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The River Wild

September 21, 2012

Three days on the river have left us all exhilarated, but a little worse for wear. There are sunburns all around (the monsoon finally stopped) and the injury count is adding up. I’ve got a broken toe as does Martin (his is worse). Adam dislocated his shoulder and has a bruised rib. And several of us had a pretty serious collision with a rock this afternoon.
But wow – what a spectacular experience!
Our morning in Bandipur was discouraging to say the very least. We awoke eager to see the breathtaking Himalayan views the area is famous for, but were greeted instead by only rain. And lots of it. Monsoon season is meant to end by early September, but this year has been especially bad.
We all headed out for a little exploring on our own after breakfast. Martin, Emma, and I headed off in one direction, others in other ways. Jamal went off for a haircut after a bad butchering with his clippers. Bandipur is a beautiful town, high in the hills with lush fora and fauna. After about an hour we all met up and Chit took us on a more extensive tour of the area, pointing out the juniper and pomellos growing wild, as well as the marijuana on every corner.
One of the most beautiful things about this country is the affection people show each other. It’s very common to see men holding hands in a very tactile, but not romantic way as the walk down the street. There is always touching and it always seems genuine.
Our tour of the town was interesting and informative, but it was wet! Very, very wet and rapidly very uncomfortable. Our group, which is remarkably good spirited and prone to laughter got progressively more sullen as the morning wore on. By the time we got back to the hotel, we were all soaked to the bone and not at all looking forward to our river trip.
We had a quick lunch at the Inn, cold meats, french fries, cole slaw – all delicious – packed the essentials in our boat bags, turned over all our other belongings, including computers, to the hotel staff and piled into our van. A short drive later we were on the beach meeting our guides.
They surveyed us, conferred a bit and assigned us our boats. The two couples in one and Chitra, the rest of us in the other. The rain had tapered off as we donned life jackets and helmets and by the time we were navigating the waters smiles had returned in full force. The river was especially high – a benefit of the long monsoon – and the hills that surrounded it were a vibrant, lush green. There were crystal blue waterfalls breaking the green every few minutes for a magical effect. When I asked everyone later for the words to explain it we could only come up with films – Avatar, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, or Anaconda. After a short ride we reached the beach that would serve as our camp for the first night. Pulling the boats up on the dock, we took off our shorts and t-shirts and jumped into the river (bathing suits were underneath). That’s how I did my toe in – twas quite a rocky river and I hit one pretty hard.
By the time we’d figured out how to build our tents, the guides had completed a kitchen area and had tea, coffee, and hot chocolate waiting for us. We sat by the river willing the clouds to clear and began to feel better. By dinner time – chicken curry, veggies, rice, cole slaw, and bread – we were back to ourselves and Jamal was trying with all his might to get another “Would you rather” game going.
The clouds cleared and the sky filled with stars. Alison and I sat with our toes to the fire and talked about our lives til it was time to sleep. We all crawled into our tents for our first night on the ground.
I was up early the next morning, which brought with it the benefit of using the latrine before it got to busy or hot. Our guides dug a small hole in the ground and tented it. A few feet away a paddle was propped in the sand topped by a rafting helmet. If the helmet was atop the paddle, the latrine was free; in the ground, it was occupied.
As the camp came to life, our guides pulled a huge iridescent silver fish our of the river. We all gathered to take photos and congratulate him and quickly learned that that would be our dinner. Breakfast, which they laid out for us lovingly, included fresh eggs and sausages. I don’t know how they got the eggs into the boat and with the rapids, how they kept them intact, but, oh was it good!
We piled back into our boats and made it a little ways down the river before stopping. The guides taught us Nepali games which we played enthusiastically, but really, there were rapids ahead that they wanted to check out before letting us through them.
We did fine. In one particularly hairy spot Jamal fell out of our boat, but Martin was there to pull him back before I realized what had happened. That was how Martin’s toe was done in.
We beach a little further on and had lunch. Shortly after arrival, we were joined by a young boy leading a heard of cattle. The beach was overrun with butterflies with patterns I’d never seen before, and at one point a bright indigo bug, looking like a two-inch kidney bean flew by us. It happened so quickly that no one could capture it on film, but it was something none of us had seen before.
Our camp for our second night on the beach was bigger than the first and between a lagoon and a long suspension bridge. As we built camp, starting to get the hang of it, Chit walked into the town to get us beer and soft drinks. Periodically, people would wonder out of the woods to look at us. They’d talk to our guides a bit and disappear back into the woods. At one point a boy with a machete made the circle, which was momentarily daunting, but fine of course.
There was a line on the beach where the sand changed from light, soft white to a darker color and texture. Upon stepping on it, we learned that it was a form of quicksand and down we went. Not deep, but it did suck you in. Adam and Anna were about knee-deep, the rest of us ankle.
Once camp was built, we went in for a long swim, this time with no injuries. The current was strong and the water cold and, as we realized how refreshing that was, we realized that we’d escaped the monsoon and were now in the sunny weather we’d all hoped for. the sky was a bright blue with puffy white clouds over the brilliant green hills. We also realized that in two days on the river, we’d never seen another boat. Our aquatic caravan consisted of the two rafts for our team, each with a guide, a safety raft with two guides, and a kayaker who rode ahead to check out what was coming up. And we were it on the river. I’ve spent some time on rivers before, but never felt so alone and so safe simultaneously.
As the sun came down the men gathered wood for a bonfire and the women made tea. We hated that it came down to stereotypes, but it did. Chit came back carrying a giant log, followed by the four guys all carrying the next log which was only slightly larger. They triumphantly dropped it in the fire and we drank our tea and beer and told our life stories. The sand was mica heavy and, as we were all covered in sand, we sparkled like Twilight vampires.
The next morning came early. The pancakes with lemon sugar sauce got us up right and we packed up for our last day. We knew this would be the hardest day and Anna’s fear of the water got the better of her. She decided to ride on the safety boat and took her perch on a couple of barrels behind the rower, looking like Cleopatra in a sedan chair.
We hit a couple rough patches of rapids, bigger than the previous two days, and made it through. It was exhilarating, actually. The Seti joined with another river and the water got calm and deep. Our guide suggested we jump out and swim and we eagerly took him up on his word. The current pulled us quickly, but the water felt good after being in the hot sun. It was as though we were alone on the planet, just our group – the nine travelers, Chitra, and our four guides – in the wilderness. We swam for a long time. Martin, Jamal, Emma, drifted far from our boat. We saw the other boat’s passengers load back in, even pulling Fiona onto theirs. The safety boat captain called to us to cling to his boat and we all grabbed on. From above, Anna warned us of what was coming – “there’s a whirlpool to the left, a bit of a drop now, ooh – big splash.” We all just hung on, knowing it would be over soon. Anna’s face calmed and she said “Ok, that’s about it,” and we all relaxed a bit. Suddenly she changed and said, “oh, there’s a big drop coming up.” We all clung tightly as the boat was battered. All I could think was just hang on. Just don’t let go. The water came up over our heads and the boat tossed, and finally my knees bashed into something hard and painful and it was over. We all took a breath and then looked left and right to make sure ever one else was ok. Then we compared experiences. We’d all been hit by the rock, but it seemed, one again, that Martin bore the brunt.
We loaded back onto our boat and floated the rest of the way down the river in mostly silence. Along the way we passed a three funeral pyres. Slowly roads came into view along the river and the houses became more dense. Around mid-day we pulled to the shore in a densely populated area. We had arrived in Chitwan and at the end of our rafting.

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  1. brenda permalink

    Be careful, Kathy. It sounds really fantastic but dangerous. We want you home in one piece !


  2. esme permalink

    How exciting! More and more I am convinced that this was not the trip for me! No, I need more of a four-star hotel in Paris vacation. I could even do three-star. But this is absolutely the trip for you! It all sounds so wonderful, Kathleen! And I’m wondering if you’ve had a chance to use your Go-Girl!! Many kisses and stay safe!

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