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A monsoon adventure: River rafting on the Vaitarna

River rafting has been the flavour of the rainy season ever since Kolad’s Kundalika River was opened up to adventure lovers. This monsoon, Moeena Halim recommends you hit a different set of rapids at River Vaitarna, as close to the city as you can ask for

Adventure
Best time to visit: June-August
You need: 1-2 days

A clear, cloudless blue sky made sure the midday sun beat down on us as we rode down the Western Ghats to the banks of the River Vaitarna. While heading towards a relatively lesser known river rafting location, we were undoubtedly thrilled at the prospect of an adrenaline rush. Not realising that our adventure would begin even before we reached our destination.

It’s important to know when to squat and when to sit upright in the midst of a rapid. pics/ sameer gosavi and moeena halim
It’s important to know when to squat and when to sit upright in the midst of a rapid. Pics/ Sameer Gosavi and Moeena Halim 

White water rafting in Maharashtra is now synonymous with Kolad in the Raigad district. And with their success on the rapids at Kundalika River, where the guys from Wild River Adventures first began rafting 10 years ago, they decided to set up camp closer to the city just off the Mumbai-Nashik highway. They found that Vaitarna, the very source of our city’s drinking water, is also teeming with rapids and just as suitable for adventure activities. But the two-year-old venture has remained a well-kept secret and the location can well be considered off the beaten track. As we later found out, this was especially true for us because we were headed from Nashik. One wrong turn and we ended up riding 20 kms more than we were meant to. The route from Mumbai via Shirol Phata, although the same two and half hours long, is supposedly easier to follow.

As the rapids are at a pleasant distance from each other, you get ample time to jump right into the river and laze around in the water
As the rapids are at a pleasant distance from each other, you get ample time to jump right into the river and laze around in the water

By the time we made it to Wild River Adventures’ base in Savarkut, a tiny hamlet where we parked the bike and left our belongings, we were already scorched by the heat and left with a harsh sunburn. Although we were there merely for the white water rafting, the adventure company also organises a host of other activities including waterfall rappelling and kayaking. In a few months, they will have a campsite ready for travellers who’d like to stay a night or two away from the chaos of the city. But until that is ready, they provide food and accommodation at huts in Savarkut.

The cliff jump is a wonderful addition to the rafting experience
The cliff jump is a wonderful addition to the rafting experience 

All geared up
Two seasoned guides, both of whom have been rafting since they were children back home in Nepal, led us down to the river where the inflatable sunny yellow raft was being blown up. Since the monsoon hadn’t yet arrived then, we had been asked to co-ordinate our visit with the opening of the dam. That was the only way we’d get a gushing river and the much-wanted adrenaline rush in the midst of summer.

The tricky rapid named Double Minded can be rough at times
The tricky rapid named Double Minded can be rough at times

We donned our helmets and life jackets while our guide Manu instructed us about the raft and its rules — it was equally important for us to know when to squat down and when to sit back upright in the midst of a rapid. Manu sat at the stern controlling the raft, and we were to use our paddles according to his instructions. Since we were just the three of us in the eight-seater raft, we were joined by villagers from a neighbouring hamlet in for a thrilling ride back home.

One of the many narrow sections at the rapid
One of the many narrow sections at the rapid 

About 10 minutes into our session we realised we weren’t the only ones enjoying the river even in the summer heat. A trio of pre-teen boys were having a whale of a time, making their way down the river using a rubber tyre for a raft. As their makeshift raft very nearly got stuck between a rock and a bush, Manu merely laughed telling them to up their game. Clearly the river couldn’t be as dangerous as all that, we thought.

But the beginning of our 11-km stretch was somewhat misleading. For there are sections up ahead — especially at the last rapid which the bunch at Wild River Adventures have nicknamed Tiger Hold — that are so narrow there’s a chance a raft might get stuck in the rocks and worse still, tear if you don’t follow Manu’s paddling instructions to the tee. Another tricky rapid has been named Double Minded—“because it doesn’t know whether it wants to be calm or rough,” laughed our guide. According to Manu, who has also worked as a guide at Kolad and Rishikesh, while Kundalika may have more exciting rapids, the narrow stretches here make it a more taxing job for the guides. For emergencies, though, a second guide constantly kayaks by the raft’s side.

The big jump
It took us nearly two hours to cover the entire stretch, although we spent a considerable amount of time in the water rather than in the raft. Because the rapids are at a pleasant distance from each other, we were allowed ample time to jump right into the river and laze around in the water for a bit. Perhaps the monsoon makes the river more rebellious, but we found it pretty tame at most spots. At one particularly calm spot, our companions from the village offered to pick out fresh black jamuns growing on the wild bush.

But it was our halt for cliff jumping that was the highlight of our day. Getting off the boat, we took turns to haul ourselves up the 10-foot cliff, inch towards the edge, take a deep breath and dive!

Even our oldest co-passenger, an ageing ajoba, couldn’t resist the rush of the jump. Although the rapids may have been less intimidating than we’d imagined, the cliff jump definitely provided the climax we’d been hoping for. Definitely a wonderful value addition to the rafting experience; something you’re not going to find at Kolad.

Fact File
How to reach: 130 km from Mumbai, you can get to Savarkut village by road or take the train to Umbarmali. If you choose the latter, a tractor ride will take you from Dapura village to Savarkut.
Where to stay: Wild River Adventures is constructing a campsite near the river, until then, they provide homestays at the village.
Things to keep in mind: Carry a change of clothes. Other adventure activities include kayaking, waterfall rapelling, flying fox, valley crossing and so on.

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