys.
You can reach Leh via direct flight from Delhi and from there you can reach Kargil by cab or local bus. Regular buses run between Kargil and Padum every alternate day between July and October. The ideal months to go river rafting in Zanskar are July- August, as the River freezes in winters. Even in July- August, the river water is extremely cold (about 7 degrees Celsius), and therefore cold water gear is compulsory for rafting.
Teesta River, Sikkim and Darjeeling
Sikkim, Darjeeling and Kalimpong Hill Region’s main river, Teesta that arises at Cho Lhamu Lake and flows down the mountains, creates bubbling white rapids, literally custom-made for rafting or kayaking. Even though this river isn’t much developed, it is swiftly earning a reputation for being one of the world’s finest white water rafting stretches as one can witness some of the most scenic riverside landscapes in the Himalayan region along this passage.
The enchanting freezing waters of the rugged Teesta River have grade 3 and 4 rapids with varying character and intensity that invite the go-getting adventurers, who are experienced rafters, to have the spine chilling river rafting experience. However, the first timers or amateurs can raft half a day over the low waters and enjoy the picturesque beauty of north east India. The shortest run on the Teesta is between Makha and Rongpo, a trip of just two and a half hours; and amongst the longer and more demanding runs on the river are the stretches between Dikchu and Teesta Bridge and between Bordang and Melli.
One of Teesta’s tributary, the tumultuous Rangit, with its multi-dimensional thundering rapids ranging from Grade 1-4, offers a challenge to even the most expert rafters. The river rages over crags and rocks, frothing and churning its way down to the plains, winding through deep and dense forests interspersed with small villages or terraced cultivation on the way.
You can reach Teesta River by taking a cab from Gangtok. To reach Gangtok, either you fly to the nearest Bagdogra Airport or take a train to the nearest railhead at New Jalpaiguri in Siliguri from major cities in India like Delhi and Kolkata; and from there hire a cab till Gangtok. The ideal time for river rafting in Teesta is during the winter months, from October to April, when you can camp on the stretching white sandy beaches.
Brahmaputra River, Arunachal Pradesh
Brahmaputra River, both ferocious and mystifying, cuts the Greater Himalayas, gushes down at great speed into the Tibet region, forms dangerous gorges and deep trenches along the way and reaches Arunachal Pradesh. The incredible 13 to 18 days long river rafting expedition initiates at Tuting and finally ends after 180 kms of rafting in the placid waters of Pasighat.
Rafting on the Brahmaputra River is enormously challenging and only if you are an expert rafter, can you raft on its grade 3-5 rapids like the Roaring Rikor, Zebra Rock, Moying Madness, Toothfairy and the Pulsating Pulsi. While rafting on the Brahmaputra run, you will come across some amazing gorges, dense tropical forests and remote hill sides; and witness a distinct rich culture of tribal settlements. You will also get to see Ganges river dolphins, rare Siberian migratory birds, some unparalleled locations and remarkable sceneries along the way.
To reach the northern Brahmaputra, you will first have to reach Dibrugarh via flight or train from any major city and then you will have to take a ferry from Dibrugarh to Pasighat. From there you will have to hire a cab and drive up to Tuting. The ideal rafting season for Brahmaputra is between November and March.
Dandeli, around 125 km from Goa, home to the majestic Kali River, is a popular rafting destination in Karnataka. The swift Kali River with rapids graded between 2 and 3, positioned on the margins of Goa and Maharashtra, serves as a splendid white water rafting site for beginners (9 km run) as well as experienced rafting enthusiasts (14 km run). Being positioned around 1,800 feet above sea level, bordered by lush tropical rain forests; the area receives rainfall almost throughout the year and thus has a superb climate all year round that attracts tourists in large numbers.
Of all the rapids located at river Kali, the first two rapids are the most crucial ones, respectively named as Adi’s Beard and The Stitch. The other rapids are named as the Stanley’s Squeeze, the Smugglers’ Trove, etc. Besides rafting, you can enjoy Overnight Camping, Rappelling, Bird sighting, and Jungle Safari in the Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary.
You can reach Dandeli via rail or road from Bangalore (470 km) and Pune (465 km) easily, and if you want to travel by airplane then the nearest airport available is in Goa. The ideal season for rafting in the Kali is from October to May, when the periodic water release from the Supa dam occurs.
Kolad, home to the fastest river in West India, Kundalika has an exceptional 13 km stretch with rapids ranging from Grade 2 to 4 making it the perfect destination for the thrill seeking rafters. Set against the splendid Western Ghats and nestled in the virgin forests below the Bhira and Mulshi Dams, the Kundalika white water rafting site is an idyllic place to start your rafting trip.
Kolad, being at a distance of 100km from Pune and 120km from Mumbai, is an ideal weekend getaway destination for denizens of Pune and Mumbai. For others, Kolad is easily accessible from the major cities of the country via train; if you want to travel via bus then the closest bus stand is Murud and if you want to fly here then the nearest airport is Lohegaon Airport in Pune.
The ideal time for rafting on Kundalika is from June to January, the monsoon season as the water levels are high. Rafting here also depends on the periodic water release from the Mulshi Dam. Apart from river rafting, you can also engage in rock climbing, river rappelling, parasailing and kayaking. You can also visit other attractions in the vicinity like Tamhini Falls, Ghosala Fort, Kuda Caves, Tala Fort, etc.
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