Monday, January 31, 2011

White River Water Rafting | White Water Rafting | White Water Rafting In India

White water rafting in India is almost exclusively confined to the northern rivers which flow southwards from the Himalayas, gushing between densely forested mountains and through steep gorges. Rivers such as the Alaknanda, Bhagirathi, Indus, Zanskar and Teesta offer `raft-worthy’ rapids, and a trip down a river can be a great way to see the countryside. Whether the expedition’s just a few hours of getting soaked and experiencing the thrills of a high-action Hollywood flick- or it stretches over a few days in which you spend time camping and trekking as well- this is an experience not to be forgotten.

White water rafting or river running, as an alternative way of spending your vacation, is being increasingly offered by a number of tour operators and travel agencies, including government tourist offices. Prices are generally reasonable, and will include food, equipment, lifejackets, helmets, an expert guide, and accommodation. Check on what you’re paying for, and whether any additional charges are likely to be levied. It also makes sense to scout around a bit before taking a decision on which agency you’re going to book with.

Most agencies allow anybody- as long as you’re over 14 years of age- to book on river rafting trips. For basic trips, which pass through quieter waters, it isn’t even necessary to know swimming, although those who can’t swim may not be allowed on certain stretches of the river. Expectant mothers and people who suffer from epilepsy or other serious ailments, will usually not be allowed.

When to go for White Water Rafting:

The Himalayan rivers, being the main river rafting routes, are virtually inaccessible during the winters. Some, like the Zanskar, are frozen over, and most of the others are too cold too allow rafting. Getting soaked could lead to a long and perhaps dangerous bout of hypothermia- or worse.

The monsoon brings heavy rain to the lower reaches of the Himalayas, and melting snows in the mountains result in higher waters in all of the rivers. Summers, therefore, though a good time to go river rafting, can be a little unsafe, especially for novices who haven’t travelled on a river in spate. For novices, August and September- when waters are lower and more manageable- are the best months to go river running; veterans can opt for expeditions earlier in the summer. Spring or early summer is also usually suitable for river running.

The Teesta is one of the few rivers where river rafting is confined to the winter months, between October and April.

What to bring for White River Water Rafting:

A love for adventure and a passion for the great outdoors is top priority. More practical things to pack include a good sunscreen, dark glasses, shorts, T-shirts (or other light, quick-dry clothing) and suitable shoes- sneakers or heavy duty rubber sandals may be a good idea. Also pack in a windproof jacket, a light sweater, towels, and a flashlight- and don’t forget the first aid box and the camera!


River rafting in some areas may require special permits from the government. Areas close to India’s international borders, such as Nubra, Sikkim, Lahaul and Spiti may be off-limits to foreigners without a valid permit. Before venturing out with your oar and your life jacket, make sure you’ve got all the necessary permits which are needed. Permits can usually be obtained fairly easily from District Commissioners, District Magistrates or other senior officials. Enquire at the Ministry of Home Affairs in New Delhi to figure out whether you need a permit, and who can give it to you.


Riverside tent camps exist along all the main routes, especially in Garhwal. These will generally consist of Swiss tents where accommodation is on a shared basis, with separate dry-waste toilet tents. All camps have their own arrangements for dining and entertainment- the latter invariably consisting of bonfires, beach volleyball and singing. Some of the longer runs may include stops en route at riverside villages or other settlements.

In Ladakh, Lahaul, Sikkim and some of the less developed areas, pitching a tent will usually be the only course open for rafters.

Rafting Runs:

There are two main sets of routes along the rivers, graded I to III (for amateurs) and IV to VI, for veterans. The Zanskar and the Indus, both in Ladakh, are graded I - III, while the more southern stretches of the Beas, Chenab, Sutlej and Teesta are graded IV – VI. Briefly,

Grade I: Small, easy waves; mainly flat water

Grade II: Mainly clear passages; some areas of difficulty

Grade III: Difficult passages; narrow in places and with high waves

Grade IV: Very difficult, narrow and requiring precise manoeuvring

Grade V: Extremely difficult. Very fast-flowing waters which can be manoeuvred only by experts

Grade VI: For all practical purposes, unmanageable- even suicidal

The Ganga and its tributaries; the Kali Ganga, the Indus, the Zanskar, the Teesta and the Rangeet are some of the rivers on which river running has been developed. Most of these have good riverside camps, and are well-frequented by organised rafting groups during peak season.

Other than these, there are other rivers, nearly all in northern India, where there are possibilities for river rafting. These include the Sutlej, the Chenab, the Chandrabhaga, the Beas and the Spiti rivers- all of which offer good river running, but have not been explored to a great extent, or (as is the case of the Sutlej and the Chenab) are practically off limits at present because of instability and unrest in the region of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Ganga

The Kali Ganga (Sharda)

The Indus

The Zanskar

The Teesta

The Rangeet

The Ganga

1. Kaudiyala - Shivpuri (Alaknanda):

About 28 km upstream from the town of Rishikesh, on the Alaknanda, is one of India’s best known and most popular- stretches for white water rafting. The stretch between Kaudiyala and Shivpuri has several camps, each catering to river rafting outfits. Most of these operate between October to March, through the winter. The run starts at Kaudiyala and passes through thickly wooded hills; along the way are two of the river’s best rapids- one known as the `wall’ and the other called the `golf course’- which are succeeded by deep, tranquil pools. The river route makes it way past riverside temples, under the Laxman Jhoola. The run finally terminates at the dam beyond Rishikesh.

Rishikesh, which is about 257 km from Delhi, is well connected to most of northern India by road; the nearest railhead is at Hardwar, while the nearest airport is Jolly Grant, at Dehradun. There are regular buses to Rishikesh from Delhi, Hardwar and Dehradun. Once in Rishikesh, you can hire a vehicle to get to the river camp- in most cases, however, the tour operator will make arrangements for transport from Rishikesh to Kaudiyala. Besides the travel agencies who book Kaudiyala-Shivpuri trips, the Garhwal. Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) and UP Tourism also offer river runs along the stretch.

2. Rudraprayag-Rishikesh (Alaknanda):

Situated at the confluence of the Alaknanda and the Mandakini- two of the main tributaries of the Ganga, Rudraprayag is known to many wildlife buffs as the place where the famous Jim Corbett shot a man eating leopard in 1926. Although no longer as thickly wooded as it once was, Rudraprayag is still close enough to the jungles to make it a very charming place- and the starting point of an exhilarating, if strenuous, bit of river running.

Starting a little beyond the main town of Rudraprayag, the river makes its way through a series of rapids, narrow gorges and quieter stretches, passing through the towns of Srinagar and Devprayag (at the junction of the Alaknanda and the Bhagirathi). Further on, the river reaches Kaudiyala, from where the stretch to Shivpuri and on to Rishikesh is a fairly demanding one. The entire expedition takes about four or five days, depending upon the pace.

What is particularly appealing about the Rudraprayag-Rishikesh run is that other than the adventure of river rafting on one of India’s best stretches, it also offers the chance to see the densely forested Himalayan foothills at close quarters. Furthermore, the river passes through the heart of `sacred’ India- with plenty of opportunity to visit old temples. Anyway, river rafting on the Alaknanda can mean loads of dips- intentional and otherwise- in the holy river!

There are regular buses to Rudraprayag from Rishikesh and Hardwar.

3. Tehri-Shivpuri (Bhagirathi/Alaknanda):

The Tehri-Shivpuri run, on the Bhagirathi river, is considered to be one of India’s best runs scenic and heart-stoppingly exhilarating. Beginning at the town of Tehri, the district headquarters of Tehri Garhwal, this run goes down the Bhagirathi river, passing through foaming rapids- mostly grade III or IV- till it reaches Devprayag. At Devprayag, the Bhagirathi merges with the Alaknanda, beyond which the river becomes- in places- more manageable than in the upper reaches. Passing Kaudiyala, the run goes on to Shivpuri, and then to Rishikesh (for more details, see the Rudraprayag-Rishikesh run, above).

Tehri is connected by bus to other major towns in northern India, including Rishikesh, Hardwar and Dehradun.

Other popular stretches for rafting on the Ganga and its tributaries are:

On the Alaknanda:

Kaliasaur to Srinagar (16 km, lower grades)
Srinagar to Bagwan (20 km, lower grades)

On the Bhagirathi:

Matli-Dunda (12 km, a mixture of grades)
Jangla-Jhala (20 km, a mixture of grades)
Harsil-Uttarkashi,Dharasu-Chham(12 km, a mixture of grades)

On the Mandakini:

Chandrapuri-Rudraprayag (26 km, higher grades)

The Kali Ganga (Sharda)


The Kali Ganga’s name is rather misleading- for it has nothing, actually, to do with the Ganga. The Kali Ganga, known in its lower reaches as the Sharda, flows into India from the neighbouring country of Nepal. Hurtling down from the foothills of the Kumaon region, the Kali Ganga meets the Gori river at Jauljibi, where this run starts. A taxing stretch of river running, this route- all of 117 km- passes through some of the fastest and most dangerous rapids along the river. Most of the river is Grade IV – or higher- and should be considered only after you’ve had some experience of river running.

The run down to Tanakpur takes about three days, and if you’ve still not had your fill, you can extend it to the lower reaches of the river, which are easier going.

Jauljibi, which is the start of the run, is connected to major towns in Kumaon by road.

The Indus

Much easier and quieter than the Ganga and its tributaries, the Indus is suitable for Grade II and III trips. The river, which originates in Tibet, flows down through Ladakh, past Leh, and then passes into Pakistan.

1. Upshi-Khaltsi:

The Upshi-Khaltsi run is somewhat long, but not too difficult. Most of the river along this stretch consists of grade I and II rapids, although there are some grade III rapids too. The run starts at Upshi, which lies upriver from Leh, along the road which leads south to Manali. From Upshi, the river makes its way westwards to Khaltsi, along the road to Kargil.

2. Spituk-Saspol:

Spituk, just short of Leh and on the bank of the Indus, is the starting point for an easy and short trip downriver. The route goes up to the village of Saspol, near Alchi, and comprises a run of a few hours. A short and scenic run, the Spituk-Saspol route is relaxed enough to allow you to admire the beauty of the Indus Valley; beyond Saspol, however, the river starts getting a fraction wild, and is recommended only for experts.

Easier runs on the Indus include the run between Hemis and Choglamsar, a three-hour jaunt which goes through quiet, calm waters, and passes through the riverside villages of Stakna, Shey and Thikse, before ending at Choglamsar, just short of Leh city.

Leh, the capital of Ladakh, is connected by air to Delhi, Srinagar, Jammu and Chandigarh. In the summer months, road traffic also links the town to Manali in Himachal Pradesh and to Srinagar, although the latter route is not recommended because of the unrest in the Kashmir Valley. Within Ladakh, buses ply between the main towns and villages, and vehicles can be hired in Leh to get to the more inaccessible areas.

The Zanskar

Born from the merging of the Stod and Tsarap rivers, the Zanskar arises near the border between Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, and makes its way northward, to meet the Indus at Nimmu. A beautiful stretch of water, the Zanskar isn’t as wild and wicked as its southern sisters, the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi. It does have some grade III and IV rapids, but they’re fewer and more far between.

Among the most exciting runs on the Zanskar is the Padum-Nimmu run, a trip which takes several days and involves having to camp out in the wild. It’s replete with exciting rapids, and is suggested only for those with a fair bit of experience in white water rafting.

Another good run is the Phey – Nimmu route, easier than the Padum-Nimmu one- it’s mostly Grade II or III. The main attraction of the run is that it passes through astoundingly beautiful mountains, many of them with tiny villages and imposing old monasteries nestling among the valleys. The run starts at Phey and ends about 36 km from Leh, at Nimmu. Nimmu is situated at the confluence of Ladakh’s two main rivers- the Indus and the Zanskar.

Zanskar’s administrative centre, Padum, is accessible from Kargil, to which it is connected by road during the summer months. Buses run between the two towns on alternate days between July and October, and vehicles may be hired in Kargil to do the trip.

Note: In both Ladakh as well as Zanskar, public transport and other facilities- including tourist accommodation- are very limited. In addition to this, parts of the area, especially those lying close to India’s international borders, require special permits to be obtained. To overcome all these difficulties, it’s essential to go through a specialised agency which organises river runs. They’ll make all the necessary arrangements, including permits, transport, equipment and accommodation. Many such agencies have their offices in Leh, and some also have offices in other cities in India, such as New Delhi.

The Teesta

The main river in the north-eastern state of Sikkim, the Teesta originates at Cho Lhamu Lake and gushes down the mountains, creating foaming white rapids which are literally tailor-made for kayaking or rafting. Although this river isn’t (as yet) as well- charted or developed as those in Garhwal or Kumaon, it’s swiftly acquiring a reputation as a good stretch for white water rafting. Most of the Teesta is either grade III or IV, so it’s advisable to have some experience of river running before you attempt it.

Probably the shortest run on the Teesta is the run between Makha and Rongpo, a trip of about two and a half hours. Among the longer and more gruelling runs on the river are the stretches between Dikchu and Teesta Bridge; Dikchu and Kali Johra (in West Bengal, a run of almost five days); and between Bordang and Melli. The tributaries of the Teesta, including the Lachung Chu and the Lachen, also make for good river running.

The Rangeet

The Rangeet demarcates the border between the states of West Bengal and Sikkim, and is known primarily for kayaking. Good river running, however, is also possible on the river, especially in the upper reaches of the Rangeet. The stretch between Likship and Teesta Bazaar (where the Rangeet meets the Teesta) is particularly popular, as is the stretch from Naya Bazaar to Teesta Bazaar. The runs between Jorethang and Bhaney Khola; Sikip to Jorethang; and Jorethang to Melli are short stretches where rafting can be done. More accomplished rafters can combine these runs and do a longer trip between Sikip and Melli.

Sikkim’s capital, Gangtok, is connected by road to the rest of India, and there are frequent buses to Gangtok from Darjeeling, Siliguri, Kalimpong and Bagdogra. Bagdogra, near Siliguri, is the nearest airport; it’s about four and a half hours’ drive from Gangtok.

Note that special permits are required by foreigners visiting Sikkim. 15 day permits are issued, both by Indian embassies overseas as well as by Regional Registration Offices, Sikkim Tourism Information centres, and Resident Commissioners of the Government of Sikkim within India.

Further information on river rafting routes, equipment, organising agencies and more can be obtained from the Indian River Runners Association (606, Akashdeep, Barakhamba Road, New Delhi; Tel: 331 3229). Alternatively, you could approach the Tourism Departments of the corresponding states- Jammu and Kashmir (for the Indus and Zanskar); Uttar Pradesh (for the Ganga, its tributaries and the Yamuna); Sikkim (for the Teesta and the Rangeet) or other Tourism Development Corporation offices. The Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) is especially active in organising river running; it holds regular courses too, which can be very useful for first-timers. If you’re heading for very out-of-the-way places, especially in Ladakh, it’s usually best to keep the Tourism Department informed of your itinerary.

Do remember you’re heading for the wild, unspoilt outdoors; keep them that way. Respect the beauty of the land, and don’t do anything that’s likely to harm the environment. Don’t leave a trail of litter and waste behind you; carry your own fuel, food and supplies, and don’t use detergents or other chemicals which could wash into the river and pollute it.

White River Water Rafting, White Water Rafting, River Running White Water Rafting In India, River Rafting Trips, River Rafting Season, Ganga, Indus, Zanskar, Rangeet, Alaknanda, Kali Ganga, Mandakini, Sharda and more


  1. Nice Article! Thanks for sharing with us.

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  2. One can enjoy river rafting in India at many places. One of them is Himachal Pradesh- a highly demanding place for tourism and adventurous activities.Himachal Tourism

  3. In India, many places are there for the purpose of adventure. Himachal pradesh is also a highly demanding adventurous place famous for skiing, river rafting, trekking and many more.
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