Raft in lesser-known rivers from the Himalayas to the Western Ghats, surf with swamis, swim with dugongs, rapel down waterfalls or kayak in wild streams; ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY give the low down on aqua sports across India
Sure you’ve got drenched in the surf at Tarkarli, felt invigorated in the icy Ganga while rafting at Rishikesh, done water scooter rides at Digha or Dona Paula and parasailing off Goa’s beaches… Yet, there’s no dearth of aquatic adventures in India, thanks to a 7000km long coastline and numerous lakes, streams, rivers and waterfalls pulsating with action.
The inaugural Vizag Yachting Festival, a first-of-its-kind event in March 2018 saw adventure enthusiasts cruise in plush yachts like Gypsea and Sea Norita in the Bay of Bengal. Wayanad Splash, Wayanad Tourism Organization’s unique monsoon festival, transforms Kerala’s hill district into an outdoor playground. Offroad rallies over hills and streams, river rafting in bamboo boats and mud football in slushy rice fields; it’s just the shot of adrenaline to shake away the monsoon blues. Local adventure outfit Muddy Boots organizes rafting on the Pozhuthanna and Triathlon on the Kabini River.
Malabar River Festival in July is South India’s only extreme adventure competition and the biggest kayak festival in Asia. Organized by Kerala Kayak Academy and Madras Fun Tools on behalf of Kerala Adventure Tourism Promotion Society, nearly 200 participants from across the world converge at Thusharagiri in Kozhikode district. These events mark a new chapter in the world of aqua sports in India.
Raft the rapids
Wild rivers, rapids with funky names and the invigorating splash of cold mountain water; nothing beats the thrill of white water rafting. Criss-crossed by rivers tumbling down mountainous tracts, India is a rafter’s paradise, with every river having a unique character. Snow-fed Himalayan rivers provide top-notch rafting and operators like Ibex Expeditions, Aquaterra and Red Chilli run the Tons, Alaknanda, Bhagirathi and other rivers in Uttarakhand.
At Rishikesh, few do the full 36km stretch from Kaudiyala via Marine Drive, Brahmpuri and Shivpuri to Lakshman Jhula. Brave 13 Grade I-IV rapids like Daniel’s Dip, Roller Coaster, Golf Course and Sweet Sixteen, go body surfing and steel your nerves for some cliff jumping. In Ladakh, choose from day trips around Leh, longer runs on the Indus or the challenging 14-day Zanskar river expedition from July till September. In Himachal Pradesh, try the Beas or a 25km stretch in Spiti from Rangrik near Kaza to Sichling, with Class I-II rapids. In Arunachal Pradesh, there’s good rafting on the Upper Subansiri and the Siang from Yingkiong to Pasighat. The rafting location is so remote it takes five days just to reach the launch point!
John Pollard of Southern River Adventures, pioneer of rafting in South India, has introduced 6 stretches from Dandeli to Coorg since 1999 and is partnering Goa Tourism from 2012. In Karnataka, get entangled in Adi’s Beard and Stanley’s Squeeze on the Kali river at Dandeli or tackle Milky Churn and Wicked Witch on the raging KKR (Upper Barapole) river in Coorg. ‘White water’ John describes Tilari as ‘the most advanced rapids south of the Himalayas’ and a 10km stretch of the lower Mhadei river promises spectacular jungle scenery along the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary and Grade II-III rapids like Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and Y-Fronts.
Unlike the usual rafting season of October to May, in Goa it’s a monsoon activity from June to October. Yet, some dam-fed rivers like Kundalika are accessible all year round. At Kolad, Maharashtra’s only white water rafting site, tackle a 14km stretch of the river with a dozen Class II-III rapids like Morning Headache, Johnny Walker, Rajdhani Express and Boom Shankar.
Dive right in
Turquoise waters, great visibility, untouched coral reefs and a remote location 1000 km from the Indian mainland, the Andamans offers the best diving and snorkelling opportunities in India. North Bay, 10 min by boat from capital Port Blair, and Wandoor Marine National Park stretching across 280 sq km 15 islands like Jolly Buoy and Red Skin, give the ideal introduction to the underwater world through glass-bottomed boat rides and snorkeling.
For diving, head straight to the adventure hub of Havelock Island in Ritchie’s Archipelago. After introductory sessions at Hathi Tapu (Elephant Beach), a speedboat takes you to remote dive sites like Barracuda City, Dugong Dungeon, Turtle Bay and Barren Island, India’s only active volcano. A range of PADI courses – basic one-day courses to specialized programs – are offered. Slip away to the quiet Neil Island for snorkeling and swimming with dugongs.
Off the west coast, head out to the 36 coral islands of Lakshadweep in the Arabian Sea. Lacadives, pioneers of diving in Lakshadweep since 1995, now run a dive centre at Chidiya Tapu in the Andamans and offer diving courses and reef adventures at Cinque, Rutland and Passage Islands! They also run a ‘Scuba in the City’ program with pool-training facilities in Mumbai and Bangalore. Dive Lakshadweep in Agatti, has 2 hr dive sessions in the lagoon for first timers, besides PADI’s Discover Scuba Diving (DSD) Introductory Dives and open water courses. Dolphin Reef and Sting Ray City northwest of Agatti Island and Japanese Garden near Agatti Island Beach Resort are popular dive sites. Diving in Lakshadweep outside the reef is possible only after the rains (15 Sep-15 May).
If time is a constraint, there’s enough action closer home on the Coromandel Coast. Temple Adventures, named after an artificial reef they built 5km offshore shaped like the Mahabalipuram Shore Temple, offers a Try Dive and snorkeling and surfing lessons at their facility on Covelong Road. There are also PADI certified dive courses and open-sea dives up to 50m at Temple Reef (20 min by boat) or The Wall, an inter-continental drop 15km offshore (45 min by boat).
Temple towns & Surfing Swamis
Who would have thought surfing and spirituality go hand in hand? Just beyond Udupi, Kaliya Mardana Krishna Ashram at Mulki or ‘Ashram Surf Retreat’ is run by Hare Rama Hare Krishna devotees, with surfing lessons, yoga, meditation, veg food and total detox (no smoking or alcohol)! Go river kayaking and ride the Zodiac boat to local surf breaks like Swami’s and Baba’s Left. April-May is mild surfing season with 1-2 m waves and 8 feet waves between June-September. For banana boat rides and adventure-themed vacations, venture up the coast to Sai Vishram Beach Resort at Baindoor and Devbagh Beach Resort near Karwar.
The temple town of Rameshwaram is fast emerging as a pilgrimage spot for kite surfers. A steady wind speed and scant rains provide ideal conditions for kite surfing or surfboarding powered by a kite. India’s first female kite surfer Charmaine of Quest Expeditions teaches wave-style and freestyle riding and jumps at kite spots like Swami’s Bay, Lands End lagoon and Fisherman’s Cove. It’s possible all year round, with north winds blowing in winter (Oct–Mar) and south winds in summer (Apr–Sep). In Maharashtra, Ocean Adventures does surfing, wakeboarding and other water sports at Ganpatipule.
Canyoning & other adventures
Come monsoon, the Konkan resuscitates itself with swollen rivers, mist-laden ghats and waterfalls at every turn. At Vihigaon, near Igatpuri, challenge yourself by rapelling down a 100 ft high slippery cataract, set amidst hills and paddy fields. Offbeat Sahyadri also organizes canyoning at Bekare near Karjat, Dudhani near Panvel and Dudhiware near Lonavala.
For sportfishing, hit the high seas off Chennai for Giant Trevally, tuna, mackerel, barracuda, barramundi, wahoo and sailfish. Angling operators in Goa and Chennai offer day packages to estuarine sanctuaries, breakwaters, wrecks and offshore ledges. Or head to Ritchie’s Archipelago in the Andamans for deep-sea fishing with Mikes Fishing Adventures and Monster Fishing. That’s the thing with marine adventure, once you’re hooked, you look for excuses to dive back in…
When to go
Vizag Yachting Festival (28-31 Mar, 2018)
Malabar River Festival (19-22 July, 2018)
Wayanad Splash (7-9 July, 2018)
Where to Stay
Sai Vishram Baindoor Beach Resort
Devbagh Beach Resort
Ph 011-29212641, 29212760, 41636101
Red Chilli Adventure, Rishikesh
Goa Rafting/Southern River Adventures
Ph 9545305734, 8805727230
Coorg Whitewater Rafting
Wild River Adventure, Kolad
Mercury Himalayan Explorations, Kolad
Ph 92728 82874
Muddy Boots, Wayanad
Ph 9987990300, 9664782503
Barefoot Scuba, Havelock
Ph 044 24341001, 95660 88560
Dive India, Havelock
Ph 99320 82205
Andaman Bubbles, Havelock
Ph 03192 282140, 9531892216
Ph 9820890948, 9619690898
India Surf Club, Mulki
Temple Adventures, Mamallapuram
Ph 9789844191, 9940219449
Kallialay Surf Club, Mamallapuram
Ph 9442992874, 9787306376
Ocean Adventures, Ganpatipule
Ph 99755 53617
Ph 98450 15472
Mikes Fishing Adventures
Ph 95660 88560
Andaman Sea Gamefishing
Ph 99332 04012
Ph 94220 59303, 96374 82626
Ph 044 42102287, 9500032662/9
Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the April 2018 issue of JetWings magazine.