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November 19, 2007

First Descent of the Dhaliganga


Just to avoid any confusion I'll clarify that we paddled two rivers called the Dhaliganga during our time in India. The first one we were detained and fined, and the second we weren't... Ones in the middle of Uttaranchal and the other is close to the Nepal border. Easy!

India. Awesome
Image:Sam Hughes

The more time we spend traveling through India the more I enjoy this country. We are constantly meeting new people in new places along the way. Although the terrain and people keep on changing a few things remain consistent . Where ever you eat out its going to be lentils in soupy stuff (dhal), roti (flat pita bread sort of stuff) and rice. The other constant is people reactions.

"don't splash the camera!"
Image: Zak Shaw gets in tight for this shot


Its great watching the Indian people as we drive on by. No matter where we go the reaction is the same. Drop jawed they first stare at all the shiny bright coloured things on the roof (the kayaks), then they spot the five super white (especially Sam) foreign guys squeezed in the truck. Finally with the most amazement they see Kiaya, our trusty tea drinking guard dog. (we learnt very quickly about keeping a good eye on your tea when she's around). "Indian dog?" Is usually the first question we would face. So much for being small time local international kayaking stars, we are being upstaged by a pregnant street dog come mascot. Indians don't really have pets. A few (very few) keep dogs to guard their homes but generally they just roam the streets, eat rubbish and sniff each other. Kiaya was a hit.

Who is the father of Kaiya's pups? Mmm


After cutting our losses on the Dali Ganga (the first one, in the middle of Uttaranchal) we headed further east and spent two days scouting a couple more rivers. With time running short we thought time would be better spent checking out the Dhaliganga, a major tributary to the Kali River (the second one). The Kali River is the border between India and Nepal. Eddy out on the left and you had better have your passport ready.

Rush hour Pindar style

Still suffering from problems with the Forest Service it just so happened that our paddling coincided with a festival weekend. This meant that everyone was at home drinking and letting off rather large fireworks.... such as dynamite. No jokes!

The Dhaliganga. Its very fast and it makes you focus
Image: Sam Hughes

The paddling we found on the Dhali was easily the hardest and perhaps best of the trip. The river was steep (30-50m/km) with lots of volume making for some very pushy and sometimes very scary kayaking.

Top drop and third times a charm... Zak on the tributary at the put-in.
Image: Sam Hughes

From the road it was looking like a great days paddling with nothing too full on. Once on the river we were gripped at times as we were pushed the boats and bodies hard. Plenty of committing rapids kept the team focused and working to stay on line. Steve aka. Scuba had a very nasty experience. After taking a roll mid-rapid he was pushed off line. Dropping into a big lateral (a very big wave that pushes you sideways across the river) he was slammed into a cave with the rivers full force holding him there. After about 15seconds (that's a very long time in kayaking terms) he surfaced minus boat and paddle and was pulled free by JJ and some very tidy rope work. The attrition began. After all the kit was recovered JJ, Zak and I headed on down stream. An hour later just Zak and I were left to complete the section to town. With some big moves in big rapids we were pretty happy to make the take out in one piece. Chai time!

Its serious stuff when the facials come out
Image: Sam Hughes

The reception in town was fantastic. Around 100 locals lined the bridge and cheered us on as we climbed out of the river and walked into town. The atmosphere was buzzing. It was easily one of the highlights of the trip. Great river, great people and the rum Scuba brought. Good times.

"Such strong bold lines", a local legend tells it like it is.

High on the day before Zak, Scuba and I headed back to run the section again. No easier the second time around we still had a pretty big day out. Zak decided to mix things up a little making for a little more adventure than we were hoping for. More rum. Back at the bridge we had a quick lunch and a cup of chai with the villagers.

"We'd like to thank our sponsors at 'Beards R Us'. Zak and I finish up on the Dhali

After lunch Zak and I pushed on and managed to tag another couple of km of great paddling onto the section. Happy and bloody tired we called it quits in the nik of time. Around the corner the river dropped dramatically making for more portaging (walking around rapids) than paddling.

Caught up in the moment. Awesome!
Image: Sam Hughes

India is great

November 6, 2007

Uttaranchal update


In search of some more 'Big' water paddling we headed up the Alaknadra River. The lower section is run often by rafting outfits but the upper reaches don't really see a lot of action. Also, the tributaries to the Alaknadra showed promise for lower volume steep creek paddling.

The India 2007 team practicing 'rafting up'
From the left: Zak, JJ, Sam, Steve and Shalabh.
Abscent: Ben Jackson

So with high hopes we drove up stream to the Dali Ganga, the largest tributary. On the way stopped in town to check out the permit situation. If we planned to paddle in the National Park we needed to get the right paper work . From here we drove the dusty, windy road and found a great section of river. Fours kilometers of great road side boating, good gradient, good flow. What could possibly go wrong....

The Dali Ganga
Image: Sam Hughes

The first day went without a hitch. The boys ran nice lines and had a great time on the water. After spending the night sleeping outside the local school we decided to give the section another run because it was so much fun. Good lines, good times and we even had a group high on the river bank to wave us on.

With spirits high the boys shouldered the boats back to the road to meet Sangroup with the car. Waiting with Sangroup and Shalabh were some stern faced uniformed men with big guns.

A local lady eyes up Zak and JJ

As it turns out, the people waving to us from the bank were actually park officials. They instructed the guards to impound our vehicle and all our gear. With an armed escort we were driven back to Josimath the the district headquarters. He we were interrogated and help over night for paddling 'near' the national park. It was decided that we could either pay a R20 000 rupee fine or be dragged through the court system and face a two month jail sentence.

Sam Hughes punching through

With venom running through the veins we reluctantly paided the fine. We were informed that had we obtained a 'permit' for the section 'near' the national park all would have been good. With this fresh information we the tried to get permits to paddle a section on the Alaknandra. We were declined because kayaking permits don't exist. Indian bureaucracy is very frustrating.

The irony of this whole ordeal is that we were charged with paddling on the river and therefore causing potential damage. All the while a massive dam is being constructed in this World Heritage Area. Go figure aye.

Don't take a kayak to a gun fight

With pockets empty we cut our losses and continued our journey further east. Grrr!

In search of some stress relief we sort out a 'legal' big water section further down stream. The day was going well until we ran into some locals. A car had crashed into the river two weeks earlier with 14 people on board (this is India after all) and one of the bodies had washed up on an island. It was good to help out the locals but body recovery is a pretty grim task.

The team with the grim task of recovering a body

India update...

Our trip across Utturanchal has not being a boring one. After our extensive tramping/ hiking tour of the Supin River drainage we headed over to paddle a roadside (this means that any potential walk out would be very short) and this was exactly what we were after. On the water the boys got their teeth into the run and made use of every available eddy for a much needed blow out. If we wanted to walk we walk right! Feeling satisfied it was back into the track to bounce our way to the next river.

It's 24km to... somewhere! Hindu road signs. Tough

If I were to be entirely honest, the paddling we are doing pails in comparison to the driving we are doing here. Class four, class five - whatever. Try one lane dirt tracks etched and scratched into the side of very big and very steep 'hills'. Sitting in the back its possible to gaze anxiously 800m down into the the valley floor. Just when you start to relax a massive local truck will rip around a blind corner threatening to send you to your death. After extensive testing we have found that a couple of bottles of dodgy local Rum are a good match for the dodgy local roads. Phoar! Not for the faint hearted.

Chai shop with a view

Feeling a need to get away from the mountain roads we headed back to Deradun (the capital of Utturanchal) for supplies and to touch base with the outside world. This does not always yield good news from back home. Anyways, more rum please.

From here, you guessed it, back in the tray of the truck with the dog and back on the road.

The locals check to see if Zak is on line. Balangana River

Our next mission had us up a river called the Balangana. Needing to get away from it all we put on and spent the night tucked deep in the heart of the river. The paddling was fantastic once you forgot about all the turds you walked across at the put in. Super continuous in nature (for those who can, image a steeper better Glenroy)for two great days.

Sadly we may have been the first and probably the last team to paddle this section. We passed two dam sites while on the river.

JJ running right. Its a good option.
Image: Sam Hughes

Basically every river we have driven up and or paddled is due to be dammed. Some of the trips we have done have had as many a six dam sites on them. After talking with Shalabh it seems as though pretty much ever river in Utturanchal is planned for damming..

One of these guys is not like the other. JJ meets a local Sadu