Operation Firmstool - India trip!

Inland paddling
Slime
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Post by Slime »

A small group of old river dogs including myself are off out to the same area next week and hoping not to step in Marks stools! I would back up Marks comments about it being a great destination at Easter.

AIRLINES
I think Mark and team were unlucky with Virgin. Gulf Air or Jet Airways both offer 30kg baggage allowance if you book through KE Travel - talk to Linda on 017687 80888 - there are no problems taking kayaks as long as these are within the weight limit. Jet Airways is the best airline I have flown with to India - £450 return approx and a direct flight.

Note that kayaks are availabe for hire in India at usual international rates.

May you always f.w.c.

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Post by Mark R »

Well, that's us done...knocked off our last creek today...we basically picked a random blue line on the map and told our driver to get us there; 'Lucky Dip' boating. The river was the Uhl and it turned out to be fantastic. Initially it looked like a disaster as it was completely dry...another dam.We persisted up the valley however, and found a spectacular Grade 5 section above the dam. We made the same mistake that we've made all through this trip whilst inspecting from the bus..."It looks a bit boney". Thirty minutes after those words have been uttered,we invariably find ourselves getting nailed in munchy holes on ridiculously steep rapids!

Other recent paddles include the Beas River through Manali (very exciting but keep your mouth shut) and the Sainj (depressingly, another valley converted into a dam building site).

Well, I'm ecstatic at surviving a great successful trip which simply wasn't what we expected. Based on previous Himalayan experiences, we all turned up expecting big volume, but we've actually had two weeks of solid creek boating. I'm also ecstatic that - after a couple of wobbly days - I'm back on firm movements...

Tonight we are in the town of Mandi staying in an old Raj Hotel with walls adorned by pictures of Englishmen with improbable moustaches. Brilliant. Tomorrow we have the most dangerous part of the trip, the highway drive back to Delhi airport.




Toodle pip,
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Chris W
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Post by Chris W »

Our hotel is in fact called the 'Raj Mahal'. Good name. I doubt whether it's been decorated since the Raj. I like the guns and swords on the walls.

12 days of quality 4/5 creek boating boating on 10 different rivers within the space of two weeks. What a great trip, and completely and utterly different to our previous trips here.

The boats have taken a beating on and off the river (bouncing over rocks and sliding back and forth on precipitous mountain roads whilst tied on sideways on our very dodgy and narrow roof rack) and yet remarkably only one has split, Mark's boat, which, unbeknown to him, apparently split within minutes of the final take out.

Chris W.

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Post by Mark R »

We are all back (apart from Jay, flying today) in one piece. Virgin put us through the full mangle again at Delhi airport check-in, but relented and let us fly the boats for free literally at the final minute.

Work today (oh joy) then I'll sit down for a few hours this evening with the delete key in hand...lots of illiterate dross seems to have crept in.
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Post by Ricks-Freestyle-Mind »

Oh the big man's back now. I must be careful.

I hope you have lots of pic's that you are going to show off?? Sounds like a great trip.

Welcome home.

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Post by Mark R »

Slime wrote:May you always f.w.c.
fwc???
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Post by waverley610 »

fwc???
Fly without charges?

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Post by ol »

MarkR wrote: fwc???
Forget wistfull chickens?

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Post by Mark R »

Okay...draft trip report summary type thing, while it's all still fresh in my head. The others will tell me if I got anything wrong.


Day 1 - We landed in Delhi at midday and loaded up our pre-arranged minibus. It had a ludicrously small roofrack but we bodged a solution by loading the boats sideways...overhanging either side. This temporary bodge worked really well for the whole trip, thanks to fine work by our driver. We drove 8 hours north to the hill station of Mussourie.

Day 2 - We drove two hours north of Mussourie to the Yamuna River and followed this upstream. On the way we met Indian kayakers Shalabh and Neema, as well as Alice, Shalabh's wife. We launched on the Yamuna near Barkot Bend and paddled about 8 miles to Nowgoan. This river was small, quite boney and not very exciting Grade 3. More water needed, but never destined to be a classic. We stayed in the grim town of Barkot, in the world's grubbiest guest house. Terrible food.

Day 3 - Headed up the Yamuna valley inspecting from the road. We found that the valley seemed to be boulderchoked above Sayana Chatti village and had a massive landslide just below...so we carried in and launched a mile below the village. The result was about 12 miles of quality steep low volume creeking through three successive gorges, Grade 4+ with some 5. The final miles were chossy and unexciting, best place to finish is where the road comes down to the river with two successve bridges at water level. Top notch boating, not sure if it has been done before.

In the evening we crossed to the Tons valley and camped beside the river.

Day 4 - We spent much of this day inspecting the upper Tons valley, whilst faffing and arguing. We looked at the two rivers which join to form the Tons (Hardikun and Supin), both looked hard but feasible, but required lots (days) of inspection before launching as they were in deep gorges. In the end, four of us decided to explore the upper Tons in Govind National Park. We were expecting at least two days of boating and some hard portages around gnarl. We couldn't find anywhere to launch near the confluence, but paid locals to carry our gear down into the gorge (1000 foot?) to where the river leaves a large gravel plain, a couple of miles below. The river there was awful, with a huge rapid dropping about 100 foot through boulder chokes. Looking down the valley, all we could see was landslides which indicated more of the same. We were having second thoughts. However, we paid our porters to carry the boats over a bridge and 200 metres down past the Grade 6 stuff. We kitted up and launched into gnarly grade 5, pulling off some wobbly shoddy lines in loaded boats. To our amazement, after a few rapids the river cleaned up and became blindingly good pushy continuous Grade 4+ with one simple portage. We paddled for 90 minutes, before camping for the night.

Meanwhile the others launched from Netwar, the next bridge down the valley onto the Tons (confluence with the Rupin River), and found two hours of excellent continuous Grade 4 and 4+ with two portages, before the river levelled off a bit.

Day 5 - On the upper Tons, we launched early and powered by mcporridge, headed off. To our amazement, we reached Netwar (the Rupin bridge and confluence) in just half an hour...the whole thing had taken just 2 hours and with hindsight, we didn't need to overnight! We carried on downstream for an hour (section as described above) before meeting the others driving up the valley. The upper Tons may have been a first descent.

With the team back together, we hired jeeps and headed up the new bumpy road beside the Rupin River, 10 km to the end. Only the last few rapids of the Rupin had been paddled. We knew this blue water creek would be special from the drive up, but it exceeded all expectations. Non-stop grade 4+ drops, getting progessively steeper and harder to Grade 5 as the river continued, and one by one team members climbed off! Half of us finished the river, but we all walked about 200 m of runnable but epic Grade 5. This begins with a nasty 3-4 metre waterfall blocked by a rock, probably the only non-nice rapid on the whole river; the amazing thing is how clean and non-gnarly it all is. The river is absolutely exceptional creeking for experienced paddlers, all conveniently roadside incase you change your mind.

At some point a Senior Park Official appeared on the bank and tried to charge us a hefty Environmental Tax for paddling. Shalabh politely sent him packing.

We camped beside the beautiful Tons once more.

Day 6 - We launched onto the Tons at Mori (meaning we missed out a few km of flat(?) and headed downstream. The rafted section was basically flat for c10 km, then the river picked up with plenty of nice long Grade 4 rapids. It took us three hours to float the c20 miles to Tiuni, the confluence with the Pabbar River. The best rapids were just below here, in the 2 km down to Tiuni Bridge.

Next, several of us launched onto the Pabbar River, just below some Grade 6 gnarl at a footbridge (all obvious from the road); we enjoyed several kms of continuous steep Grade 4+ (would be 5 or harder in anything other than low flows) down into the Tons and down to Tiuni Bridge again.

We then drove up the Pabbar valley and hotelled at Reru (sp?). It was clear from the drive that the Pabbar had masses of potential along the valley, worth exploring another time.

Day 7 - We drove over to Rampur, a hot town where the huge Sutlej River leaves a 100 miles long canyon through the main Himalayan Range. We tried and failed to get permits for the 'Inner Line' border area (apparently only available at Rekong Peo) and drove up the gorges.

The Sutlej gorge is awesome, frighteningly deep in places. Unfortunately, two things became clear...firstly, we were a month too late for the water levels, which were too high. Secondly, we were about five years too late for the valley, which had been utterly devastated by numerous hydro developments. 40 km was dry, the rest was mostly an ugly building site.

This day was all spent travelling and inspecting, ending up at a hotel in Rekong Peo, surrounded by massive peaks.

Day 8 - Even if we'd still wanted Inner Line permits, we couldn't have them yet...it was the weekend. We stalled a decision by visiting the nearby Sangla valley to check out the Baspa River. After inspecting along the beautiful valley, we paddled a c10 km section down to the new dam being built. This wasn't great, alternatively too steep or not steep enough. We didn't have enough water to make the non-steep bits good, but any more would have made the steep bits unrunnable. Catch 22.

We stayed in a rather nice hotel past Sangla and soaked up the scenery.

Day 9 - We decided to give the Sutlej a second chance, hoping that the less steep river above Rekong Peo would look more tempting. We drove 10 km up and just found more huge gnarl. Disappointing! The unanimous decision was made to leave the valley. We drove down to Rampur, and by coincidence met some hardcore-looking Russians heading up to paddle the Sutlej. We don't know yet if they did, but we did hear a story that they were back in Rishikesh (a long way south) four days later...?

We travelled north towards the Kullu region, camping on the road towards the Jejora Pass. It pissed down with rain and we enjoyed a night of bivvying in a lightning storm, cool.

Day 10 - We crossed the Jejora Pass (over 10000 feet) and on the way downhill from the snowcapped summit, the minibus had a few wobbly hours as the brakes had melted. Eventually we reached the Tirthan River, a trib of the Beas River. We drove upstream of the town (begins with a B?) where the road first hits the river, and paddled several miles of gnarly stuff with portages. I was utterly useless on this section, and head-ruddered most rapids. Below the town, the river was then too easy, becoming pretty dull eventually. Just as we dozed off, we reached a recent rockfall and had a long crappy portage...McDoom got a bit shredded when he fell onto some rocks. The river then joined the Sainj River (in spate due to the rain) and shortly after, the huge Beas River, where a massive new dam squatted across our path.

We headed north and hotelled in the large town of Kullu, alongside the Beas River.

Day 11 - We drove up the Parvati River, another trib of the Beas. It looked great, blue water with peaks behind. We launched just below the Sikh shrine at Manikaran, avoiding an evil gorge...however, we found ourselves portaging a nasty grade 6 boulder choke which you can't see from the road..launch a mile further down than seems good! The Parvati was continuous Grade 4 boulder gardens, superb quality at the grade although a step down in difficulty from much of the stuff we'd been doing. A few of us convinced ourselves we could do the whole river (28 miles) in the one day, despite having launched at 2 pm...however our 'straightline' mission was thwarted when we reached an ominous horizonline above a big Grade 5 rapid, signalling a complete change in the river. Being unusually sensible, we decided not to enter this gorge with 45 minutes of daylight left and carried out up a convenient path to the road.

We stayed in Manikaran, which was a great bit of tourism - hot springs, temples, chicken pakora.

Day 12 - After a bit of sightseeing around Manikaran, we drove down the valley and first checked out a side trib, the Malana. We bluffed past some checkpoints (there is a dam project up the valley somewhere) and headed up this valey. We were amazed when a huge eagle passed right infront of the windscreen! We found that the river was outrageously steep and in a deeep gorge. However, about 5 yards of the river looked good to go just before it joined the Parvati, so we decided to run that, just to save face. At this point some army officers turned up in a jeep and ordered us to leave the valley, pronto...so we have an excuse not to have paddled the very scary looking Malana.

Back on the Parvati, we launched about an hour upstream of where we'd finished the night before, assuming there was only a few miles left (very wrong). We paddled down to the Grade 5, did it, and then found we had to portgae a big boulder choke, tedious...with hindsight, it would be better to launch half a mile below. The rest of the Parvati was as excellent as the day before, more spaced apart rapids but generally harder (4+). Without a doubt, it is among the best grade 4 rivers we've ever done, beats the Swiss Inn, middle Guil, Marsyangdi, etc. which all have similar character.

Eventually we hit the Beas, with stinky beaches and ugly development. Yuk. We then headed up the Beas valley to Manali - tourist town and flash hotel!

Day 13 - Most of this day was spent faffing, based on the principle that no one wanted to paddle the Beas through Manali, for fear of catching Cholera (or similar). We inspected the Beas up the valley near the ski resort (suicidal) and also a trib about 20 km downstream (too low), before eventually resigning ourselves to the Beas at Manali. It looked boney and crappy from the road. We never learn, it was actually powerful, steep, very exciting indeed...whatever biological nasties were in the water were forgotten as Personal Survival took precedent! I reckoned Grade 5 above the town bridge (not everyone concurred) and grade 4+ below. We paddled for about 10 km below Manali, until it started levelling off. Great paddling.

We then had to go to the mission hosptial in Manali; a dog had mildly gnawed on Kevin, so we had to check that he didn't have rabies. We then went back down the valley to Kullu and hotelled there again

Day 14 - We headed back down to the Sainj, which joins the Beas alongside the Tirthan. Sadly this river was a mess; big dam works are underway, and the valley is choked by dust from endless trucks and blasting. Local officials tried to stop us going up the valley past Sainj town; money changed hands to get around this. We launched above Sainj, unsure whether we'd got the correct blasting times or not(!) and the river was steep 4+ down to Sainj, and then slackened right off. The final couple of miles were thankfully very good steep paddling; this section begins with a portage along the road (you'll spot the portage, alright) and includes some great falls up to Grade 5.

We then inspected the big volume Grade 5(?) on the Beas below the dam at the Tirthan/ Sainj confluence. This looked good but short. We decided that this would not be our last river but instead headed 80 km west on a whim to find the Uhl river, with no other info than a blue line on a sketched tourist map. We reached it after dark....and it was bone dry, dammit! We camped beside the river.

Day 15 - In the morning, the picture became brighter...Jay established from locals that there was a dam 10 km upstream, and that the road extended 15-20 past that...bingo! We headed up and found two free-flowing rivers above the dam. We chose the bigger one, and found ourselves launching onto superb chunky grade 5 creeking. A brilliant last paddle. Whether or not the river has been paddled before(?) the locals were ecstatic to see us, the circus had come to town. Crowds of spectators and real hero worship, just like we should be getting in North Wales.

The Uhl has 40-50 km of dry gorge below the dam down to the Beas River, seemingly away from roads. Someone really does need to go check this out in the monsoon when it has water.

In the evening we went south to the town of Mandi, staying in an old Raj Palace. Splendid.

Day 16 - Loooong drive to Delhi, stayed in the YMCA which was expensive and crap.

Day 17 - Did mortal combat with Virgin at the airport, and won...just. Flew home.


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David McCraw

Post by David McCraw »

Sounds like an amazing trip - photos to follow?

Must be hard getting back to work, I'll bet! (No hero worship from the kids?)

You'll love the last page or two of posts on the interminable "Prats at Stanley" topic...

D.

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Mark R
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Post by Mark R »

David McCraw wrote:photos to follow?
Just started fiddling with them, hopefully they'll go up tonight.


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Post by ol »

Looks like some great shots coming, poor kid in the second one looks like he is ready to run screaming the aliens have landed!

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Mark R
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Post by Mark R »

I'm putting some pics up but they aren't edited, named, organised yet...

http://www.ukriversguidebook.co.uk/india/index.htm
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Post by Finchy »

MarkR wrote:I'm putting some pics up but they aren't edited, named, organised yet...

http://www.ukriversguidebook.co.uk/india/index.htm
I can't seem to get the link to work! Am I doing something wrong. (i.e. just clicking on it)

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Post by Finchy »

Maybe I should have read the post correctly!

"putting" as in the "the future"

Doh!

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Mark R
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Post by Mark R »

Is it working for you now?
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Post by RichA »

There are no thumbnails, but clicking on the picture name ie DSCF2321.jpg does work.

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Mark R
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Post by siwiles »

Great pictures. I'm really jealous I couldn't make it.

So where is the picture of the evil dog that bit Kev??

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Post by Mark R »

siwiles wrote:So where is the picture of the evil dog that bit Kev??
Here's the beastie....

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Post by Summit to Sea »

Interested to know which sony camera you're using mark? Is it one of the ones with the sportpack waterproof case?

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Mark R
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Post by Mark R »

Summit to Sea wrote:Interested to know which sony camera you're using mark? Is it one of the ones with the sportpack waterproof case?
I use a much abused Fuji S7000.
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Post by Finchy »

MarkR wrote:Is it working for you now?
Yes thanks.

Some cracking pictures. The rivers looked nice.

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Post by tizereyes »

Slow round the bend friend

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Post by Summit to Sea »

Mark,
From the DSC prefix on the photos, i thought it was a sony, my mistake.

Cheers

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India

Post by Chris W »

A detailed trip report and 180 or so photos posted within 24 hours of arriving back in the UK. Good effort Mark. I don't know how you do it. The rest of the group have been very quiet. They must all be asleep. All I managed to do last night was stagger around Waitrose and rescue rotting items of kit from my bags, before having a lie down. I'm still waking up at 4 am (8.30 am Delhi time).

Mark's got a better memory than me, although I think the guest house overlooking the temple that we stayed in en route between the Tons and Sutlej may have been in a place called Roru and the small town by the Tirthan was called Barjar. I thought the YMCA in Delhi was OK- we only went there because the YWCA turned us away!

We whiled away many hours on the bus arguing, I mean debating, whether at times we'd been paddling 4+ or 5. Mark's final gradings are spot on.

9/ 9.5 days leave gave us a solid 12 days boating, despite our retreat from the Sutlej, which cost us one paddling day. The Sutlej upstream of Rampur looked heinous but despite the dam works would still be an awesome mutli day trip with less water, at the beginning of March. The Sutlej downstream of Rampur is somewhat tame in comparison but still offers a very worthwhile 3/4 day grade 3/4 big volume low intensity 'pool drop' trip, although it did look low further downstream. Maybe they're taking water out.

India is known for its classic big volume multi day and I wasn't expecting to paddle 10 different rivers, mostly very good small to medium volume technical boulder garden 4/4+ (5). All we did was drive for 8 hours northwards from Delhi, then drift north westwards from valley to valley before driving for 13 or so hours southwards back to Delhi. Reports from Mr Ellard and the Ruskies and Google Earth gave us a rough idea of what to expect and where to paddle, but really, you have to drive up the valleys (which, unlike Nepal, all seem to have pretty good roads) and look.

If we hadn't been fleeced by Virgin, the cost would've been just under £1,000. Cut out the hotels and bivvy every night instead (rather you than me) and you could get the cost down below £900 (sub £500 flights+ £200 transport+ £100 spend etc). By comparison, I've got through £700-800 in Norway in the past.

It's a great Easter destination, and right now, a safer bet than riot dodging in Nepal. Or at least it will be for another couple of years until all the valleys have been dammed. Catch it whilst you can.

Chris W.

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fwc?

Post by Mudflap »

waverley610 wrote:
fwc???
Fly without charges?
Fart with care? ;-)

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India impressions

Post by Andy_L »

Speaking as the least "hard-core" paddler on the trip, I think it is a very worthwhile destination for a good grade 4 paddler. My impressions of the area are:

The road infrastructure is very good. There are tarmaced roads along most of the valleys and plenty of villages to stock up on supplies.

Going at Easter with low water levels means that you can explore the steeper upper sections of rivers (expect the Sutlej - we should have been earlier still for that). You get quite close to the spectacular high Himalayas.

The weather at Easter is generally good. Warm sunny days but not too hot. However we did end up bivying in a 5-hour monsoon thunderstorm one night.

Once off the beaten tourist track, it was hard to find good food and accommodation. This was the case with the Yamana and Tons valleys. The standards of hygiene are very low and you need to be careful what you eat. The squalor was shocking at times. I struggled with the limited variety of food (basically dahl and rice). We lived on Wayfarer meals some of the time.

We generated an enormous amount of interest from the locals. Crowds of locals stare agog at the strange westerners in their weird kit. They are all very friendly. One kid came up to me, pointed at my kayak and said "Discovery Channel".

Personally I was cautious about running gnarly rapids. With it been a poor country with no health service, I was aware of consequences of getting injured.

There are plenty of buddhist/hindu/sikh temples to investigate during the rest days.

Do not fly with Virgin. They were nothing but trouble with kayaks.

Overall a excellent trip.

Andy

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Re: India impressions

Post by Mark R »

Andy_L wrote:Speaking as the least "hard-core" paddler on the trip, I think it is a very worthwhile destination for a good grade 4 paddler.
Whilst Andy is being modest, this seems a perfect moment to reveal Andy's long established secret technique to the wider public...the ante-boof.

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Post by Mark R »

I've just tidied up a bit, and added captions to the pics.
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