White Water Tourists in India!
India, huge, exotic and exhausting! We were there from the beginning of August to early September. India has the largest 'untapped' paddling potential of anywhere we've been.
Monsoon boating on the Ganges!
Virtually none for India. We dredged info from various magazine articles and from Mark's previous experiences of paddling in the country. A guidebook with even the most basic of notes would be very helpful but doesn't exist.
Simon sampling the culture.
Maps are appalling. If you are planning a bit of exploratory paddling (most of it in India is) then try to get hold of Tactical Pilotage Charts from Stanfords Map Shop in London.
Raft companies are a surprisingly poor source of info. They tend to be very inexperienced and mostly concentrate on easy sections of river they know well.
Rivers We Paddled
* - 'Trip Highlight'. Do it!
Paddling in India was generally very high volume. It was also certainly the most consistently hard paddling of our whole trip.
River Beas - Grade 4+ (5, 5+). A large volume river flowing through the Kullu valley past Manali. We spent several days on the less extreme sections of this, paddling from below Manali to the Parvati confluence. Water level fluctuates a lot in August but was usually paddleable.
*Tsarap Chu - Grade 4+ (5, 6). A 90 mile long large volume river leading through amazing gorges. Putin is at 14500 foot(!) for a remote self-support trip down to Padum where the river joins the Zanskar. This took us three days of hard work and portaging. Water level was very high in early August; may be easier earlier or later in the Summer.
Gear for the Tsarap expedition.
Mark playboating on the Tsarap at 12500 feet!
Simon on the Tsarap.
The heinous portage of Reru Falls.
*Zanskar - Grade 4+. 90 miles of astonishing gorges passing straight through the Himalayas, the 'Grand Canyon of Asia'. From Padum to Nimmu (Indus confluence) is utterly remote and committing with immense boily rapids. The 90 miles took two days. Water level very high and rising, all camping beaches covered!
Padum, end of the Tsarap River and start of the Zanskar trip.
The unbelievable Zanskar Gorges.
Waterfall beach in the gorges.
Simon cooling off in the Indus after 200 miles self-supported.
Indus - Grade 3. Short commercially rafted section in a gorge near Leh, Phey to Nimmu (Zanskar confluence). Some fun wavetrains.
Pin - Grade 2 (3). We travelled to the very remote Spiti region to see if we could be the first to explore the lower Spiti River and it's tributaries. We failed as the road was 'out'. Instead we paddled this short easy (and cold) run near Kaza, stunning scenery but unexciting. Plenty of potential upstream of the road access section..? This was probably a first descent.
In the back of beyond...River Pin.
Ganges - Grade 4. From Devprayag (confluence of the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda Rivers) to Rishikesh. First half mostly flat, then massive volume wavetrains, splendid fun. Too high to be at it's best at the beginning of September.
'Playspot' on the Ganges.
Pindar - Grade 4+ (5, 5+). From wherever it was that the road had collapsed, to Karnprayag (Alaknanda confluence). Started extremely hard (and scary), then eased to pretty hard. Huge holes to keep you awake. Very high water levels.
The big and pushy Pindar River.
*Nandakini - Grade 4+ (5, 5+). From road end to Nandprayag. Smaller than the Pindar, incredibly continuous and intense with a few portages. Tremendous fun, it never stops. We got a reception party of hundreds awaiting us at the end. We loved it, Mark's personal favourite day paddle of the whole trip.
Mark on the Nandakini...this river felt 'small' after the others in India.
Incredible reception at the Nandakini takeout!
Alaknanda - Grade 5 (easing to 2). From 10 km above Nandprayag to Rishikesh (including a repeat trip on the Ganges), 200 km in all. The top section was massive and scary, giving us both some unpleasant near misses. After Nandprayag the river eased but had occasional harder gorges including one where we portaged the entrance rapid...simply an enormous sucking whirlpool! The one day saw us clocking 110 km. Needless to say, huge water levels again.
Si inspects downstream.
Simon taking a chicken line on the Alaknanda...the monster hole behind is 30 metres wide and 3-4 high...
The bane of India. Roads are awful and frequently vanish during the monsoon. We were delayed on numerous occasions due to this. Travelling is certainly much harder than anywhere else we've been.
Buses are slow, unreliable and painful. Agonisingly painful on occasion.
We also used jeeps in the Zanskar/ Spiti areas, quicker but very expensive and they broke down anyway. Getting to the Spiti area also involved a two day hitch with a lorry.
Buddhist prayer flags on the 4400 metre Kunzum La pass into the Spiti region.
For the journeys from Rishikesh to Nepal, and later from Nepal to Bombay, we took the train. Trains actually seem to run on time and are relatively reliable. Book a sleeping berth and then fight to secure it. Use your initiative to fit the kayak onboard!
Getting anywhere in India requires patience and endurance, be warned.
Accommodation and Food
India has a travelling culture so you will always be able to find somewhere to sleep with a roof over your head. The Ganges area has plenty of Government lodges which were quite good. On the Tsarap/ Zanskar expedition we slept on beaches beside the river. This is not recommended in more populated areas; you won't get any peace and the beaches are filthy beyond belief.
Leh, capital of Ladakh.
Food is a mixed bag. You can get excellent food (curry!) in larger towns like Leh and Shimla if you go to good restaurants. Otherwise it is usually very poor, get used to dahl and rice (whatever the menu says). The only good chef in the Ganges valley can be found at the 'Regal Restaurant' (actually just a shack) in Nandprayag.
Virtually negligible. We had a budget of 10 quid a day and easily lived off it, including the odd expensive jeep hire.
As the comments above will make clear, travelling in India is not easy and not for the inexperienced. We did less paddling (in relation to travelling) than at any other part of our trip. But paddling in India is very rewarding, with stunning rivers and plenty of exploring to be done.
Shepherd in the remote Lahaul region.
Visiting in summer, we often had ridiculous water levels and the paddling was often too hard for comfort. Even so, we mostly enjoyed ourselves on the rivers. Although the summer is the only time you can visit the high altitude Tsarap/ Zanskar/ Spiti, the other areas of the Indian Himalayas might be best visited outside the monsoon....some friends spent three weeks in the Ganges area at Easter and had a great time.
We planned a short visit to Sikkim after our time in Nepal (it's an Indian region east of Nepal) but never went in the end...we had had enough of long journeys at that point. We'll get there sometime!
Experienced paddlers will find a lot to do in India, but make sure you have time on your hands!
Advertising break with the monks of Phugtal Monastery, Tsarap River.