India Trip Report, Easter 2006

Paddlers: Neil Farmer, Kevin Francis, Andy Levick, Andy McMahon, Mark Rainsley, Jay Sigbrandt, Chris Wheeler. Also, Indian kayakers Shalabh and Neema joined us during the first week.

We flew Virgin and got a right royal kicking from them; £408 per boat, the first time weve been fleeced at the check-in desk!

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.

From the road, the Tons below here seemed to offer several days worth of bigger volume pool drop down to the plains, seemingly not harder than Grade 3+.

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 successive bridges at water level. Top notch boating, not sure if it has been paddled before.

There may be some more good paddling upstream of Sayana Chatti, the road continues (with masses of gradient) up towards Yamunotri (Hindu shrine).

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 in Govind National Park, whilst faffing and arguing. We looked at the two rivers which join to form the Tons (Har-ki-dun and Supin), both looked pretty 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 below the confluence. We were expecting at least two days of boating and some hard portages around gnarl. We couldn't find any way to get down onto the gorge at the confluence, but paid some locals to carry our gear down to the river (1000 foot?) to where the river leaves a large gravel plain, a couple of miles downstream. We shouldnt have been surprised, but the river there was awful, with a huge rapid dropping about 100 foot through boulder and log 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 the opposite bank 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 head down for 90 minutes, before camping for the night.

Meanwhile the others launched from Netwar, the next bridge down the valley onto the Tons at the confluence with the Rupin River. They 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, expecting a tough day. To our amazement, we reached Netwar (the Rupin bridge and confluence) in just half an hour...the whole thing had taken just 2 hours (admittedly, with our skates on) and with hindsight, we didn't need to overnight! We carried on downstream for an hour (section as described above) and luckily met 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 in case 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 water?) and headed downstream. The rafted section was basically flat for c10 miles, 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, at a footbridge just below some Grade 6 gnarl (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 Hatkoti. 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 already 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 later learned that they travelled all of the way up to the border, but got off the river after 500 metres.

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

Day 10 - We crossed the Jalora 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 Barjar, the town 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 soon 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 valley. We were amazed when a huge eagle passed right in front of the windscreen! We found that the river was outrageously steep and in a deeeeep 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 portage a big boulder choke, tedious...with hindsight, it would have be better to drive down and 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 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 hospital 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(?) section 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. No charge for the boats this time. Flew home.

Mark Rainsley, April 2006

More photos here and here.