It was a beautiful, misty morning at Dandeli when we set out for a walk in the woods surrounding Stanley Farm House. The woods were still fresh after the previous evening’s rain, the air still had the chillness of rain. Far away from pollution, the pure oxygen was more rejuvenating than your early morning cup of strong coffee !
Though the farmhouse said they would arrange a jungle safari for us, we did not take the safari because one, it was not the season for any animal or bird spotting and second and most important one, we were plain lazy to wake up early ! So, we decided the morning walk was as good as a safari.
You could hear the birds chirping away to glory, we spotted a wood pecker noisily going about its daily routine. We walked in silence listening to the music around and we could only think of Robert Frost’s immortal lines “the woods are lovely, dark and deep” !
Throughout our walk, we kept looking for the Hornbill or any other animal Dandeli was famous for but we didn’t seem to have much luck.
The Giant of Malabar
After about an hour, we decided to get back when suddenly we spotted a Giant Malabar Squirrel lazing on one of the branches and waving its bushy tail. We tried clicking a few pictures but it wasn’t willing to pose for us. Not wanting to disturb the big fellow, we walked further.
This time, we saw another one of the squirrels, this guy was rather agile and active, busy pecking on a fruit, he kept looking at us once in a while, we thought he was trying to show off that he had found a delicious fruit for breakfast ! We tried in vain to get him to pose for us but he was way too fast and he kept teasing us, stopping for a second and running away by the time we clicked ! Nimble, cheeky little fellows, funny that they are called the Giant Malabar Squirrel !
By the time we returned from our walk, it was breakfast time and we also had to report at the River Rafting site by 9 AM. We quickly finished our breakfast and set off to report for the River Rafting adventure.
River Rafting prep work
The biggest attraction at Dandeli is River Rafting in the Kali River. Dandeli is one of India’s popular River Rafting spots. The adventure sport is organised by a group of professionals authorised by the Tourism Department. Almost all resorts around Dandeli are tied up with them.
The reporting point for the river rafting is at Dandeli’s most popular resort, the Kali Adventure Camp. We drove upto the Camp, in between we lost our way as always and found ourselves in the middle of the jungle where there were no proper phone signals ! Thankfully, we had not gone too far off and managed to find our way back with the help of feeble Google Maps signals and instructions from a few locals who appeared like angels to show us the way !
At the reporting point, you will have to register your name and other details. From there, you will be taken to the rafting area by jeeps/van. The actual spot from where the rafting begins is another 10-15 kms away. The drive is through the jungle, on rock path and dirt tracks, normal cars cannot ply in this route, you need those 4 wheel drive, sturdy vans and jeeps.
Halfway to the river, there is a checkpost where you will have to give your details again before entering the reserve forest area. The drive takes about 20 minutes and then you are dropped off on the banks of the Kali River.
This is where we met up with people from other resorts/camps, we were then joined by the chief organiser, he looked like an ex-army man, complete with stern voice and a big moustache ! He gave us instructions on what to do and what not to do, they were basically things like how to wear the life jacket, helmet, strictly follow your instructor on the raft, don’t try to do anything on your own or try stunts and stuff like that. There was another batch after us and he repeated the same instructions, word to word, not even a syllable was changed ! By the time he repeated it to a third batch, we had learnt it by heart !
We also had to sign a declaration taking sole responsibility for whatever happened to us during the River Rafting, this author remembers signing the form with slightly shaky hands ! Armed with our life jackets, helmets and the pedals for rowing the raft, we were all set !
Taking the plunge !
Each raft can accommodate a maximum of 8 people, as soon as you get in, the instructor assigned to your raft gives you a lecture on the orders to follow, how to hold the pedal and row, how to work together as a team. At a time, there are about 6-7 rafts out river rafting. They do this in groups so that they can watch out for the others. This is a key point in river rafting, all those on the raft need to be in sync with each other. That way, river rafting is a great team building exercise.
The first thing before you even begin rafting is jumping in the river ! After giving us all the instructions, our instructor simply said “jump into the river” ! Thanks to our previous night’s swimming with life jackets on practice at the farmhouse, we knew we were safe as long as we had the life jackets, otherwise we could have got a heart attack !
When we took the plunge, the cold waters of the Kali river sent a current of thrill through our bodies, few moments in life can match up to that ! Floating in the middle of a river, almost 50 feet deep, it was not our bodies, we could feel our minds floating in bliss ! Our instructor had told us those who didn’t jump would regret it and he was right. One of the elderly ladies in our group was terrified but our team spirit had already been established and we helped her get into the water and get a feel of the thrill.
Getting back into the raft is slightly amusing as the instructor holds your life jacket from behind and hauls you onto the raft like some abandoned cargo !
Feel the adrenaline gush !
Then, the real river rafting began. The instructor adjusted the seating order to maintain proper balance and we were off rowing with him shouting out instructions in army style. Initially, the rowing was slow and river peaceful. After about 10 minutes of rowing, we were face to face with the first rapid or a natural roller coaster ride ! You can almost hear your heart beat in excitement as your raft slowly approaches the rapid. We were asked to stop rowing and wait for the river to take over.
From the above spot, the river takes one rapid plunge, almost like a huge sliding board. The instructor shouts instructions to bend down into the raft and then down goes your raft in one swift motion sliding down the rapid. The water gushing up, splashing and engulfing you, the smell of fresh river water is intoxicating ! The organisers take your photos from the bank while your raft goes down the rapid, our instructor asked us to put on our best smiles while the pictures were clicked ! Some sense of humour these guys seem to have. Smile? When the river is eager to throw you off your raft? We’d rather not share pictures of us screaming, so here is a picture of our raft just as it entered the rapid.
If you want to know what ecstasy feels like, this is it !
On a rescue mission !
Normal rowing resumed for a distance, we kept shouting slogans, competing with other rafts and where the river was quiet, we took in the silent beauty of the river and the forest around. Somewhere near the second rapid, we found a raft stuck between dangerous looking rocks, the people on the raft were trying to free the raft.
Like knights in shining armours, we steered our raft towards them. We stopped our raft near the rocks by holding on to the branches of a tree in the middle of the river while our instructor got down into the water and helped in releasing the raft. While we held on to the branches, our raft bobbed up and down due to the force of the river, if any of us let go or loosened our grip on the branches ! We will, let you imagine the rest !
Finally, the other raft was free and we felt like some war heroes who were returning from a successful rescue mission. We’d say this was our favourite part of the river rafting experience.
Row your heart out !
The river rafting at Dandeli is through a 9 kms stretch with about 8 rapids. These rapids come up at various intervals, the raft instructors know the route like the back of their palm and tell you when the next rapid is going make an appearance. You usually row fast until the next rapid.
As you near it, you stop rowing and duck into the raft while the rapid throws you off balance onto the other side. There are times when you have to row pushing your pedal forward, especially when you have to make a U-turn. Rafting is as interesting and a learning experience as it is exciting.
Rowing into the rapid !
We had a very good team and we rowed through every rapid to near perfection. After about 6 rafts, the river comes down to a smooth flow. The rowing becomes even and slow, if you keep silent, all you can hear around you is more silence. Once in a while, our instructor made us jump in alarm by hitting the water with the pedal, he told us there was a snake underwater nearby, we thought he did that to give us a scare !
Soon, we were near the 8th and one of the rough rapids, when we successfully navigated the last one, our instructor asked us if we wanted to try something more adventurous. Everybody was game and so we did a U-turn and this time, people’s rowing positions were changed for better balance because this time we were rowing not down the rapid but right into it against the current !
You don’t realise the full force of a river until you row against its flow. The moment you row fast and hit the rapid coming up against, everything else seems to blank out before, all you can see is the foamy white wave of water, the gush of the water seems to wash out every thought of yours and you emerge out of it with a squeaky clean mind !
The first time we tried it, we ran into another raft coming down the rapid, the other raft almost jumped over ours. This writer got a nasty bruise on the wrist as the raft hit ours and the pedal got bent due to the impact, it now looked like a bow !
We did this reverse rafting not once but 3 times. Three members of the team took turns to kneel at the head of the raft, including the lady who was scared of even getting down in the river, she later told us, the view from the front as the wave of water swarmed at us was the best ever experience of her life !
Somebody should have checked our adrenaline levels at the moment, they sure would have hit the sky !
By the time, we reached the end of the 9 kms stretch, we were energy drained, not because of the rowing, the exhaustion came from the exhilaration !
The other guys from our group had already reached the finishing spot and waiting up for us. The jeeps and vans had also arrived to take us back to where we started because the rafting is through a straight stretch from one end to the other and not a round trip. We boarded our jeep and were driven back, enroute we had to get down at the checkpost and sign off saying all of us had made it back in one piece ! River Rafting simply rocks !
A new adventure in the offing
The jeeps dropped us back at the Kali Adventure Camp and we drove back in our cars to Stanley Farm House. It was 1 PM by then and lunch was waiting for us. Having burnt several calories (or so we told ourselves), we had a hearty meal. The adventure part of our trip was done with and we had to begin our return journey. The plan was to drive till Hospet and stay there for the night. The next day we had scheduled a visit to Mantralayam before heading to Hyderabad.
While lunch was in progress, some of the guys wanted to return to Hyderabad the same day, now that the adventures were over, they wanted to get back home. So two of the cars left to Hyderabad the same day, they wanted to drive through the night and reach Hyderabad by morning. The rest of us wanted to go as per our initial plan and complete the long planned trip to Mantralayam, we also did not want to take the risk of driving through the night.
The 2 cars left at 2 PM, we took another hour before waving a bye to Dandeli.
With decent roads, we reached Hubli-Dharwad where we stopped for some tea and also to buy the famous Dharwad Peda. We reached Hospet by 7 PM and checked into Hotel Shanbag, the same hotel where we stayed during our road trip across Malanadu in 2012, co-incidentally, we were allotted the same rooms ! We had a quiet dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, the other two cars which had crossed Hospet and headed towards Raichur told us the roads weren’t very good on that route and asked us to avoid it the next morning.
They seemed to be having an adventure driving through the night, we went to bed hoping we wouldn’t have any more coming our way.
– River Rafting can be booked through the most resorts in Dandeli. The cost is around Rs.1000/- per person. The organisers also arrange for clicking your pictures and give it to you in a CD, they charge you Rs.500/- for that. They will tell you where you can collect your CDs.
– If you suffer from any heart ailments, BP or any other medical condition, declare the same before you begin rafting. It is for your own safety.
– River rafting takes about 3 hours from start to finish, including reporting at Kali Adventure Camp. You need to report for rafting by 9 AM. The river water is released from the nearby Supa Dam once a day in the morning and rafting sessions are held only at that time.
– During peak summer when the water is not released from the dam, there may be no rafting. Similarly, after heavy monsoons, if the river is too dangerous, rafting may be cancelled. Check before hand regarding the possibility of rafting.
– The Kali River rapids fall under the Grade II and III category which mean they are of moderate level. You need not know swimming, your life jackets keep you safe at all times.
– Strictly follow the instructions of your rafting instructor, it is important that every member of the team listens to the instructions and works along with the others. Do not irritate the instructor or try anything on your own and spoil the fun for the others. Nature is much more powerful than us and we need to learn to respect it.
– The jeep that drops you off at the start point, will again pick you up. You will have to get onto the same vehicle since they keep a record at the checkpost.
– Avoid eating a very heavy breakfast just before rafting.
– Do not litter the river or the forest area as it is a home to several species of flora and fauna.
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