In March 2005 four Russian kayakers made a trip to the Alaknanda, Bhagirati and its tributaries.
Article by Konstantin "Doctor" Vasin
Rain, cold wind, twilight. Nikolay Timonin and myself deep down in a canyon. Up go steep walls with prickly bushes, the exit nowhere in sight.... depressive and not really inspiring to stay for a cold night out in a canyon.
Many rivers to cross
In the Indian district Uttaranchal Pradesh there are many very interesting rivers for kayakers. First of all these are the Bhagirati and Alaknanda rivers that become the Ganges after the confluence. These are big volume, powerful rivers. The paddling on their uppermost sections can be interesting for very strong kayakers, but it is very tiresome due to a lot of portages. The difficulty is class 4-6. One would have to carry the boat over huge chunks of rocks which takes away forces and time. The paddling on lower sections is much more interesting. It is necessary to get out of the boat too for scouting, but there are significantly less portages. Besides the valleys widen and the odds to have to spend a cold night out there get much lower.
The Alaknanda tributaries are quite interesting too. They can be estimated as class 3 rivers. The water is lower and it is possible to use them for warm-up. With higher levels they can become class 4 - 4+. They are very good, since the most part boat-scoutable.
Perhaps we were not very lucky because the weather in the Alaknanda valley was cold and rainy, whereas at the Bhagirati and other Ganges tributaries it was warm and sunny. Bhagirati is very pleasant due to the hot springs in the upper part. There are some hotels, and it is very pleasant to get up in the chilly morning air and get into the hot pool, and only then have breakfast, wash yourself and paddle cold glacial water.
The Yamuna and Tons valleys differ strongly from each other and from Bhagirati. When we arrived to Yamuna, the spring had already come into full force. While before the mountains were gray and faded, in the Yamuna valley the trees were blossoming and terraced fields were covered by multi-colored spots of new crops. And the paddling was also cheerful, joyful and sunny.
Yamuna - is a typical kayaking river. We paddled the middle section that has very few portages, but the river is very intense. As a whole the middle section is class 4.
Tons is a wide and powerful rafting river (class 3-4). It is interesting to run it in a raft as well as in a kayak. It is difficult and fascinating to read the water. There are very big waves and holes.
The Pabar river is worth a special notice. It is class 4-5. We paddled only the last three kilometers, but were very impressed. It is the river with big water and high gradient. The river is about 50 kms long. About 20-30 kms in the middle is flat water, the remaining 20 km present some very demanding paddling.
India and the Indians
The general impressions from a trip to India can be overwhelming. The country is rather dirty and fully unsanitary, but by observing the basic precautions (drinking bottled water, washing hands before meal and using bottled water for teeth cleaning) you can avoid the stomach troubles.
The Indians are smiling and lovely people. It can be irritating when they gather into a crowd around your car and stare as "the white" change clothes, but it has never been threatening for us. They showed extreme curiosity, but not the aggression.
It was warm in India, many tangerines, bananas, other fruits and vegetables, and it was possible to have a diet without huge quantities of spices. But if you like it spicy, you'll love the local food.
On the whole, despite of all the negatives and bad weather sometimes, our trip to the Indian Himalayas has shown that it is a very interesting area for kayaking and also rafting, mountain biking and other outdoor activities.
April 2005, Moscow, Russia