We are back from our India Mission! Wow, what a trip, what a country. Beautiful, interesting, different, although challenging at times. Yet, can’t wait to go back to see and explore more. India does that to me each time.
In December 2009 Todd and I flew to India with the mission to explore a new destination for Wet Planet’s International Wet Planet trips. We explored the possibility for a 12-day whitewater trip on the Siang River in India’s NE Arunachal Pradesh. The Siang (Tsangpo in Tibet before entering India) is a beautiful river running through a very scenic deep lush river canyon, with BIG volumous water, located in the foot hills of the far Eastern Himalayas. This region is one of the most remote and least traveled regions of India, though many different tribes which have lived in the region for generations and even centuries.
The plan is to work with an India based outfit, called RiverIndia – a great group of river people from different parts of India, Nepal and other parts of the world. The use of RiverIndia’s excellent knowledge of the area, equipment and help with logistics, combined with the skill, professionalism and level of comfort you are familiar with from the Wet Planet guides, will provide an amazing experience for our guests in one of the most beautiful and remote areas of India. In addition to running trips on this river, the people behind RiverIndia share a philosophy which is right in line with elements which have always been important within the Wet Planet mission statement: Protection of naturals resources within the watershed by education and support of the local community. In regards to this topic, RiverIndia has been working hard and successfully on raising awareness nationally and internationally about a proposed dam which will close off the valley of the Siang. Currently local tribes and villages are fighting for their existence as a large dam has been proposed to be built by the village of Pongin, drowning the lively hood of many generations and cultures of thousands of people. RiverIndia has been helping the tribes by working on receiving international recognition for the issue. Siang River Video Good job Roland and Nino!
Dec 24, 2010
From the densely populated and smogged in city of Delhi, we flew to the far North Eastern part of India to the town called Dibrugarh, Assam. This area does not see a lot of foreign tourists and upon arrival we quickly learn that the 6 other foreigners on the plane were part of our river trip as well. Assam is known for oil and tea growing, and is the gateway to East India states. It borders Burma to the East, China to the North, Bhutan to the West and Bangladesh to the South. We just landed in a part of India which looks and feels very different than the rest of India; less populated and a lot cleaner.
Dec. 25. After meeting our group for dinner in a surprisingly modern and hip private lounge at our hotel (with video’s showing Shakira’s hot moves off – very distracting for the indian waiters) we head in for a good night sleep. In the morning we make our way to the ferry to cross the Brahmaputra river. The Brahmaputra river is also known as the holy Tsangpo river in Tibet, which becomes the Siang River after it enters India. Once it leaves the valley, passing the town of Pasigath, it changes name into Brahmaputra, and turns into a giant meandering braided river which takes us roughly 4 hours to cross. The ferry boat is small, and fully (over)loaded with people, cars (?!), live stock etc but after strategically securing a good spot for the group and our luggage, we sit back and enjoy the beautiful views of river life with the snowy peaks of the Himalayas in the background. I am loving my Christmas day, and can’t wait to see what the promising mountain valleys in the distance will reveal in the week to come.
Only getting stuck in the shallow waters once, we make it across and take a hair rising jeep ride across the planes of the Brahmaputra valley into the next state called Arunashal Pradesh. This state borders with China, and is actually considered disputed territory also claimed by China. It is required to obtain travel permits ahead of time, both for Indian and foreign travelers to visit this region. Our next stop is the town called Pasigath, our last night in a hotel bed before starting our river trip.
Dec. 26. After an earrrly breakfast (which becomes routine without problem due to fact it get light very early), we climb into our jeeps and head into the hills with a quick stop at a temple to receive a blessing for good travels. We are lucky. There is is a festival happening and along with hundreds of locals from the Adi tribe, we all get our personal blessing: our dot on the forehead and a chance to murmur a prayer and stick some incense on a fruit and flower covered altar. What a good start to our Indian river trip!
After 8 hours of bumping around our car with phenomenal river views, passing small bamboo villages with people dressed in tribal clothing and a stop for lunch with “fresh” chicken …, we get to the first camp on the river by the town of Yingkiong
Here we meet the rest of the guide team, who arrived earlier in the day to set up our camp and cooked up our first of many high end mouth watering Indian river diners. Woaaaaa – this a promising start of a pampered trip for Todd and I. We are not used to be on the receiving end of this, it feels weird but …ok … good.
The River India Team for this trip consists of: owner Roland “Roli” Stevenson in the paddle raft (technically from the US but who has lived more outside than inside the US), co-owner Nino Dai driving one of the gear boats (who apparently is also a highly regarded person in the local Adi tribe), Tsering Chotak providing support from a kayak (from Ladakh and in the process of starting his own company on the Zanskar River), Graham Simpson driving a second gear boat with me on board (retiring CA guide on his way back home to Scotland), Amit Thapa a trainee (also knows as “Botkhe”, originally from Nepal).
Dec 27 – Jan. 2. On the river!
The morning of the 27th is revealing the beauty of our camp site and its surroundings. Breakfast is set up on an endless white sand beach, and after the sun burns off the morning fog we see the snowy peaks from Tibet in the background. Locals have come down from the valley’s villages to observe us weird white foreigners working up an appetite for breakfast by working through a Yoga class taught Rebecca Terry, a yoga teacher from Portland who is one of the guests on the trip. Not much of a Yoga practitioner myself, I decide to give Yoga a chance on this trip – and I have to admit: the yoga taught by Rebecca was good! Thanks Rebecca, you did wonders.
After breakfast, breaking down camp and rigging the rafts, we push off and our river journey begins. The following days include a beautiful stretch of river, views of villages and jungle covering the surrounding hill sides, deep river canyons, endless white sand beaches, delicious and healthy meals, great camp sites, camp fires, starry nights, moonlight so bright you can read with it, impressive rapids, good company, and an unforgettable visit to the village of Pongin where we meet members of the welcoming Adi tribe who express their fears and concerns about their town and future which is threatened to be lost forever once the proposed dam is built. After the visit to Pongin, we run the biggest rapid on the trip. This rapid is known to flip a raft … but all rafts do well and we find our last magical camp site on the river. The following day we take out at a 15-minute drive from town, and are all excited with the prospect of a hot shower and a change of clean clothing that night.
Jan. 3 and 4th.
The following day we make our way across the Brahmaputra again, back to Dibrugarh where we have time to explore town and some very colorful and busy markets.
On the last day the group is flying back to Delhi but as our travel permit for Arunachal is still valid, Todd and I decide to do some more exploring and fly to Guwati, to extend our adventure and get on a Helicopter to Tawang, the 2nd largest Buddhist monastery in the world.
India literally is an amazing, incredible, beautiful and very interesting country. There is a wealth of places to visit, history to learn, people to meet, cultures to explore, religions to learn about, cities to visit and palaces to wonder around and get lost in. There are over a billion people here, it is smoggy, crowded, chaotic, dirty and most people are poor while you are rich in comparison. You will love it though you will be overwhelmed at times. It is a great everlasting experience which pulls many people back time after time.
Before and after the river trip, Todd and I traveled and explored some different areas of India. It was my second time in India, returning after 16 years.
We visited the most romantic city in India: Udaipur, in Rajastan, with its floating palace known from the James Bond movie Octopussy (shown in every bar & restaurant in town). We visited Varanisi on the holy Ganges, where you can watch the daily rituals of the pilgrims along the banks of the river (very intense …). We spent time in Delhi which is getting ready for the common wealth games later this year. And we visited the very Tibetan town of Tawang at 11.000 ft high close to the Bhutan and Tibetan boarder. Traveling through India is easy with daily overnight trains to all major cities. However, nowadays there is a very well developed flight system offering an affordable and time efficient (and cleaner) alternative.
As you can tell, we had a great trip and are excited to go back. So our mission is accomplished, and a Wet Planet Siang trip is in the works. If you are interested to learn more or join us next winter, please let us know. You can call or email us any time at 800.306.1673 or firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you and to sharing our experiences with you.
todd Collins braving a still crawling local delicacy …
Click here to view the India photo album on Flickr