WHITE WATER RAFTING IN INDIA
- by Akshay Kumar
For the most part, rafting history dates to 1869 when John Powel lead a team of explorers the Grand Canyon in small decked wooden oar boats. Similar explorations carried on for another 40 years. 40 years of explorations, innovations and accidents finally saw the launch of the first ever paid commercial expedition down the Grand Canyon in 1909. Today, Grand Canyon offers the largest commercial Whitewater section in the world.
Rafting in India surprisingly has fairly deep roots. As early as 1947, Maharaja of Patiala and a couple of his friends rafted down some of the sections of the Ganga. 1977 saw the launch of the first Indo-German expedition on the Indus. At that time it was a record in high altitude rafting. In the 80s international companies like Sobek started running trips in a few rivers in India. In 1984 the first Indo American expedition rafted down the Alaknanda and the Ganga. This was the expedition that laid the roots of commercial white water sports in the country.
Rafting started commercially around 1985 with only 150 clients throughout the year. Today, there are more than 100 operators who specialise in white water activities handling more than 1,00,000 people every year. Domestic tourism is contributing a major chunk of these earnings. With economy being liberalised , many Indian families and corporate houses are now breaking out of their shells and taking on adventure activities for recreation and human resource development.
Today commercial rafting is being carried out in many rivers around the country. We have the Ganga, Alaknanda and Bhagirathi in Garhwal, Beas, Sutlej and Spiti in Himachal, Indus and Zanskar in Ladakh, Teesta in Sikkim and Bhramaputra in Arunachal. Other rivers like Sharda, Lohit, Sindh, Lidder, Rangeet, and, Tons have been negotiated but need be developed more commercially.
The Ganga is revered as the holiest river in India and is today also become famous as the white water capital of this huge nation. Its proximity to Delhi, it’s pristine white sandy beaches and the inviting emerald green waters make for an ideal destination for weekend and short expeditions. Today there are more than 20 rafting companies with luxury camps along the Ganga, which offer simple but comfortable accommodation and a variety of rafting and adventure trips to choose from.
The Indian Association of Professional Rafting Outfitters (IAPRO) represents the entire rafting community of India and strictly controls the environment and safety standards amongst it’s members.
Today, even after the sport is more than a decade old there are still no standard guidelines adopted by any of the state governments to ensure safety of the novice client. Seeing the growth rate in white water sports a lot of fly by night operators have started operating in Rishikesh, Manali, Ladakh and Sikkim. Most of these operators do not adhere to the basic safety norms like running a trip with a backup kayak or raft for effective rescue. Checking the buoyancy of life jackets before every season, giving the safety briefing to the client and carrying first aid boxes in the raft.
It is because of this kind of negligence that we had a tragic accident early last year where 6 students died when rafting. To date, there has been no action to bring the guilty to justice. Local authorities have now gone to the other extreme where they have formed regulations without consulting anybody with experience in the field. As a result the present scenario does not, I repeat does not improve safety in any manner and at the same time stunts the growth of the industry by making it next to impossible for anybody to operate.