After planning and failing a couple of times for Kail river rafting, i agreed without a second thought for rafting at Coorg when Chethan asked me some time in mid July. I didn’t ask who, when, how or anything for that matter. It did happen early September, and it was quite an adventure!
The journey to the base camp at Ponya organic coffee estate from Bangalore was expected to take about 6 hours. Five of us left on a Swift at 4:30 am on Friday morning as we were expected to be at the camp before noon. Fifteen others were on a Santro, Indica and Octavia, all starting at about the same time.
The drive till Mysore was on impeachable curvy four lane road, with less traffic. Going past a couple of glittering 24-hour coffee shops on highway at Chanapattna and Mandya we reached the outskirts of Mysore at 6:20am. We headed to a vintage restaurant serving idly-chutney somewhere in Mysore city.
Finishing our breakfast, we headed towards Coorg by 8am. The road was good for about half an hour drive, then the narrow single lane road started. We headed towards Hunsur. The drive after Hunsur in intermittent rain was taking toll on the low clearance of Swift with narrow potholed roads requiring lot of maneuvering. With maps in my hand i navigated to reach K.K.R. Bridge(tea estate bridge), after passing Titimati, Gonikoppal, Ponnampet and T.Shettigeri with some breathtaking scenic paddy fields and cloud covered hills. Taking directions from locals we reached the Ponya estate.
Neither the Hutch dog nor the Airtel jingle followed us at that place, couldn’t contact John’s BSNL. Myself, Biju and couple of others walked through the estate on look out for John, and were lucky enough to find him soon. Parked the cars on the side of the road, took our backpacks, and headed for the base camp which was about a kilometer walk. It was nearly 11 am.
Dropped our bags at the provided tents on the banks of the Barapole and changed to dry fit tees and shorts. Zipped the tents as instructed, not providing a warm house for snakes and thousands of other insects at the camp. The instructors/guides provided wind cheaters, life jackets and water sports helmets (all American brand, Made in China! lol). After brief instructions and tips by John we were taken for lunch at a place next to the tea estate bridge on Mahindra jeeps and pickups, which are the unmatched by any SUVs on that terrain. The rafts were atop a modified jeep.
After lunch, we went on jeep about 8-9km on road to reach a small bridge. Unmounted the rafts, few more briefing sessions followed, with 5 on a raft we were ready to go in the drizzling monsoon rain on the rough Barapole.
The rafting on first day was on narrow Upper Barapole, with lots of bamboo trees and bushes with spider webs. There were few rocks and the rafts got stuck at a couple of places on this narrow gorge. The ride was quite adventurous with few class 3 rapids and many class 1-2 rapids. Frequent ducking in the raft to avoid the tree branches hitting the helmet protected head had to be timed to perfection to enjoy the bumpy ride. There were lots of spiders of different kinds and sizes, having their webs on these bushes, which landed on our rafts and at times over our faces. Ride surely not for the arachnophobic.
Our guide Mahendra, a native of Nepal, made us play few games on the raft. Balancing on the edge of the raft like on a surf board as the raft was rowed to circle by others, locking the T joints of the paddle and balance on the raft, and running along the edge of the raft! Almost all of us dived into the water on most occasions, failing to balance. I did quite well to balance on one occasion staying on the raft for about 30sec when the raft circled rapidly with cheers from Pratima and others.
Drizzing was intermittent, the water got colder by evening, and we were close to the base camp. Few more forward paddles, the rafting on day one came to end. We pulled the raft towards the banks, close to 6 in the evening.
The rain got heavier, we let our outfits to dry on the campfire next to the tents under a canopy. Coffee and tea were served along with some chilly corn flakes and biscuits. It got darker, chatting next to the campfire went on for quite some time till the dinner was served. It was not the famed ‘Pandi Curry‘ but another the local delight, ‘coconut rice’ with some sambar and a sweet, slowly everyone slipped into their tents pulling over the sleeping bags. It was still 9 pm!
We could see only a few sparkling fire files in the pitch dark night. Listening to Avril and Shakira for some time and then to the croaking frogs, and insect squeaks, i went to sleep.
Bright Sunshine, chirping of birds, and turbulent flow of river made me get out of the sleeping bag at 6:30am on a Saturday morning. The view was serene with sun rays shimmering on the river. The pure organic coffee sip embraced me with warmth, and i took quite a few cups that morning.
Walking along the coffee estate in the early morning, got down to a more turbulent river flow the golden shimmer on the river was much better but was ephemeral due to the dark clouds. Spotted a snake, few strange looking insects, and realized a few leeches sucking blood on my feet. The shimmer off the coffee beans, the cool breeze on the river and the chirping birds made my day.
Taking a few oily pooris for breakfast, on to dry fit clothes and rafting gear, we were ready to go. This stretch was expected to be free of trees and bushes hovering over the river, with class 3-4 rapids in succession. At about 11 we pulled the rafts on to the river, after few routine drills, plunges in water, and reviving the paddle moves we headed downstream passing under the tea estate bridge after few forward paddles.
“Morning Coffee” was a class 2 rapid we faced first up. Rains last night had made the river more rough, and exciting. Morning Coffee was followed by three class 3 rapids, “GrassHopper”, “Wicked Witch”, and “Frame Head”.
An hour had passed, and we were close to a class 4 rapid, “Milky Churn”. Pulled the rafts on to the banks, a small trek over the rocks got us in front of Milky churn, in full flow.
The vigor of the river flow was more fierce than it appears in the image. John and his team left first for the Milky Churn, followed by Rana’s, Mohammad’s and then our team. Few forward paddles and were holding on to the rope, the raft rocked with gallons of water filling the raft! The bumpy ride was uncanny and unmatched. The splendid moments were captured by Aurangazeb standing with camera on one of the banks, next to the tea estate which were on either side of the river. The joy and exhilaration on our faces were evident.
A swimming rapid followed, taking few plunges, swimming in relatively calm water, and a capsize, we were we were close to our final stop.
As if all this wasn’t enough to exhaust us, we had to carry the raft to load it on to the jeep! The steep, narrow, and treacherous terrain of the coffee estate made the task almost impossible. I was taking more load, the price i paid for being taller than others in the group, until Biju joined us. The distance we covered was nearly a kilometer, the weight of the rafts on our head made it feel much more. Finally we reached the jeeps. Loading the rafts, we were taken back to the base camp. The rafting expedition was ended with a sumptuous lunch at the camp, but our trip didn’t…