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Cambridge University Expedition to Indias

GUIDE TO PADDLING IN NORTH-WEST INDIA

Summit of Stok Kangri, Ladakh

Many more photos are available here.

About This Document

We didnt paddle all these rivers but we spent quite a bit of time gathering information which is probably worth sharing, Note that were awful at estimating flows, just take the values as a vague idea.
The usual disclaimers apply. These notes reflect the conditions we encountered our own prejudices and ignorance. Treat everything you read with contempt and allow for the possibility that we have fabricated all of this.

Maps

Leomann Indian Himalaya are quite basic just showing ridge lines but provide a good overall view. They were the best maps we found of Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal.
Editions Olizane have just bought out three maps covering Ladakh 1:150 000
There are also the old AMS U502 Topographic survey maps of the Himalayas. Published in the 1950s we didnt really use these. Of course there is now Google earth too.
Lonely Planet Trekking in the Indian Himalaya was also useful

Equipment

We took bivi-bags on the Tsarap as there are occasional storms that come over the Himalayas. Everywhere else we stayed in local villages. We took sleeping bags that could go down to 0C as at can get a bit chilly at the beginning of the Tsarap trip. Some of us wore dry trousers on the Tsarap but you can do without them, though the water is extremely cold and if you were to swim dry trousers would make a big difference. Pogies would have been good on the first day of the Tsarap.

Himachal Pradesh

Manali makes a good base, a very touristy town which feels like a ski resort. We paddled everything in this region as day trips. The hippy villages of Vashisht and Old Manali are nice to visit. The bus from Delhi via Chandigar takes around 15 hours leaving at all hours of the day. Its well worth paying a couple of pounds more and getting a luxury tourist bus, these dont have roof racks but if theres not many of you there should be space in the luggage hold for a boat or two.

In Manali be sure to contact Himalchu at Himalayan Journeys, (www.transhimalayanadventures.com, email adventure03-at-sancharnet.in) hes a great guy and without him we wouldnt have done anywhere near as much paddling. Hes really keen to encourage kayaking in the area (has plans to hold a Peak challenge) and has loads of knowledge of rivers and logistics. We got in some bother with the police paddling the Beas shortly after a huge flood, he sorted this out for us and there is now a system in place and a form you can sign to say you are kayaking at your own risk. Therefore it is imperative you contact him before kayaking on the Beas and its tributaries. The Parbati and lower sections of the Beas are a couple of hours drive down the valley and its a busy valley so relying on public transport is not a problem. The rivers in the Kullu valley are subject to the monsoon hence are generally very high in the summer. Water levels fluctuated dramatically while we there, we saw very high levels in July and low levels at the end of August.

The rivers in the Lahaul region over the Rothang La can be paddled on the journey over to Ladakh or as a separate trip as there is plenty to do. The Lahual region is less well populated than the Kullu valley so you need to plan logistics a bit more. It is possible to hitch, but it may take a while, we waited a whole afternoon for a lift on the Chandra near Chatru. The Lahual region is sheltered from the monsoon but does get the occasional storm. River levels appeared to stay reasonably constant from mid July to early September. The rivers are fed by snowmelt and big glaciers. In early September levels were good for the middle section of the Chandra and Chenab but too high for the Upper Chandra, Bhaga and Chenab gorges which Allan Ellard et al have paddled, along with every other river in Himachal Pradesh.

CUCC team, Chadra valley

Kullu Valley

Beas

A long river with many sections to paddle. The river has been paddled all the way from up in the Solang valley. It generally eases as you move down the valley, until the lower Larji gorge below the dam, which is rumoured to be huge volume class 5. Water quality through Manali is a bit of an issue, we all got ill after swallowing lots of water playboating. The Beas is featured in the World White Water guidebook.

Above Manali town steep class 5

Put in: Manali
Take out: Katrain (slightly above, at the road bridge)
Distance: 15km
Grade: 4+/5
Flow: 70m3/s
Duration: 1 day
We tried to paddle this section when the river was high but ran away with our tails between our legs after 1km. The road stays close to the river along its length. At lower levels it was more manageable

Put in: Katrain (slightly above, at the road bridge)
Take out: Kullu
Distance: 15km
Grade: 3/4
We paddled this at high levels when there was a lot more class 4 than 3, an excellent run, loads of big wavetrains and two excellent playwaves, we had lunch at a riverside caf very conveniently placed. This may have been a better take out as below we passed the police station and as you go into Kullu it gets a bit built up plus the river isnt as good. This section looked a bit dull at lower levels.

Below Kullu is the more commonly rafted, but not as good as the above section, class 3.

Manalsu Nala (Old Manali Trib)
Put in: As far as you can be bother to walk
Take out: Manali
Distance: we paddled about 3km
Grade: 4/4+
Flow: 10m3/s
Duration: 1 day

A small tributary of the Beas that runs past Old Manali and joins the Beas just above Manali. A great little paddle which feels steeper than it looks when youre on the water. We walked up for a couple of km from the bridge, with a good path on the right bank. Where we got in we noticed a path coming down from Old Manali on river left which could save you a walk. There were four smallish drops at the top, the first one had a tree in and the second was a nasty slot. However the last two were good to go although with quite grippy holes, we ran them with mixed results. Watch out for local kids swimming, we had to rescue one who had been swept down the drops we didnt run! Mostly boulder garden style rapids below here.

Baragram Nala
Put in: 3km from Beas confluence
Take out: Road bridge on Beas
Distance: 3km
Grade: 4/4+
Flow: 10m3/s
Duration: 1 day

We put in at a power station below a very nasty looking gorge. There is some nice technical paddling with one nasty weir that does hold a swimmer.

Many of the other small tributaries have been paddled; many look ridiculously steep boulder fests. There were two other small tribs one in Kullu and the other just above Kullu that looked more sane.

Lahaul Region

As with Ladakh altitude is a consideration, but after spending a while in Ladakh we didnt notice it all apart from, say when swimming The rivers were cold, glacier fed, but the weather was generally good and warm.

Chandra River before the gorge

Chandra
Put in: Chandra Tal
Take out: Road bridge and service station at Batal
Distance: 15km
Grade: flat
Flow: 100m3/s
Duration: 1.5 hours
We paddled this very scenic section starting right up in the mountains. Its quite a walk down from Chandra Tal. From the end of the jeep track to the river it took us about an hour. By this time the sky had clouded over and with the altitude (4200m), an upstream wind and very cold water (not far from the glaciers) we had an extremely cold paddle. The scenery was a bit lost on us.

The section from Batal to Chatru starts with flat for about 5km then becomes very steep - suicidal it this level. Apparently this has been paddled but much lower water is needed (running blue). Then it would be an awesome hard paddle, completely continuous for about 30km

Put in: Bridge at Chatru
Take out: Bridge at Koksar
Distance: 22km
Grade: 4+/5
Flow: 200m3/s
Duration: 6 hours
One of the hardest and best runs of our trip (reminded us of the Marsyandi). Some big class 5s, one which we portaged. Starts beside the road for about a kilometre. It then goes into a gorge with the road far, far above, for about 5km. Walking out would always be possible as the left bank never goes vertical but would be a lot of effort. After this the road comes back down to nearish the river and another road appears on the right bank. We stayed the night at Chatru and Koksar. We paddled this at the end of August and were very lucky with levels. The bad weather that the day before that caught us at Chandra Tal meant that the river dropped a couple of feet overnight. Having enjoyed the river so much we came back a week later, unfortunately it was a couple of feet higher. After much mincing we got on but then bottled out before the gorge.

Put in: Bridge at Koksar
Take out: Bhaga confluence at Tandi
Distance: 40km
Grade: 4/4+
Flow: 350m3/s
Duration: 6 hours
This river starts off flat for 10km; we were soon dozing off in the sun. We rounded a corner to find an almost river wide hole, at one point three of us were being trashed at once. Two of the group of five found that there was not much you can do for yourself swimming in such cold big water. About 15km in there was one very big and long rapid which we portaged. Below here the river picks up pace and goes into a deep valley/gorge, which again would take a lot of effort to walk out of. Some really nice big rapids though nothing too scary. Towards the end of the river there are a couple of sections of sheer sided vertical gorge but thankfully they are all flat.

Walking into the Upper Chandra

Chenab
Put in: Tandi,
Take out: Udaipur
Distance: 50km
Grade: 4/4+ (5)
Flow: 500m3/s
Duration: Maybe possible in one long day, we took two.
With a late start from Keylong and a paddle down, to the confluence we took two days to reach the fabled Udaipur, which we were told on occasions, was anything between 10 and 50km away. We expected this section to be an easy scenic float. With loosing altitude the valley was becoming more lush and quite scenic, but after the first 10km it definitely wasnt a float. There was one monstrous rather intimidating long (Class 5) rapid with some quite hard ferry glides. Below here the rapids were more manageable, although in some cases some short gorges took a lot of inspecting. An excellent paddle. We stayed in local villages and so travelled light. One can easily get a bus back up the valley from Udaipur to Keylong or all the way to Manali.

Below here the Chenab gets a lot steeper and lower water levels are needed, see the White Water Warriors report.

Miyar Nala
A tributary of the Chenab which joins at Udaipur. We walked up this (theres a road and bus up the sheer sided gorge) after being told it could be runnable. We have never seen such a steep small river with so much water going down it (around 100 cumecs), Graham simply burst into hysterics when he saw one particular fall. Parts of the river maybe runnable at far lower levels but several of the falls would be unrunnable at any level. We only walked up 3km or so, but if you are in Udaipur its well worth the walk just for entertainment value!
Bhaga
Put in: Darcha,
Take out: Jispa
Distance: 5km
Grade: 2
Flow: 100m3/s
Duration: 30mins
A scenic float with very cold water, good to break up the journey to Ladakh if your going by Jeep.

At Darcha three rivers converge. The Jankar Nala, about half the volume of the Bhaga (below Darcha) looked good though quite pushy. In late July we inspected a Class 5 in the gorge near the get out, but the road up the valley was blocked by a landslide. Above Darcha the Bhaga is in a very steep sided gorge, possibly paddlable at low levels, Autumn? But access down to the river may be difficult as you probably dont want to start at where the road crosses, not far below Baralacha La.
From Jispa to Keylong the river again goes to the bottom of a deep valley/gorge which was paddled by Allan Ellard et al as part of their Chenab trip, probably a better prospect than above Darcha. When we returned in late August it looked far more runnable (from the road high above) than it had in July.

Put in: Keylong
Take out: Tandi
Distance: 8km
Grade: 3/4
Flow: 60m3/s
Duration: 30mins
We hired porters for the 30minute walk from the road down to the river. We put in at the footbridge into a Chateau Queyras style gorge, which could just about be scouted from above. Below here there were a couple more rapids and then it open out into a V shaped valley. There was one constriction gorge on a corner but it was flat. We paddled this along with the Chenab in early September

Spiti
The Spiti is a remote valley over the Kunzum La. It is outside the influence of the monsoon; the area is of a similar character to Ladakh. The top section is flat, and then apparently there maybe some good paddling before it drops into gorges till the Sutlej confluence. These gorges are yet to be paddled. When we were there a huge flood from Tibet had taken out many bridges so the road down the lower Spiti was closed. This flood would also have scoured the gorge leaving lots of nasty sharp rocks. There are some small tributaries of the Spiti that were recommended to us as potentially paddleable. Mark Rainsley has paddled the Pin - one easy tributary.

Ladakh

Ladakh is a Buddhist region of India, politically part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir but geographically and culturally part of Tibet. It is situated on the high altitude desert of the Tibetan plateau in the rain shadow north of the Himalayas, an amazing place to go kayaking. The season runs from July to mid September, as the rest of the year the rivers are frozen. We spent six weeks here; theres lots of huge volume excellent paddling. The Zanskar and Tsarap Chu is a world classic multiday trip. All of the rivers apart from The Tsarap Chu, Zanskar and their tribs, are roadside which makes for easy logistics. The Zanskar-Tsarap Chu was the only river we camped out on. Looking at a map of Ladakh it looks like there are loads small rivers all over that could be paddleable. In reality since Ladakh is a high altitude desert rivers are generally either huge volume or tiny little ditches that dont have enough water to paddle. This guide mentions most of the paddleable rivers in Ladakh.

We were based out of Leh which has many hotels and restaurants. Splash Rafting in Leh (the better of the only two rafting companies based in Leh) were an enormous help and without them we wouldnt have kayaked half the rivers we did. Shalabh, a very enthusiastic Indian kayaker and Nima, joint owner of Splash and Ladakh's only native kayaker, joined us on many trips and provided road support for others. Travelling as a kayaker in India you really do get special treatment! Shalabh is starting a website www.kayakindia.com and you can email him at kayakganga-at-yahoo.com
Taxis and trucks entering and leaving Leh are subject to taxi and truck union regulations, which are a bit of a pain. For longer trips Splash maybe able to negotiate a good deal with transport from outside Leh returning home. Generally we hired trucks to get to the river. We hitched to get back from the Upper Indus but in general we kept the truck for the day to follow us down the river and take us back to Leh. Split between a reasonable sized group this worked out only slightly more expensive and a lot easier.

Campsite in the Zanskar Gorge

Zanskar and Tsarap Chu
See the excellent guide by Mark Rainsley. One thing we would add is that a couple of our team were quite concerned by the last day of the Tsarap and unsure whether they were up to the paddle. In fact there was a lot more flat than we were expecting though still some great rapids. Most of the harder rapids are once you have rejoined the main valley with a good trail to Padum walking out wouldnt have been a problem here.

On the Zanskar below Padum

The Zanskar Gorges

Lanakh
Tributary of Tsarap joins 20 miles or so above Padum. Has been done combined with a trek over Shingo La (pass) from Darcha. Reported to be class 3 /4 with water levels varying dramatically through the day, being so close to the glaciers

Markha
Trib of Zanskar joins near end of gorge. Although its looks hopeful from the map its best described by Slime as a three foot wide ditch, not really worth the effort.

Walking into the Markha valley

Khurna
A trib of the Zanskar which joins near the bottom of the gorge. We tried to walk in up the Zanskar for a look, got within 200m of the confluence but were stopped by sheer rock walls on both sides of the river. When paddling down the Zanskar we stopped to scout the Khurna. We went about 2km, the river had enough volume, around 8 cumecs in mid August. In 2km we found two unrunnable boulder chokes with nice grade 3 in between. We didnt venture any further as the going got quite difficult and we mused there were probably many more boulder chokes. If you were to paddle this you need to trek in from the top with ponies. It is remote, there is no habitation and from maps looks very gorged up.

Indus
There is huge amount of the Indus that can be paddled, over our time in Ladakh we virtually paddled all the way from near the Tibetan border to as close as you can get to the Pakistan border.

Put in: Mahe Bridge (Army check post)
Take out: Upshi
Distance: c.100km
Grade: 4
Flow: 70m3/s
Duration: 2 days
You can spend two days on this if go all the way from Mahe Bridge to Upshi; we managed to squeeze this into one so we could get back to Leh for a curry to celebrate Bens 21st. We started for Nee about 20km below Mahe. Further up the valley from Nee was mostly flat. The river started flat but then improved after the army base about 5km down at Kiari. Easy grade 4. The best section was below Hymia, which was more continuous with some big wavetrains, in an impressive canyon, though still roadside. We got out about 10km below Hymia after the last class 4 rapid. From here the river is still good but gets easier with lots of flat towards the end, though fast moving. We paddled this at a medium level on 28th July, by mid August it had dropped a lot and looked a bit low.

Put in: Upshi
Take out: Choklamsar bridge about 5km from Leh
Distance: 45km
Grade: 3+ then flat
Flow: 100m3/s
Duration: 4/5 hours
Some grade 3+ rapids near the start then two nasty weirs at Karu that were definite portages. Quite flat below here but beautiful views of the mountains and a number of Gompas (Monasteries). Again we paddled in July and it looked too low by the end of August.

Put in: Leh
Take out: Zanskar confluence
Distance: 20km
Grade: 3
Flow: 200m3/s
Duration: 2 hours
Some class 3, lots of flat in a barren gorge, a popular rafting trip one can easily tag along with.

Put in: Zanskar confluence
Take out: Khalse
Distance: 65km
Grade: 4 (4+) with lots of flat
Flow: 800m3/s
Duration: Possible as a long day trip from Leh if you hire a truck to follow you down and take you back to Leh, a four hour drive.
We paddled this at high levels. Theres one huge long class 4 1km from the start. It was just huge waves but at lower levels could hide some holes. Then there is 10km of very scenic flat to Alchi. From Alchi there are more big rapids, one over a kilometre long. As you approach Khalse there is one huge rapid, possibly class 5. The river is gorged up here but you could get off before the rapid if you knew where you were. Anyway it all goes, at high levels there is one huge 20ft wave in the middle, of course there are more holes at lower levels. From water level it looks like it goes left, but dont be fooled as inspecting from the left is very hard due to cliffs. Inspect from the right bank. Below this big rapid is about 1km of gorge with no real drops but lots of boils and funny water due to the river being so constricted. Get out at the bridge and smile for a photo with the Army sentry. Below here you need an inner line permit which is just a formality and costs 2 in Leh.

Put in: Khalse
Take out: Sanjar
Distance: 60km
Grade: 4+ (5) with lots of flat at first
Flow: huge around 800m3/s?
Duration: 1 long day
We paddled this as our 8th day on the river continuing downstream after the Tsarap and Zanskar. We think it is quite likely a first descent, Splash hadnt heard of anyone paddling it before and Nima talked to the locals at several points all of who said they had never seen kayaks before. We think this area was off limits to tourists before, hence not been paddled. We thought it was going into gorges when in fact it was all road side. It was gorged up in places but the water was easy here. We were able to paddle it all in one day with Shalabh as road support scouting ahead. It started flat; there was one very boily constriction rapid at Dumkhar, then a big rapid at Skirbuchan. There was one class 5 half way to Achinatung, which possibly isnt visible from the road. At Achinatung there is another big rapid then excellent continuous class 4 all the way to Sanjar, with one more rapid maybe a Class5. This was definitely a highlight of our trip and the hardest big water any of us had ever paddled mainly because it was so big! You are allowed to go another 8km or so below Sanjar we inspected this and found class3/4 wavetrain style rapids then a huge, evil river wide hole at the exit of a gorge which would definitely be a big portage, we didnt bother. We stayed the night in Sanjar and camped by the river at Khalse getting an incredibly cheap take away delivered! Inner line permit needed but just a formality and cost 2 in Leh.

Indus below Khalse (click on second picture)

Sangeluma Chu
A small steep ditch which joins the Indus at Sanjar, may entertain you for an hour or two.

There were another couple of tribs that looked possible, one joined the Indus somewhere between Khalse and Sanjar. The other above Khalse. In addition there is the:

Wanla
Put in: Pharyila (could maybe go higher)
Take out: Mai road bridge on Kargil road
Distance: 15km ish
Grade: 3+ with lots of flat
Flow: 10m3/s
Duration: Few hours
This is a trib of the Indus that joins just below Khalse, the locals call it the Wanla as it comes from the village of Wanla! Its called the Yaopola on our map. We did this with a jeep on our way back from the Lower Indus. The top few km are about 7 cumecs class 3 with a few nice drops. Theres then about 10km of flat / class 2. The river improves where the Lamayuru road joins, going into an entertaining little sheer sided gorge for about 2km (roadside). Watch out for the boulder choke with a blind lead in, comic. Get out at the road bridge as there are some nasty boulder chokes below here.

On the drive over to Kargil there are a couple of rivers, both a bit small and nothing very good. One looked a similar style to something like the Guisane, in the French Alps. Was too low when we saw it in at the beginning of August

The tributary of the Indus that joins at Upshi looked possible from the map but in fact was too small to be paddleable.

Dras
Put in: Bridge 20km above Dras
Take out: Suru confluence
Distance: 80km
Grade: 4+ (5)
Flow: Starts around 50m3/s and grows to something like 500m3/s!
Duration: Three days, maybe possible in 2 if you rushed.

One of the best rivers weve ever paddled! Some great read and run pushy 4+, in very beautiful valley, much greener than the rest of Ladakh with friendly hospitable locals. The valley is at the edge of Ladakhi Kashmir and India. The Zoji La at the head of the valley takes you to Srinagar in the Kashmir Valley and the valleys northern ridge marks the border with Pakistan. In 1999 the Kargil war took place here and the main road up the valley linking Leh and Srinagar was heavily shelled. The valley has been peaceful in recent years but a heavy army presence remains, their large guns pointing north. Signs warning You are now under enemy observation remind you of the many vehicles that were shelled on the road. Kayaking with a local is a very good idea. We told the tourist officer in Kargil of our plans and he was quite happy and very helpful booking a hotel in Dras and hiring a bus for us. We were confronted a couple of times by the army but since Shalabh and Nima had joined us they were able to negotiate with them and we had no problems. The army even provided us with accommodation, free food, sold us rum on the cheap. Poly Miller and Mike Savory two Kiwis paddled the river a couple of weeks later, but unfortunately with no locals and without informing the tourist officer in Kargil. They were escorted away from the river and were unable to paddle the last 10km or so, the most sensitive part. Be sure to talk to Splash before paddling this river. The best tactic would probably to paddle the hardest section from the portage down in one long day and avoid staying too long around the army bases. Do not use the road on river left, this is an Army road and they probably wont be best placed.
Despite all the army this is an awesome river, I cant praise it enough. It starts meandering in high alpine meadows before passing through gorges and increasing in volume finishing as a big water river in an open valley. It was first paddled in 1985 by Pete Knowles and co (although they didnt do the last day) Apparently there were some Italians there in 1999 but there was some uncertainty as to whether they even paddled. With so few people ever kayaking there we got a great reception in the town of Dras and a huge send off.

We kayaked the river from 20km above Dras (a convenient place to stay). It starts meandering and flat then goes through two fairly short bedrock gorges only 20ft or so deep. The first one has some nice 4+. The second gorge has a nasty 3ft wide constriction at the top. We climbed in below for some class 4. There is one more drop between here and Dras, several tribs joined; a fairly short day. This section is roadside all the way.

Below Dras the river goes away from the road for a bit but its all straight forward. Back by the road the river makes a sharp left turn with one enormous rapid. It was so steep we thought it was a slide when we first saw it from the road, a definite portage at this level (fairly high at the beginning of August). From here down the river picks up pace with great rapids for the next 50km! After about 35km there is an army base at Karbu and an army road crosses the river (the main road crosses the river above here) From Karbu down is the most sensitive area and the road goes high above the river with steep valley sides (the army road is closer to the river on river left but should only be used in emergency). We stayed the night at the Karbu army base. Watch out for a wire hanging across the river just above the Shingo confluence. Below the Shingo there is one constriction gorge rapid you will see from the road, but its fine - just a big rapid above and then flat through the constriction. Get out just before the confluence with the Suru and be sure not to get caught in the net across the river at the border!
We paddled this river with road support so had empty boats which was great, a very good idea.

Pete Knowles group paddled this with Shalabh and Nima near the end of August. They tried to paddle the trib that comes in river left just above Dras, apparently looked nice class 3 however an army General escorted them away from the get in.

Upper Dras.

The Dras.

Suru
Pete Knowles group paddled the Suru this summer; we were told it was either Class 1 or 6, but Knowles said he did there are some good sections to paddle including quite an exciting sounding trib. The short section between Kargil and the border looked quite good but after paddling the Dras it paled into insignificance so we didnt bother. The Suru is a big river around 400m3/s at Kargil.

Doda
Class 3+ from Remala, rafted as a warm up for the Zanskar. The river apparently can be rafted from Abring.

Shyok
Put in: 5km up the new military access road
Take out: Nubra Road Bridge
Distance: 12km
Grade: II (III)
Flow: 200m3/s
Duration: 2hrs
Easy but very beautiful, involves a drive over the Highest motor able road in the world! 18380ft to get to area. We didnt paddle this (info from The Poly) we hired motorbikes and took them over the pass instead which was great fun and we would definitely recommend instead of paddling the river! The Nubra which joins the Shyok is not paddleable because of army, (the war with Pakistan is been fought on the Siachen glacier, the source of this river!) The rest of the Shyok is also off limits.

Uttaranchal

For Kayaking on the Ganges and its tributaries Rishikesh is a good starting point. The bus from Delhi takes around 6 hours; buses to/from Manali take 18hours overnight. Rishikesh is a large pilgrim town on the banks of the Ganges as it leaves the hills for the plains. There are plenty of Hotels and restaurants a big bus station and lots of temples for cultural stuff. It is convenient to stash your equipment in Rishikesh and take a bus up the valley, 8 hours to Nandapryag, then paddle back down on the Alakanda, Ganges and their various tributaries. From the confluence towns you can hire jeeps to go up the various valleys (the roads are too small for buses); there are plenty of buses going up and down the main valley. We were there at the end of June beginning of July. The weather was hot so there is no need to carry sleeping bags, a sheet sleeping bag will do. The valleys are well populated so you should be able to find accommodation and food and so take minimum kit. We were there at the beginning of the monsoon and to start with were lucky with levels but with a few days rain the rivers soon got ridiculous. It appears since the monsoon is not constant you can be lucky with weather and get more reasonable levels in the monsoon at least on the smaller tributaries, but its hard to judge. There are several small raft companies all based in Shivpuri village about a 20 minute drive up the valley from Rishikesh, we paddled with Vishnu and Surendra of River Explorer rafting for a day on the Ganges which was great. Snow Leopard are also based here (slaindia-at-vsnl.com ) and gave lots of useful information on rivers in Uttaranchal and other states

The valleys around these rivers (apart from Rishikesh) dont seem very popular with tourists, which is nice we got a great reception from the locals. Most of the area is dry, as it is highly religious so there is often no meat or alcohol.

Alaknanda
Put in: Chamoli
Take out: Rishikesh (including 60km on Ganges)
Distance: 200km
Grade: 5 easing to 2
Flow: 1000m3/s
Duration: up to 5 days

Chamoli to Nandaprayag
The hardest section. It has been run higher up but lower levels are needed. We didnt do this section as Hilarys Step, a huge rapid at Nandapryag, scared us from going higher. Apparently this section is doable in monsoon levels.

Nandaprayag to Karmapryag
A short section (about 15km) is convenient to do as you move down the valley from the Nandakini to the Pindar. We put on below Hilarys step, a Class 6 at this level. (This is the furthest point Hilary got on his trip jet boating up the Ganges, unable to pass up this rapid.) We sneaked several of the harder rapids the rest was just huge wavetrains with the odd huge hole, mainly Class 4.

Karmapryag to Rudraprayag
About 40km. We were not able to paddle this section a due to rain and huge water levels a thick layer of mist covered the river. The river rose significantly so that it was half way up the temple steps on the confluence at Karmapryag. This section looked similar to the above section though slightly easier. There is however one constriction, run able a low levels, grade 6 at high levels. It looked scoutable and portageable when we saw it on our way up but returning in higher water levels it looked a complete mess and would have been an epic portage /walkout to the road high above.

Rudraprayag to Devapryag
Looked flat from the road but probably better than taking the bus.

Nandakini
Put in: Ghat (maybe possible to go a bit higher but the road gets worse)
Take out: Nandprayag
Distance: 25km
Grade: 4-4+
Flow: 30m3/s
Duration: 1 day

Mark Rainsley thoroughly recommended this river, unfortunately it was a bit low for us (a surprise in the monsoon). It was still a nice paddle. We could see how with more water it would be very good and continuous. Was quite low volume, almost Welsh in style - quite a contrast to the other rivers we paddled. There was a Hydro intake about 13/14km down which took out water for 3km, although there was still enough left to scrape down

Pindar
Put in: 40km upstream from Karmapryag, would be well worth going higher
Take out: Karmapryag
Distance: 40km
Grade: 4/4+
Flow: 80m3/s
Duration: 1 day
We started 40km up and did as a day trip. We inspected the afternoon before and had decided it looked grade 3 and further up looked a bit dull. In fact it was an excellent river 4/4+ not grade 3. There is a town and bridge (the second road bridge) about 55km up the valley from Karmapryag, the river looked all good to here and the road continued. We were very tempted to go back and go higher. The section we ran was really nice pool drop Class 4/4+ with plenty of big playful waves and holes. There was a good number of harder rapids too, an amazing river it did not let up for 40km. We were very lucky on levels, paddling it on the rise we had an ideal level. The next day (same day Alakanda was too high) it was a heinous brown mess.

Mandakini
We took a jeep up this but unfortunately it was far too high. The lower gorges looked like they would be a good hard paddle at lower levels. Above this the river eased. We looked at a very steep looking tributary coming in from river right, which might have gone at these levels but would take a day or so which we didnt have. The Mandakini came well recommended.

Ganges (Ganga)
Put in: Devapryag
Take out: Rishikesh
Distance: 60km
Grade: 4 lots of flat
Flow: 2000m/s
Duration: Can be done as a day trip from Rishikesh (we spent 5 hours on the water) but would be better to do on your way back down the valley from the Alakanda.
Starting from Devapryag the first 30km is mostly flat with some big boily eddylines and some wavetrains. We had lunch at the Rafting camp halfway, not sure of the name it was not marked on the maps, but the bus conductor etc will know where it is. After lunch, which maybe a better start point, there were more rapids The Wall the biggest was first, a class 4. At the level we paddled most of the other rapids were washed out. The finish in Rishikesh made the trip, drifting past the many temples and under the bridges covered with pilgrims we felt we had arrived in India proper. A week later when the river was covered in mist and a lot higher all the rapids looked flat from the road.

Bhagirathi
We never paddled, this apparently some nice class 4 but not as good as the Alakanda and its tributaries. Several big dams make the trip a bit disjointed. We were told it has one good steep tributary.

Further east apparently the Goirganga and Bithariganga both are paddleable.

Trip members included:

Stuart Martindale

Dan Tattersall

Tom Botterill

Tom Saffell

Ben Bedingham

Tim Coles

Hugh Thomas

Andy Milton

Graham Milton

Thanks to:

Peter Knowles
Mark Rainsley
The Poly
Himalchu at Himalayan Journeys
Splash Rafting in Leh
Shalabh
Snow Leopard
Vishnu and Surendra of River Explorer rafting
Outdoor Designs
Terra Nova
Pentax cameras
Desperate Measures
Cambridge University Expedition Committee
Cambridge University Expedition Fund
The Burton Charitable trust
Mary Euphrasia Mosley Fund