I've always considered myself an adventure-sport enthusiast. In that I'm enthused by the idea of adventure-sports, but rarely ever get myself down to doing anything about it. It's the thought that counts, right? I was excited to get my my feet wet with white-water rafting in Kolad.
A little over 100km away from Mumbai, Kolad is a village that is slowly gaining commercial value through the surrounding mountains, waterfalls and rapids, to become an adventure sport destination in Maharashtra. It is a scenic two-hour drive, once the Mumbai traffic has been left behind, along NH17, arguably one of India's most fun highways.
Our watery prowess was organised by Quest Adventures, headed by the amicable and infectiously enthusiastic Jehan Driver. There was a chill in the mountain air as we stopped for a cup of tea. Jehan came to receive us and had us tail his Mahindra Bolero along winding roads up the hills, to get to the starting point. We would be rafting down the river Kundalika, which is fed by a hydro-electric power dam. We made a couple of stops along the way, as Jehan would get off every now and again to familiarize us with the surroundings, giving us the history of the area and pointing out short-cuts to get back home. The initial plan had been to drive to Kolad the previous evening and stay the night, but we were dissuaded by our notion of there not being much to do in a village. We were wrong, as it turned out. Jehan and the other group members had spent the previous evening with a barbeque around a campfire, later joining in tribal revelry with the local adivasis. We would not make the same mistake next time.
The rafting generally starts at around 9am, marked by a loud siren indicating that the floodgates have been opened. As the growing wail echoed around , we gathered inside a small yard, stacked with rafts, oars, helmets and life-jackets, as the friendly and well-drilled rafting instructors gave us a security brief. Split into groups of eight to a raft, we clumsily put on our rafting gear, while the staff fussed over how our life-jackets weren't strapped tightly enough, or that I had worn my helmet backwards. Finally, looking reasonably like adventurers, we joined Ashish, our instructor, and headed to the raft, where we were taught how to sit, lock our legs in place and respond to calls with urgency. I was rather taken aback to know that I would not be sitting inside the raft, but on the edge. That would make things more interesting.
Equipped with the knowledge to deal with most scenarios, we carried our raft into the water. Any latent drowsiness was instantly dispelled by Ashish, who pelted all the boat's members with the icy river water, as our journey began. This would not be a very intense two hours of rafting, with no more than Grade 3 rapids, but it was definitely a start. For me, in particular, it was the first time I'd be doing more than simply getting wet in a boat. It took a while to get rhythm and co-ordination in our rowing, with more than a few clashing oars and winces, but we did a reasonable job. A total of 13 rapids awaited us, with varying levels of ferocity, each given a unique name, based on it's locational significance, or sometimes, even on amusing incidents involving previous visitors and their lost keys.
I was underwhelmed when the “Welcome” rapid came and went. The raft rocked about a little bit, and there were squeals all around; mostly people reacting to being splashed with cold water, but it was hardly exhilarating. I could only hope it would get better. It did.
Rowing and floating down the river, past overhanging mangroves and brush on the banks, I couldn't help but wish it was the monsoon. It would have been beautiful, with greener surroundings and rougher waters. I would perhaps have realised my secret desire of being bucked into the water and being rescued by the man in the tiny emergency kayak rowing alongside us, too. Such thoughts were put aside temporarily, as Ashish bellowed, “Get down!”, and we obliged by executing our well-choreographed moves to avoid any danger.
The next few rapids were slightly rougher, but things started to get more interesting at the Butterfly rapid, which led quickly into Crow's Nest and Key Waves (so named because of the case of keys lost to watery depths). The sequence probably lasted around 5 minutes, but had the boat and all its occupants rocking from side to side, with much high pitched squealing echoing around, as we all ensure our feet were wedged firmly into the sides of the boat, to avoid being thrown off.
Those 5 minutes, sadly enough, marked the high point of our journey in terms of exhilaration, for the water ahead was too calm to thrill much. After the 12th rapid (Boomshankar), we were given license to jump out of the raft and body-surf for a while. Apprehension and phobia of swimming were discussed amongst our boat's members, but after a point, I'd had enough of the chit-chat. I leant back with what I perceived to be an aura of zen-ness, into the flowing water. It didn't go quite as I had played out in my head, though, as I ended up coughing and spluttering and emerging with a sheepish thumbs-up. But flowing along with the chilly water, feet wedged into the side of the raft was relaxing. The rest of the crowd soon followed suit, and the river was filled with people swimming, splashing, or floating on their backs. Some 30 minutes later, the current lost what little energy it had and compelled us to put our backs into rowing, while chanting and singing songs, to make it more entertaining.
More physical exercise was involved in our final act of disembarking, lifting the raft and taking it uphill, and in a little over two hours, we were done. While the rafting wasn't the most heart-pounding, exhilarating, experience in the world, it was certainly a great way to spend a Sunday morning, with a fun drive, some welcome exercise and enjoyable dips in the water. A nice, convenient getaway from Mumbai's metropolitan madness, which would be even more fun during the monsoon.
The association of adventure-sport organizations, along with the local members of parliament, are trying to convert Kolad into an adventure-sports hub in Maharashtra, with rafting forming just the tip of the iceberg. The rugged terrain is a great platform for mountain and dirt-biking, for which tracks are already being created. Add to that the immense scope for trekking and rock-climbing, and Kolad may soon evolve from a small getaway village to a complete location for metropolitan thrill-seekers in Maharashtra.