Ganga. The holy river. Cascading down from the Gangotri glacier, high up in Uttarakhand, cutting its way through the majestic Himalayas, flats of Uttar Pradesh and emptying out in the Ganges delta region of Bengal. At the source, the water is pure. Fresh meltwater from the glacier, untouched by human activities. As it flows downhill, the water quality degrades, and by the time it reaches Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, it resembles a sewer. A divine river transforms into the fifth most polluted river in the world!
Till Rishikesh however, the water is clean. It may not be as pure as at the origin, but clean enough to drink. The thought of a dip in the river not repulsive. In the town, people fill cans with the divine 'Gangajal'. The water is a deep blue colour. Shivpuri is another town close to Rishikesh and situated along the river banks. The river first flows through Shivpuri on its way down to Rishikesh, and on the way, it forms multiple rapids. This proximity to a bigger town and the presence of rapids makes Shivpuri an ideal starting point for rafting enthusiasts.
We made our way down to the sandy shores of the river near Shivpuri. The guide for the trip was waiting with the raft. One raft allows 8 people at the most and 2 guides. We set off downstream following a brief safety demo. The water, in the beginning, was peaceful. The raft moved at a serene pace, following the river current. Each of us was given an oar and the guide would shout 'forward' to command a forward rafting motion.
The river flow started getting turbulent as we approached the first rapids. A patch of angry water. Strong waves aided by the current. Our raft acted like an airplane in an air pocket. We plunged into the rapids to the motivation shouted by our friend Abhijit in the form of the stroke count. We emerged from the rapids, soaked with the chilled waters from the river. Our guide ensured that we never rowed more than 10 strokes at a time. This helped us keep up our energy.
Soon a rhythm was set. We would row, take a break, then row again. Rapid after rapid. Each one offering something different than the others. If one was particularly vicious, another would be less demanding. Where one was a mild curve, another would be tortuous. There was a particularly long quiet patch between two rapids, and there the guide announced that we can have a dip if we were up to it. Just as I was about to go overboard, he added that we can also dive in! That was all the motivation I needed to plunge headfirst into the cold water.
Swimming with the current was a pleasure. Just a little effort would take me far. I could see the mountains breeze by, interspersed with little reminders of civilisation. Up ahead I could see a large piece of rock jutting out. The guide announced that this was a place were cliff jumping was possible. He ordered us back into the boat and navigated it deftly to a rocky shore near the outcrop. I walked up to the outcrop and before having second thoughts just jumped off! The feeling of free fall and in the end hitting the water was amazing.
A couple of hours after we started we eased the raft onto a sandy beach near Rishikesh. Exhausted, with plates of hot Maggi in hand, I was already wishing for another round on the raft. In the past few hours, I had jumped off a cliff, rafted through various rapids and had a dip in the holy river. That's some way to spend a morning!