Upper Ganges, India.


The line between a holiday and an expedition is often blurred.  Many arguments have raged over what constitutes and expedition; must there be first descents? Bad food? Do there need to be tales of epics? Is a far-flung destination enough? Here, Chris and Dave give two different takes on a recent trip to Uttaranchal Pradesh, in the Indian Himalaya. You can decide for yourself whether the trip was an expedition, or just a great adventure kayaking trip.

Chris: Dave and I spent most of last August trying not to be bitter about our paddling predicaments.  Both of us had suffered injuries and had to let the two expeditions we had both organised, go to Tajikistan and Japan without us.  By Christmas we were both recovered and itching to get outside and have an adventure so we booked ourselves tickets to India for a paddling holiday to ease ourselves back into our boats.

Dave: Neither Chris nor I had been away on a kayaking expedition for at least a year.  Various injuries and inconveniences had meant that we both missed out on the previous summer’s big trips, so last Christmas I decided that what we needed was a hardcore Himalayan expedition to give us our fix of adventure.

C: I had read a trip report from a few years ago about Himalayan steep creekin’ and was totally inspired to go off the back of the photos and descriptions.  In particular a clean 20 footer somewhere high in the valleys where the source of a number of massive rivers can be found.  I started to collect river information on the area.  Steve Bates and Mark Rainsley (who is an oracle of information for nearly every corner of the globe) supplied helpful information that is readily available on their websites. Armed with all this information I constructed a good sketch map of the region we wanted to visit combined all the information I had gained for each river.  This would allow us to travel directly from quality white water to quality white water, hitting up the best sections of each river and learning from the previous trips.

D: This was to be no mere holiday, this was an expedition.  The Himalayas are after all the World’s largest mountains and boast little of the infrastructure of, say, the French Alps.  We had some vague notes about rarely paddled steep rivers high in the mountains of Uttranchal Pradesh and Google Earth gave us some valuable information about catchments and gradients. Having gathered all the information that we would need, we stocked up on expedition kit (sporks, memory cards and good novels) and set about planning our strategy for tricking airport staff into thinking our loaded, expedition-ready boats weighed under 20 kg…

C: We began our holiday with quality days of paddling on the Yamuna River.  Here we combined sections that the two previous groups had done but neither had done together giving us 3 days of world class IV & V white water.  We found hard bouldery rapids, the mystical 20 footer (it was as good as I hoped and easier than I’d expected!) and continuous gradient.  We headed over to the Tons and Rupin and again found nothing but quality white water, running some sections that had previously been run and others which we had little information on.  Our next planned river was too low but equipped with all the information in the world we didn’t miss out and were able to head elsewhere!  Information is power…

D: After a remarkably stress-free flight, we headed straight for the mountains and the Yamuna River.  Here we found three days of incredible steep creeking through a series of committing and challenging gorges. The nature of the river meant that we had to be constantly on top of our game and looking out for the next surprise that the river would spring on us. The Rupin and Tons Rivers provided your daring expeditioners with further treats; including interrupting a pair of vultures feasting on the eyes of a (dead) ox, arguments with officials demanding money, and more hard and remote whitewater.  A couple of the rivers that we had planned didn’t have enough water when we got there, being ready for such expedition problems, we wasted no time in heading to our back-up plans of multi-day trips down the Alaknander and Ganges.  When we discovered at one camp spot that someone, who shall remain unnamed, had left the matches in the car, we were forced to ferry across the river and spend an evening socialising with a group of sadhus (Hindu holy men) in a river side temple. After participating in a number of holy ‘rituals’ we acquired the means to start our cooking fire. This is the kind of unique experience that you can’t plan and only arises on expedition.

C: In the past, I have relied on public transport for kayaking trips in various countries.  It is certainly fun, memorable and cheap, but very slow.  Now Dave & I are no longer students, time is our limiting factor, as opposed to cash. Consequently, we were keen to waste as little time as possible traveling around.  With this in mind we hired transport to pick us up from Delhi International Airport and take us wherever we wanted to go for 15 days.  This meant we could get as much done as possible without any stress of having to leave kit anywhere or wait for buses by the roadside.  The driver was a great help.  He clearly felt some level of responsibility over us and helped to find cheap guest houses and somewhere to eat.

D: Being an expedition, we had our fair share of transportation hassles. For instance, when our car got stuck in a rut in the road, we had to enlist the help of a small child to help push us out. The next day we had to negotiate our boats onto a local bus and take our seats alongside the livestock in the back in order to get to our put-in. Thank goodness for cheap, memorable and fun public transport.  On another occasion, our car got to an impassible section of road meaning that we had to shoulder our boats and walk the rest of the way along the track to the Rupin put-in.  It’s probably best that I don’t even go into the hassles of trying to find a hotel or restaurant in a town with more than two roads. 

C: Traveling somewhere new can often be a fairly stressful time but with first hand river information and logistics taken care of, this was a great Adventure Paddling Holiday and as a result, we got to run some great white water.

D: Okay, calling our trip an expedition is probably a bit pretentious, but it certainly had many of the trappings of a traditional ‘Kayaking Expedition’. With a bit of planning, and some useful notes from previous trips, we certainly managed to fit a pretty adventurous trip into a two week holiday. The food was probably far too good to be expedition food as well.

Taken from a Canoe and Kayak UK Article in August 2011.

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