Monday, 13 May 2013

Chilling and Thrilling Zanskar River White Water Rafting, Ladakh

After the roller coaster journey of the threesome through Ladakh, from 24th May to 2nd June 2010, having had a number of jeep safaris, a few ‘baby’ treks, finally on the ‘final day’ we wanted to do something to finish our tour in grand style.

On 2nd June after returning from Nubra valley, we huddled together to put together some kind of a plan to have a ‘baby rafting expedition’ over the river Indus, from Phey to Nemo (the confluence of rivers, Indus and Zanskar ). When we expressed our plan to Shahid, who normally made all our transportation arrangements, he was not enthused at all. He said, “In first week of June, Indus river has less water, hardly any worthwhile rapids and hence will not offer much of rafting thrill."  Instead, he offered to arrange for a Zanskar river rafting in Chilling – Nemo sector with good water mass and some challenging class 2 and class 3 ‘rapids’. Sac, who has done some rafting on river Ganga, immediately agreed. Sid, being the newcomer, enthusiastically followed suit. As it so happens, in a group of three, all decisions are always ‘decisive’, I (not a great enthusiast of rafting) meekly surrendered.

The next morning on 3rd June began as a cloudy and murky day. We packed our back-packs with spare set of cloths and walked to the spot where, a Qualis with deflated raft on top and two chaps from Rafting Company, picked us up. An Australian national was also picked up on the way. We set off to the road to Chilling. After crossing Nemo, the confluence of Indus and Zanskar rivers, we veered off along the side of Zanskar river. We were impressed with water volume and width of the river. At some points, the river appeared to be somewhat turbulent, sending waves in all possible directions. ‘Could it be rapids?’ I asked to myself.

At Sumda Do 15 km from Chilling
We traveled along the road upstream to river direction to reach a spot about 15 km before Chilling. That left us to do an 14 km rafting to be done in about 2 hours time. Not a bad deal at all. The place by name Sumdha Do, offered a flat land to have a good view of Zanskar and a slope towards the river bank to enable the rafters to board the raft.

The Rafting instructors, got down to business immediately, of inflating the raft with the help of some type of foot operated air pump. We three, the Australian and instructors, got working on the device by turn. The going was really slow. About half an hour later at 11 AM one more jeep clambered up with another deflated raft and eleven rafters( men, women, children ) and all paraphernalia like life jackets and water body suits.

With hand operated air pumps working more efficiently, both the rafts were buoyed up and ready to float. Now came the challenging moment.  We collected the one piece body suit, trying to roll it on our body. It was nigh impossible to slip into it. Half way through it, we gave up. It was a problem to get out of it. I asked for the assistance from the instructor; who pulled the suit with all his might, with me holding on to the bonnet of jeep, my body horizontal and what a comedy! The suit came out all right, and I put on my tee shirt and trousers. The life jacket and helmet fitted smoothly and snugly to our relief. Now we were game for the rafting expedition!
Rafting Preparations
By 12 pm, two rafts were carried to the Zanskar river bank and floated. Both the rafts were rinsed with water and what followed was instructions like forward paddling, backward paddling, jumping inside raft etc. Rafters were asked to drop the camera, and other valuables inside a rubber bag, and the strings were tied, to make it water tight and dropped inside the raft.
The sky was still cloudy and a gentle breeze was blowing. I was immersed in my thought, “Years back the entire Mumbai was immersed in mass of water, due to monsoon deluge; people wadding through waist deep and sometimes neck deep in water. Here I was preparing to float on the Zanskar river with life jacket, in an inflatable raft.” My thought process was broken, as we were asked, whether any one did not want to do paddling. I raised my hand as my right shoulder was somewhat painful and did not want to aggravate it.

We took our seats in raft. In the front row the Australian and young Sid seated along the periphery. I was seated in between front row paddlers, on a horizontal inflated portion. In middle row, a gentleman from Kolkata and his son were seated. Third row was occupied by Sachin and a lady; in the last row the instructor stationed himself. For the first fifteen minutes, we cruised along the downstream aided by Zanskar river current. It was wonderful experience to bob on the river waves, up and down, The paddlers did their jobs admirably. Then came the first burst, when we hit the first rapid. The paddlers were asked to forward paddle. The water just came and lashed at us at knee level. The front row paddlers, who have the vantage view at all times of cruise, are at a disadvantage when water mass hits them. With my terricot trousers wet with ice cold water; it was shivering time. The Australian who managed to get into the pygmy sized body water suit (must be having demonic strength ), was at an advantage. The paddlers who sat at the periphery had the advantage of tucking their feet inside the pockets ( something like static sleepers ) built in the bottom of the raft. I was kind of hanging, with no toe hold and held on the paddlers by their shoulders, whenever the danger seemed imminent.

After cruising smoothly over a few smaller rapids we were coasting along and observing the mountain scape of different shapes and hues, very happy and contented. The wind velocity was increasing, and a few drops of rain fell. That was a bad sign. After nearly an hour, we were on a big rapid. The water mass came menacingly and hit us three smack in the face. My spectacles went cloudy. Wow! That is what rafting thrill is about! As if my trouser drenching was not enough, my tee shirt became soaked with ice cold water. I felt as if I am combating temperature akin to Siachen, with my body shivering and teeth clattering. After facing a few more rapids not so severe, we were relived to sight the shore near Nemo, the confluence of rivers.

Will nature conspire again? Yes, it did. The wind velocity suddenly increased many-fold. Aided by wind, sand plumes started developing, spiralling and rising on the mountain side. The sand storm, with thousand pincer-like sand particles raised millions of black dots on the river water.  Seated in front, we were like sitting ducks minus their water repelling skins. The wind direction being against the flow of Zanskar, the direction of raft was sometimes turning sideways, sometimes totally changing direction by 180 degrees. There was kind of eerie silence in the raft. The Australian, for the first time looked somewhat unsure of himself. The instructor was conspicuous by his silence.

The raft reached the confluence point Nemo and paddlers were paddling desperately to attain shore at a distance of 50’, as if their life depended on it. The raft instead of landing at confluence point, veered from murky brown water of Zanskar, to crystal clear blue water of Indus. The lashing stormy winds blowing in the opposite direction of river current, carried our raft into Indus, and we were actually going upstream on a raft! What a comedy! Next ten  minutes were like eternity. With gallant efforts of our paddlers we landed safely on the bank of river Indus.
Nemo Confluence of rivers Indus & Zanskar*
 Did our ordeal end there? No way. We clambered out of our raft, like in a drunken stupor, mentally and physically drained out and walking like a zombie! The jeep was some 50 feet away, where we were to change our cloths. The wind and sand particles were lashing so furiously, we felt a million pricks on our face and felt, as if , we will be uprooted and taken to a faraway place. Looking at the ground, taking measured steps, we staggered to the jeep with a huge relief. A fresh set of cloths, got our circulation going. Hunger pangs made us go post haste to a restaurant called ‘Olympic’ Something, for a simple vegetarian buffet lunch arranged by rafting company.

In our post lunch conference, I confided to Sid and Sac, “If this is what is rafting is about, I would not like be part of any future rafting expeditions!”  All said and done, with time we tend to forget the unpleasant part of any past expeditions. Who knows, I may take part in another rafting expedition in future and will have more interesting stories to tell!

Important informations :

1)Zanskar white water rafting on Sumdha Do – Nemo stretch cost us Rs. 1300/- per head including all gears like life jackets, helmets, body suits, paddles, raft and  a buffet lunch.

2) Indus river rafting will be lot easier and may not cost more than Rs.800/-

3) The more adventurous guys should sit in the first row as they will get the best view. On the flip side they will take the brunt of the aquatic onslaught.

4) Guy who is not going to paddle can be dressed in wind cheater and plastic waterproof trousers. That way he will feel less chill in early summer.

5) For the paddlers, the white water rafting is more satisfying.
6) Rafting in Indus can be done in month of July/August/September but Zanskar is more challenging.
7) Rafting companies are reluctant to take children less than 12 years of age for rafting expeditions.
8) Rafting company at Leh :  Indus Himalayan Explorers, Opp. taxi stand, Fort road, Leh

Readers can catch up on some visuals as I recorded it from the following captioned links:

1. White Water Rafting Preparations, Zanskar River
2. Confluence of Rivers Zanskar & Indus at Nemo

* Photo by Sachin Vaidya


  1. A real thriller and you were saved by whiskers


    Krishna Banerjee

  2. Awesome photos, guys! The mix of snaps almost made me feel like I was there, too. Thanks for sharing ur experience with us. See more information about Thinks to see in India . Happy Hop Around India...................

  3. You shared with us such a great experience of Zanskar chilled and thriller river rafting, Awsome pics of there. thnx for sharing it. after reading your blog i want to visit this adventures trip. I analyse some more adventures destination for enjoy the trip through:
    Anil Tiwari

  4. Hi

    That's a nice read. Thrilling experience.

    Do u have any contact details of the person who organizes river rafting there????
    Coz we intend to go there this sept.


  5. Hi

    That's a nice read. Thrilling experience.

    Do u have any contact details of the person who organizes river rafting there????
    Coz we intend to go there this sept.


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