It doesn't matter that you are not a water baby. On your trip to Ladakh, sign up for a white water rafting session down the Zanskar river, not for the rapids as much as for the incredibly gorgeous sights all around
"Ha-ha-hu-hu-ahu-ahu-ahu," we shouted in unison, our oars clutched in our hands. And this is what the mighty Zanskar river does -- make perfectly bright minds like ours chant inane and absolutely meaningless strings of words, while we go rafting down its course. But for all it was worth, the singing-and-shouting kept our energies soaring, and our tired bodies going.
Stunning vistas surrounding white water course, topped with blue skies
and white clouds pic/Vinod Sreedhar
Clamped up in black wetsuits and armed with an oar each, our not-so-motley group of 10 was divided into two rafts to battle the rapids on the Zanskar, a snaky river that empties itself into its more popular cousin, the Indus. Earlier in the day, we had driven up from our basecamp in the picturesque town of Leh, to the teeny hamlet of Chilling (about 60 kms from Leh), in the Zanskar range, one of the least interfered microcosms of Ladakh.
Even if you are a hydrophobe and rafting in chilly waters is not quite your 'it' thing to do, we suggest you sign up for this drive. The narrow road topped with a forget-me-not blue sky and marshmallow-y tufts of clouds, naked mountains that look like they are painted anything from red to purple, a silt-ridden river meandering its course through the gorge, all truly add value to our resident 'Grand Canyon of the Himalayas', as the range is aptly called.
Though there are several rafting routes on the Zanskar, the most popular one (also best suited for amateurs) is the one that traces the 28 km journey of the river from Chilling to Nimmu, where it merges into the Indus. At the outset, the rafting guys set up makeshift changing rooms for you to get into your clingy wetsuit, a lifejacket and a helmet. You are then divided into different rafts, and an instructor doles out basic instructions.
Ayodhya, our affable guide, made us do a quick demo session before we hit the waters. "Forward paddle", he would shout from the rear end, and we would start paddling in sync, in a way that the raft would glide forward.
This part of the river takes you over Grade 2 and 3 rapids, with three kayaks making sure that you don't get swept downstream in case you fall into the river. Last year when the cloudburst had wrecked Leh, the same waters that we paddled in were fierce, we were told, though we met only a docile version of these waters.
As we rafted downstream, we realised that the waters were not as choppy and the rapids do not quite elicit heart-in-the-mouth moments. But what make the experience unforgettable are the heartbreakingly gorgeous views all around. Like us, you will thank your stars for being in a wetsuit when the rapids drench you in their chilly waters. Find the courage towards the end of the course to jump into the river itself. Hang on to the raft and enjoy going comfortably numb, and if your lungs can take it, try swimming around a bit.
After three hours and a teeny break en route to tuck in some biscuits and regain energy, our rafting concluded at the confluence where you can spot the vastly different colours of the two rivers. The rafting package usually includes lunch overlooking the river, a short distance away. The chills soon passed; what stayed with us and still does are those unbelievably gorgeous vistas.
Cost: Rs 800-Rs 1,000 for white water rafting, including lunch