Stories From The Camp: White-Water Rafting In Ladakh
Thinking about going white-water rafting in Ladakh? Here’s Rupert Winchester breaking down the entire experience for you
It’s late in the season, but I finally got to do something that I’ve wanted to do ever since I got to Ladakh. Go white-water rafting down the Zanskar River.
Because it’s nearing the end of the season, the water levels in the rivers are beginning to fall, as the meltwater from the snows on the mountaintops begins to dry up and re-freeze. Apparently the water levels on the Zanskar are 18 inches below where they were three weeks ago, so it was now or never (until next year).
The Zanskar River flows through the Zanskar Gorge, and is, quite frankly, magnificent. It can actually be done when the water levels fall. In the winter it ices over, and people walk along it, below six and seven-hundred metre cliffs, on a multi-day hike called the Chadar Trek. It looks astonishing.
The Zanskar Gorge is described by Wikipedia as a “100-kilometre-wide synclinorium formed by strongly folded and imbricated, weakly metamorphosed sedimentary series.” What this means in reality is a vast mountain range, soaring peaks and massive flanks of mountainsides. The river twists through galleries of twisted rock formations, acres of glacial till and beds of lithified stone and pebbles.
The mountainsides are amazingly brightly coloured with tiny vegetation: purples and orange-ochres in vast swathes coating the hills. There are apparently snow leopards there, but, of course, we didn’t see any.
The trip was organised by TUTC but run by a local rafting outfit, and they did a fine job. The route, from the aptly named village of Chilling, is 28 kilometres long, and takes a bit less than three hours. Before we started, I was a little nervous about safety standards and the condition of the equipment, this being India, but I needn’t have worried. Despite my natural antipathy to being told what to do by a man in dreadlocks, the staff did a fine job.
The tour leader gave us (two boats of eight each) a fine, succinct and clear lecture on safety, which I couldn’t fault. There was a guide in each boat, and two extra guides running interference in kayaks, and they were exactly where they needed to be at all times. I was particularly impressed with our boat guy, who knew exactly how to shoot the rapids at exactly the right spots for maximum fun and maximum safety. My hat is off to all of them.
And the rapids? Yes, they’re pretty good. Not excessively dangerous, but not small either. I wouldn’t recommend that my grandmother go on it, but she’s 95 years old. It was splashy (and cold) and there was a lot of up-and-down action, but it was all highly exhilarating rather than frightening.
You finally come to a halt at the confluence of the Zanskar and Indus Rivers, which is a remarkable spot, with the two differently coloured rivers running into each other. It’s a great place to call it a day.
So, breathtaking scenery, great fun, miles and miles of the cleanest air in existence and some good exercise: it is a wonderful day out. If the thought of yet another monastery gets a bit too much, try the white-water rafting. You genuinely won’t regret it.
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