This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

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Aparna Khera, 26, went to Rishikesh a year ago for a white water rafting trip. All it took was three hours on a raft with seven strangers to get her addicted. “I was hooked to the rush. Although the rapids weren’t that tough, the whole experience of paddling through a gushing river was something else altogether,” she says. A few months later she revisited Rishikesh, this time with friends. But by the end of it, she knew she needed more.

John Pollard, founder of Southern River Adventures & Sports Private Limited knows this feeling all too well. A Britisher settled in India for the past 17 years, Pollard was one of the first to offer rafting on the Kali River in Dandeli, near Goa, simply because he knew it was time enthusiasts like Khera explored other rivers in the country.

“If I had a penny for every time I heard someone talk of rafting in Rishikesh as if it was something new, I would be a millionaire,” he says. “There are far better rafting trips going on in the country.”

Better, maybe; tougher, definitely. So, like Khera, if you too are looking for a more challenging and gruelling white water experience, let’s see where you should be heading.

Take things up a notch
Rapids are graded depending on how hard it is to negotiate them and the ease of rescue operations in the area. Typical day trips on the Rishikesh take beginners through class 2 to 3 rapids — the easiest of the lot. But for some real fun, Khera needs to face a river with lots of rocks. For that, we point the compass southwards to Kali in Dandeli, Coorg and Kundalika in Kolad and hand Khera her helmet and paddle.

Created by the waters let off from a dam, the Kundalika is just the river to raft on, especially during the monsoon. The waters are impatient and the rivers have more rock formations. Which means that when you’re not busy getting yourself out of rapids, you’re definitely occupied in saving your raft from the jagged edges of rocks that dot your path. All the while, of course, you’re also required to do as the instructor says and paddle with all your might to make sure you don’t cause the boat to capsize.

Such rivers are known as technical rivers, and even for someone like Prateek Kanodia, 28, who has rafted on the world’s highest commercially rafted rapids in Kaituna River in New Zealand, they’re quite gruelling. Kanodia has rafted on Kali and Coorg and describes his experience as nothing short of exhilarating. “You don’t know if you can do it, and there’s only one way to find out. The thrill of knowing you’ve accomplished rafting on them is something else altogether,” he says.

Find a challenge
If you, like Khera, master the rocky rivers down South and still want more, it’s time to head to a river with class 4 and 4+ rapids, freezing cold water and a couple of gorges thrown in for good measure.

There are many options to choose from.  We could direct her to Beas in Punjab or Teesta in Sikkim to tackle some continuous rapids. And for some class 4+ rapids, she could head to fast flowing rivers like the Tons, bordering Himachal Pradesh, the Bhaghirathi and Alaknanda, both tributaries of the Ganges, in Uttaranchal, and the Zanskar in Leh.
The experience of shunting downstream on these rivers is heightened by the fact that you have but split seconds to decide how to tackle an approaching rapid.

“You have to decide your point of entry, the main line, or path through the rapid, and the point of exit for every single rapid,” says Akshay Kumar, CEO of Mercury Himalayan Explorations, Delhi.

More than a fall, it’s the freezing cold temperatures that are a real cause of concern, points out Avilash Bisht, owner of Aquaterra Adventures, a Delhi-based adventure sports company.

Too ambitious?
Many rivers like the Brahmaputra, the Zanskar and the upper Ganges have class 5 rapids too, but they require a good deal of experience and knowledge of different paddle strokes and rescue mechanisms before you tackle them. “Most touring companies don’t offer them commercially,” says Bisht. What about the highest grade of rapids — class 6? “To put it simply,” says Bisht explaining what a class 6 rapid means, “if you tackle it and come out alive, the rapid will have to be reclassified.”

Keep it going
Now that we’ve given Khera, and you,  a whole bunch of options, here’s our suggestion — don’t do this over the weekend. There’s no just cause to limit the rush to only three hours on a Saturday.

Many touring companies organise 10-14 day trips on the Zanskar and the Brahmaputra, where you’ll not only encounter varying classes of rapids but you’ll also get to travel through dense forests, deep gorges and picturesque villages with your camping equipment and baggage on the raft. How does that sound for an adventure?

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