White water rafting on the Ganges in Rishikesh — where spirituality meets adventure meets nature’s bounty
“All jour-neys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware.” This seemingly straightforward quote especially rings true in reference to adventure travel, an increasingly popular trend for vacationers all over the world. For those bravehearts who are addicted to the adrenaline rush, and even for those who have never dared to try, river rafting is a great place to start. One Google search will scroll down a handful of options to pick, but for a rustic yet safe experience, I chose Rishikesh, just 250 km from New Delhi, located in the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India.
Known as The Gateway to the Himalayas, with the sacred river Ganges flowing by, Rishikesh, traditionally, has been the home for prayer, meditation, yoga and therapy. Filled with long matted-haired sadhus (holy men), Rishikesh attracts thousands of tourists every year who come to seek peace of mind in the midst of life’s rat race; and now more so, with the birth of a new therapy: adventure sports.
Blessed with rapidly-flowing rivers originating from some of the high-altitude Himalayan glaciers, Rishikesh has found its dot on the map for being one of the safest and finest white water rafting destinations in Asia.
The ideal months for rafting are September to November and March to May, though some may enjoy the chill of January and February. Your adventure begins when you book your tickets to New Delhi, from where the road, rail or an airplane ride will get you to Dehra Dun. I opted for a train journey; from the station, waiting coaches take you directly to the clean, white sand beach of Leopard Beach Tented Camp situated 16 km upstream of Rishikesh.
Military green safari tents are your home for the next 3-4 days. Peep inside the snug tent and you see two cots and some lanterns. Look outside and bingo! You are standing at the foothills of the Himalayas, with the flowing Ganga, surrounded by a thick Sal forest. As you absorb the magnitude of nature’s bounty, the experts seat you down in cane chairs for a detailed rafting and safety briefing.
In the morning, all signs of grogginess vanish as the briefing session thickens. More details, more instructions, more safety rules and hopefully some will be remembered when one battles it out with the playful Ganges.
Each aspirant is given a bright red lifejacket, a helmet and some more instructions for the actual rafting itself. This is where they tell you how to hold the paddle and the right way of doing it, how to move forward, backwards and when to duck. The guy from the back of the seemingly capacious raft shouts out the commands and the ever-obliging rafters must follow in sync. The first-timers get the easy rapids to warm up their muscles, while the connoisseurs thrill themselves with the big, wild-spirited ones.
The Ganges gorge gives rise to 13 adventure-packed white water rapids, classified into different grades according to the International Scale of River Difficulty. “Good morning/afternoon” and “Return to Sender” offer a clear rafting passage, and are devoid of any serious obstacles. “Roller Coaster” and “Golf Course” are Grade 3 rapids, which come with a few obstacles including multiple high, irregular waves and rocks.
The buzz of approaching the rapid is something like approaching a lion’s den, you tread nervously till you hear a giant roar and then there’s no turning back. You have to face your biggest fears, and the feeling gets washed away into a sense of achievement and euphoria, once you have crossed the troubled waters. It’s at this point that you fall in love with the water and the spirit of adventure; you become one with nature.
Towards the end of the trip, we were given the option of jumping off a ledge into the water. What seemed like “so-not-my-thing” for many of us in the camp now became a thing that we had to do before leaving. You stand at the ledge, some 20 feet above the glorious, glistening Ganges, and with the silent support of the forest trees, you raise your hands into the blue skies and take that healing, miraculous, life-changing leap of faith.