Waterworld: Aquatic adventures across India

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With a 7000km coastline, hundreds of rivers and waterfalls, a long monsoon and spurt in adventure outfitters, India is fast emerging as a destination for water sports, discover ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY.

Surf with Swamis, swim with dugongs, rapel down waterfalls, attend monsoon carnivals and raft in rivers from the Himalayas to the Western Ghats as you discover India’s top water sports haunts…

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Raft the Surla Mhadei, Dudhsagar Falls & other adventures (Goa)
Most popular beaches like Baga, Calangute, Candolim and Dona Paula offer a range of adventure sports like parasailing and water scooter or jet ski rides. But all the offbeat action in Goa is tucked away from the beaches in the lush hinterland. Brave an adventure bike ride from Kullem as you wade through mountain streams to reach the base of India’s fifth highest waterfall Dudhsagar. John Pollard of Southern River Adventures, who pioneered 6 rafting stretches in South India, recently teamed up with GTDC to offer white-water rafting in Goa for the first time (two daily batches at 10:30am and 2:30pm). The lower 10km stretch of the Mhadei where it joins the Mandovi promises Grade II-III rapids like Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and Y-Fronts. Veluz, the base camp, is 1km from Valpoi bus stop in Sattari Taluka, 45 km from Panaji (1½ hrs). The season lasts from July to September (Rs.1500/person). However, between October and May, head to the Goa-Maharashtra border for the most advanced rapids south of the Himalayas. The Tilari River Gorge, 10 km from Dodamarg on the Kudashi Village road boasts Class IV rapids and requires good swimming ability and fitness levels. It’s a whole new way to let your hair down in Goa! Ph +91 7387238866, 8805727230 info@goarafting.com www.goarafting.com

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Waterfall rapelling at Vihi & Kolad rafting (Maharashtra)
There’s more to water sports in Maharashtra than Tarkarli. Come monsoon, the Konkan revives with swollen rivers, mist-laden ghats and waterfalls at every turn. At Vihigaon (13km from Kasara near Igatpuri) you don’t just gaze at a waterfall, you literally rapel down one! Surrounded by hills and paddy fields, the 100 ft tall 30 ft wide rockface is a slippery challenge. Offbeat Sahyadri, Ph 9987990300, 9664782503 E offbeatsahyadri@gmail.com also organizes canyoning (Rs.750/head) at Bekare near Karjat, Dudhani near Panvel and Dudhiware near Lonavala. Adventure outfits like Trek Mates India, Nature Knights and Aberrant Wanderers offer several monsoon treks to Kalsubai, Malshej Ghat and other spots in the Sahyadris. At Kolad, Maharashtra’s only white water rafting site, tackle a 14 km stretch of the Kundalika River. Being dam-fed, it’s a perennial attraction with a dozen Class II-III rapids like Good Morning Buddha, Morning Headache, Johnny Walker, Rajdhani Express and Boom Shankar. Wild River Adventure Ph 9819297760 www.koladrafting.com, Mercury Himalayan Explorations Ph 92728 82874 www.kundalikarafting.in

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Surfing with Swamis & Rafting in Coorg/Dandeli (Karnataka)
Surfing in India was probably something people did on the Internet, until the Surfing Swamis showed up! Run by Krishna bhaktas, Kaliya Mardana Krishna Ashram at Mulki (30 km north of Mangalore) or Ashram Surf Retreat promises adventure buffs the real deal – surfing lessons (Rs.1500/day), yoga, mantra meditation, healthy veg fare and complete detox (no smoking/alcohol allowed)! Go river kayaking and ride the Zodiac boat to local surf breaks like Swami’s, Baba’s Left, Water Tank and Tree Line. With empty beaches and just 3 guest rooms (Tariff Rs.3500-4500), it’s a quiet place to flounder in anonymity. April-May is mild surfing season with 1-2 m waves but expect 8 feet waves between June-September. India Surf Club Ph 9880659130 www.surfingindia.net. For water sports and banana boat rides, head up the coast to Sai Vishram Baindoor Beach Resort Ph 9449817535 www.saivishram.com, Devbagh Beach Resort www.devbaghbeachresort.com near Karwar and Paradise Edge Resort at Hankon, en route to Dandeli. Karnataka also offers some great rafting opportunities like the Kali river at Dandeli, Cauvery at Dubare and KKR or Upper Barapole in Coorg Ph 08762346289 www.coorgwhitewaterrafting.com. Coorg Adventure Sports organize sailing, kayaking and other water sports at Hyrige reservoir.

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Attend Wayanad Splash, a monsoon carnival & boat races (Kerala)
With the advent of rains, Kerala transforms into a rich mosaic of green paddy fields and swollen lakes as every corner throbs with life and vitality. While the monsoon is great for romantic holidays, Ayurveda retreats and witnessing Kerala’s snake boat races, there’s one region that celebrates the rains unabashedly – the hill district of Wayanad! Wayanad Splash www.wayanadsplash.com is a unique monsoon festival that has transformed the lull of off-season into prime time fun. Get a rush of adrenaline with offroad rallies over streams and mountains. Enjoy river rafting in bamboo boats. Play mud football and kabaddi in specially prepared rice fields. Stay in Banasura Island Retreat as you trek to Banasura Hill overlooking India’s largest earth dam. Or climb Chembra Peak, Wayanad’s highest mountain to see its heart-shaped lake! The weeklong event by WTO (Wayanad Tourism Organization) at Kalpetta (9-15 July, 2014) ushers in the monsoon season with local adventure outfit Muddy Boots (Ph 9544201249 www.muddyboots.in) organizing Triathlon on the Kabini, rafting on the Pozhuthanna and several such adventures.

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Scuba & Snorkelling in Ritchie’s Archipelago (Andamans)
Turquoise waters, great visibility, beautiful coral reefs and some of the best marine life in India, that’s Andamans in a nutshell! Only 30 of the 532 islands are inhabited, leaving an untouched expanse of underwater delights waiting to be explored. A 2.5 hr flight from Chennai or Kolkata deposits you at the capital Port Blair. Glass bottom boat rides and snorkeling at North Bay, Jolly Buoy, Red Skin and Wandoor Marine National Park are a good curtain raiser for the serious stuff to follow. Take a Makruzz boat to Havelock Island, the hub of adventure sports. Dive shops like Barefoot Scuba Ph 95660 88560 www.diveandamans.com, Dive India Ph 99320 82205 www.diveindia.com and Andaman Bubbles offer a wide range of courses. Beginners go through introductory sessions at the picturesque Hathi Tapu or Elephant Beach. Day trips usually include 2 dives with packed lunch. After a detailed briefing, dive masters lead teams to remote dive sites around Ritchie’s Archipelago like Barracuda City, Dugong Dungeon and Turtle Bay. Lacadives www.lacadives.com has started a new dive centre at Chidiya Tapu and offers reef adventures at Cinque, Rutland and Passage Islands! To get away from all the action, slip away to the quiet Neil Island for snorkeling around the reefs and swimming with dugongs.

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Diving/Surfing off Mamallapuram & Pondy (Tamil Nadu)
If you don’t have the time or money to travel to the Andamans or Lakshadweep to dive, here’s some good news – there’s enough action on the Coromandel Coast. Temple Adventures (Ph 9789844191, 9940219449 www.templeadventures.com), a PADI certified scuba diving outfit is just a shell’s throw from Chennai near Indira Gandhi Sports Complex on Covelong Road. Get snorkeling lessons for Rs.800/hr and surfing (Rs.800/3hrs) with bodyboards, surfboards and equipment on hire. Experienced instructors teach you to scuba dive off the Pondicherry coast with Rs.1,500 for a Try Dive and Rs.2,000–21,000 for PADI courses. For surfing, contact Kallialay Surf Club (Ph 9442992874, 9787306376 kallialaysurfschool@hotmail.com). Further south, the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve Trust near Rameshwaram’s Pamban Bridge offers glass bottomed boat rides (Rs.50/head, 8 persons/trip) at Mandapam Beach Park (Ph 9443112740; Rs.5 adults, Rs.3 child, Rs.5 swimming pool, 7am–5.30pm). Contact Wildlife Warden, Mandapam (Ph 04567 230079)

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Adventure Sports at Tajpur (West Bengal)
Tucked away between Shankarpur and Mandarmoni, just 16km east of touristy Digha, Tajpur is West Bengal’s emerging adventure hub. For starters, it has one of the few motorable beaches on the east coast. Several nature camps and local outfitters organize a range of adventure activities like parasailing, kayaking, snorkelling, coastal biking and treks, rubber boat propelling and even water zorbing! Tajpur Retreat Hotel also has a 35-feet high artificial rock wall and high-rope activity system within the campus for you to sharpen your instincts before you hit the high seas. www.tajpurhotel.com

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Rafting in the Himalayas
The snow-fed rivers of the entire Himalayan range provide the most exciting rafting opportunities in India. The country’s leading rafting operators Ibex Expeditions (Ph 0 11-26460244/46, www.ibexexpeditions.com) and Aquaterra (Ph 011-29212641, 29212760, 41636101 www.aquaterra.in), run several rivers. Choices at Ladakh include day trips from Leh, 2-3 day rafting trips on the Indus or the challenging 14-day Zanskar river expedition from July till September end. In Himachal Pradesh, try the Beas or a 25 km stretch in Spiti from Rangrik (4km from Kaza) to Sichling, with many Class I-II rapids. In Uttarakhand, the Tons offers Class IV rapids besides 4-5 day expeditions on the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi. The most popular site remains Rishikesh with a 36km stretch of the Ganga from Kaudiyala via Marine Drive, Brahmpuri and Shivpuri to Lakshman Jhula having 13 Grade I-IV rapids like Daniel’s Dip, The Wall, Club House, Initiation, Good Morning, Roller Coaster, Golf Course and Sweet Sixteen. Go body surfing or steel your nerves for some cliff jumping as you camp on sandy banks in basic tents. Live it up at Neemrana’s Glasshouse on the Ganges in an orchard once owned by the Maharaja of Tehri. In Arunachal besides the Upper Subansiri, go rafting on the Yargyap Chu, Siyom and the Siang from Yingkiong to Pasighat. The rafting location is so remote it takes five days of travel just to reach the launch point! October till April is the usual rafting season in most places.

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Diving in the Lakshadweep Islands
400 km from the Kerala coast and reachable via Kochi, Lakshadweep is a group of 36 coral islands in the Arabian Sea. Lacadives (Ph 9820890948, 9619690898 www.lacadives.com) the pioneers of diving in India in Lakshadweep since 1995, now offer diving courses in the Andamans besides a Scuba in the City program with pool-training facilities in Mumbai & Bangalore. Dive Lakshadweep (Ph 9446055972 www.divelakshadweep.com), the latest entrants on the scene, are located near the State Guest House in Agatti with another dive base at the famous Agatti Island Beach Resort. First-timers can try a dive session in the lagoon to familiarize themselves with breathing underwater. The 2 hr practice session, with 25 min spent underwater till a maximum depth of 6m, costs Rs.1,700. Guided snorkeling off the beach costs Rs.500 and Rs.1000 at the reef. PADI’s day long Discover Scuba Diving (DSD) Introductory Dives for Rs.4500 give a good diving experience for those who do not have enough time for a full open water course. Dolphin Reef & Sting Ray City to the northwest of Agatti Island or Japanese Garden and Ocean Club near Agatti Island Beach Resort are popular haunts. Diving beyond 35m is not permitted in the Lakshadweep and diving outside the reef is possible only between 15 September and 15 May.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared as a Cover Story on 23 February 2014 in  Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald. 

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