Read Part 1 here
Read Part 2 here
I didn’t tell you how this trip materialized in the first place.
At the end of every calendar year in my company, we spend shit loads of money, gather colleagues from different parts of the world, meet up in an exotic place of our choice, go over the same PowerPoint presentation which he had already seen a dozen times before, go for a walk the next day, sit around a fire in the evening, make merry, bitch about teammates who are not there, next day conveniently conclude that it is money well spent, go our separate ways and repeat the process next year. We officially call this yearly trip, ‘Away Day’ and this year that meeting place, the Away Day, is at Pokhara in Nepal.
For a select bunch of crazy men from the Bangalore wing of the team – which includes me in it – these trips are always rather useful. We add a private extension to it by pushing the return flight date and engage in some mind-bending activities. When you are in a country like Nepal, what best extension plan can you make other than trekking? So, the bunch decides to trek to the base camp of Annapurna – the best choice from our base location of Pokhara. The bunch later dwindles down to just 4 members because trekking is not everyone’s cup of coffee.
The best ‘extension trip’ we did so far was last year’s river rafting in Rishikesh. It turned out to be some adventure.
Until we arrive in the folding hills of Uttarakhand’s Garhwal region, only three from the entire bunch (10 teammates), had opted for the longest rafting stretch available which is 24km because the even longer 36 Km stretch is now banned after two deaths the previous year. But as we pass through the main town of Rishikesh, we begin to feel maybe rafting after all isn’t a big deal. Every other petty shop in vicinity offers rafting trips and advertising hoardings are on your face mocking you – hey everybody here does it, so why can’t you?
Soon the mighty Ganges starts to present herself in glimpses here and there on the way, in turquoise color snaking her way through the valley bed a few hundred feet below the road.
The hell with it, we are going to do it, we decide. And, 24 hours later, we split up into two groups, push our rafts into the water and start our Life Mein Ek Bar trip – all first-time rafters – from Marine Drive point down the holy Ganges towards Ram Jula, our finishing point.
There are 14 rapids in that route. We see-saw through a few Grade 2 and 3 rapids without any serious obstacles and approach a rapid called Three Blind Mice. There the river turns to the right and faces a mountain with three cone-shaped rocks resembling the head of a mouse – maybe that’s how the rapid got its name.
It is also a triple rapid – three rapids back to back. In case the raft flips in the first of the three rapids, you are going to get dragged down the next two rapids before any rescue can be done and that experience unless you are a brave heart will spook you out of rafting in your life again.
This rapid is also the first serious or the ‘technical’ one in the route. The waterway is narrow and it needs a bit of technique to navigate the raft out of trouble.
Before we could think of any techniques, we are into the rapid and spinning. The raft takes its own course – veering to the left and then to the right. I row in one direction and the others in another, we spin, we spin and a huge wave throws us over another wave. We land like a plastic ball on the water and bounce our way to the second rapid.
By the time we complete the third rapid, one of us realizes the ultimate objective of his life. “I’m the only son to my parents. I need to be alive for them. I’m going to get down when we stop for the snack break. I would rather walk to Ram Jhula” declares Mr. N in a feverish voice. He is visibly shaken.
Overhearing this, the guide shoots back, “If you are afraid, you should have gone for boating”. In fact, the ‘snack’ stop comes only after all the major rapids.
Near Shivpuri, rapids come thick and fast. Even before the next rapid creeps into our view, it fills our ears with its thunderous roar.
“This is the first major rapid” announces the guide, “it is called the Rollercoaster. It is a dangerous one”. He pauses to heighten the drama and the feeling to sink into us. “I want you to follow my instructions very, very carefully” and goes on to repeat the instruction he gave us at the start of the trip.
I, almost mute all the way, sit with an emotionless stony face. I had left my life to fate a long while ago – precisely when I hit the first rapid.
With serious obstructions like dangerous rocks and boiling eddies, it is really very difficult to explore the passages of the Roller Coaster rapid. The rapid has longer ways with high and irregular waves. Having been assigned the role of the main paddler I’m placed at the front of the raft and what I see makes me shudder. A wall of water stares into my face from ten meters away.
Our raft bobs like a toy as we go over a train of small waves and inch towards the waiting big boy. I sit stone-faced. I’m in fact frozen in fear and probably more frightened than anybody else in the raft.
The raft climbs over a rising wave and tumbles down a rolling rush of water on the other side. The instructor shouts, “now…fast, fast, fast..” The big boy spreads his mighty arms and waits for us to run into his deadly embrace.
Mr. VD, holding the safety rope and sitting in the middle of the raft with the demeanor of a man riding a chariot, seeks divine intervention. “Ganga mata ki jai” he screams in a complex tone of extreme fear and nervous excitement. Moments like this bring out the religious man in you
We smash into the wall and begin to flip.
I hear the guide shouting, “fast, fast, fast” but the last ounce of courage draining out more quickly than I expected, I throw the paddle down and hold the rope that runs along the sides of the raft. The raft hangs in the air vertically for a moment and then regains its poise magically and slips back under us to hold us as we fall. Another wave goes over us, blasting our face, washing us all over and then we emerge out of it, alive.
I cough. In a split second at least two liters of water has got down my mouth. People come from all over the country to drink the holy Ganga water but with me, it is more like Ganga stuffing the water into my mouth and yelling, “you drink this bastard and cleanse yourself from all the sins you ever did in your life”. Oh, yeah, I take it.
We look at each other and laugh in exhilaration.
When you face your fears, most of the time you will discover that it was not really a big threat after all.
“This is not the biggest on this route…there’s Golf Course approaching…the second biggest rapid in the whole of Rishikesh, after The Wall”, warns the guide. The Wall, the biggest is now banned for rafting.
But there’s very little to say.
We lean forward, dig the paddle into the thundering whitewater and push the raft ahead. We say, “Bring it on, man!”