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Brahmaputra Descent December 2003

by Steve Ed.

Stocky and I set off to Heathrow on a Tuesday, and a week later after a ten hour flight to Delhi, a 4.5 hour internal flight, a 8 hour boat trip, 2.5 days in a 4x4 and a 10km trek, finally made it to the great Brahmaputra a couple of km's from the Tibetan border.

The Brahmaputra is the 5th Longest river in the world, it drains the Himalayas on the Tibet side and cuts through them from the Tibetan plateaux to the Indian plateaux. It's only had a couple of descents

Our group of kayakers were made up of 1 Italian Gianluca Ricci , 1 Frenchman David King, 1 Aussie Bazza (who I kept reminding about the rugby), 1 Welshman Stuart Woodward and 6 English Me ( Steve Ed), Stocky (Another Paddler from Kendal), Andy Craven, Doug Cooper, Ian Sherrington and Slime. It was a very strong paddling team with a lot of experience of worldwide paddling.

So we were finally there and the first 15 km of the river had never been done so we entered the unknown. On the new section there were a few grade 3 rapids, (which when I say grade 3 they were huge massive wave trains with wild eddies full of boils and whirlpools) and 1 big grade 4 rapid. We got out to inspect and it looked big, very big nasty holes and a big wave train. But there was a clear line so we set of with me at the front I got down fine as did most except Bazza the Aussie who took a bit of a bashing and swam. As I went down first I got to name the rapid and I called it the generals revenge after a retirered major general in the Indian army who was great to us and made anything we wanted happen (he was very well connected and seemed to order the local army and police to do anything he wanted. He was also a top bloke). We then had another 16km of known water although it had changed a bit due to the monsoon. There were quite a few 3s and 3 more 4s which most of us paddled without major scares. But there was one big grade 5 rapid; it was about 1km long with some massive holes, which you had to avoid. The line was basically start right, move left, and cut between two holes on the left towards the bottom, Sounds simple but when your in the troff of a 25 ft wave only seeing where you are on the rapid at the peak of the wave it was any thing but simple.

Five of us were up for it and we set off. The only thing on my mind was get left, get left! And when I surfed a breaking wave half way down I knew I was fine. We all made it except one who didnt make it to the left and had a bit of a nasty swim but was thankfully unharmed.

What a first day. I think we were all a bit stunned and happy to be in one piece. We knew that the first day was the biggest and were all happy it wouldnt be ten days of that.

Day two on the river, we were joined by the rafts who couldnt do the previous day as it was unraftable. Before we set off there was a flagging off ceremony, as the local school had shut for the day and the local tribe leaders came to wish us well, as quite a few hadnt seen white folk before. If we thought we were in a calm day after the madness of the previous we were wrong it was fantastic lots of 3s 4s and a couple of 4+ rapids. Apart from the raft flipping there were no swimmers.

I felt I had mastered the big volume and knew that if you took each rapid down the guts you were fine and if you flipped not to do a support stroke like back home, as you would be asking to pop a shoulder, but just to relax and roll. Also by going down the main flow you tended to avoid the pour overs with monstrous holes and really evil eddy lines. If you do any massive volume trips and follow these two rules youll start feeling safe and loving it.

The next 7 Days followed the following routine :-
6am woken up by Slime (Pete Knowles) bringing a cup of tea to your tent (we had him well trained)
7am breakfast
8am get on the river, all of the days had grade 3 and 4 rapids with a few 4+ rapids thrown for good measure some of these over 1 mile long.
11amish lunch on a beach, then back on the river
2pmish set up camp on a beach
4pmish dinner around the campfire as dark by then. The rest of the evening would be spent having a laugh (we had a great gang and everyone got on great around the camp fire drinking rum punch)
7pm to 9.30pm bed.

We worked well as a team the normal way we did the big rapids was as follows: we would scout it then me, David and Gianluca would paddle down then the rest of the kayakers would follow and radio up to the raft with any unseen holes. Then the rafts would plough down.

There was a couple more swims (not by me) and lots more big waves and some really good surfing until we reached the end. At the end a crowd greeted us with a sort of marquee set up where the local government ministers gave speeches, then lots of dancers and warriors performed for us. A very strange way the get off the river, but it definitely beats being shouted at by farmers and fishermen.

It was a wonderful trip in an amazing part of the world with some great people and a fabulous rafting company who made life so easy. If you ever want to go boating in India check out the aquaterra adventures web site. www.treknraft.com

By Steve Ed

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