Thursday, 4 February 2010

5th November – A small patch of water...

I woke early and fished my way back down the 3km that Rup and I fished yesterday. Not one fish took or showed any sign of taking. I had decided to walk downstream and wait below the next rapid to take pictures of the rafts coming down again. Chris and Rup joined me later and walked further downstream to fish while I waited for the rafts to arrive. Again, the wait seemed like forever. We couldn’t understand why the rafters hadn’t established a system to get things more organized and efficient.
When they eventually came into view, I got some great action shots of the rafts smashing through the stopper waves of the rapid before climbing aboard and drifting downstream. Spirits were good natured on the rafts as we slowly drifted a long flat stretch of the river. At a couple of places, the rafters pulled into the side to take a look downstream at set of rapids coming up.
All went well until one point where we paused to survey a fairly gentle looking set of rapids and plan our route through them. Arun’s raft with Billy, Alka, Sanjay, Dhiraj and Vikas on board didn’t manage to stop at the side ahead of us. Arun seemed relaxed about it all and I guess assumed that he’d drift down a bit and come to the side of the river further down. The raft disappeared around a bend in the river ahead of us. Our raft and the supply raft had stopped and we were clambering off downstream (I was fishing) to look at the rapids ahead just around the bend. We figured we’d see Arun’s raft when we got around the corner but he was nowhere to be seen. We could see the rapids ahead and they looked fairly straight and gentle so we guessed that Arun must have shot them immediately without stopping to look first.
We made our way back to the rafts and set off to shoot the rapids ahead. Nino asked Ito to take the supply raft to go ahead as it was lighter and they’d be able to check the route and signal to us if there were any problems in the rapid. As we drifted towards the head of the rapid, the supply raft was 100m in front and commencing its bumpy ride through them. We saw the supply raft lurch sideways and then suddenly both Ito and Tilak disappeared into the water. I was sitting in the middle of our raft and was the highest so shouted to Nino, “They’ve been thrown in!” We drifted helplessly towards the rapids and watched as both rafters emerged from the waves and struggled back onto their raft. Tilak managed to get to the oars and stabilize the raft whilst Ito hung onto the side. We were now taking the same route that the supply raft took and Nino was in the process of lining up our raft to commence shooting the rapid. At that point I noticed Arun on the left bank running across the rocks waving frantically at us.
Arun had decided to take the raft down the rapid without surveying it first. The rapid did indeed look fairly innocuous until his raft hit a hole in the river behind a huge submerged boulder. The water downstream of the sunken boulder created a body of stationary or reverse-flow water. When Arun’s raft fell into this hole the raft immediately stopped. The sudden change of speed hurled Alka from the raft into the rapid her helmet was torn from her head by the force of the water and she lost an earring. Dhiraj’s was thrown forward and had his face smashed hard against the raft’s metal frame. Fortunately, no one else on the raft was ejected or injured and they were able to rescue Alka and get the raft into quiet water below the rapid. Arun had then run back upstream across the rocks to try to forewarn us of the danger. But he was too late.
“Arun says go right, go right!” I shouted to Nino, but Nino was otherwise engaged as one of his oars had come away from its rowlock. We were a big heavy raft with eight people and gear on board so the remaining paddlers were in no position to change course in the rapidly accelerating river. I scanned ahead in the water looking for holes, rocks, anything that looked dangerous but couldn’t see anything. Arun was still signalling and shouting at us from the bank and then I saw it ahead. It was barely noticeable at first, just a patch of white frothy water behind a small bulge in the river where water was flowing over something below the surface. We were too close now to take any avoiding action so I just screamed “Hold on!” and grabbed a rope that was securing luggage to the raft.
The raft rode over the top of the bulge in the river, slid sideways into the eddy pool and stopped dead. The weight and momentum of the raft forced the bows deep into the frothing eddy and I saw Phil, Bob and Amit disappear into the foaming water. Bob, Amit, Chris, Nino and Tazir were thrown into the river and it felt like the raft would flip completely. Miraculously it didn’t but only Rup, Phil and I remained on board. I still had my fishing rod in one hand and was clinging to the luggage ropes with the other as the raft was spat from the eddy pool and continued downstream.
Chris (who would no doubt be saying “I told you so!” when he finally got back on board) had been desperately clinging to a rope in the water and then a wave pushed him straight back in to the raft. Nino had by now managed to get back into the raft and was getting control of the oars. Phil had managed to grab Amit’s arm who was hanging from the front of the raft and I helped drag him back on board. Then we realized Bob and Tazir were missing.
When the raft first hit the eddy pool, Bob had been sucked from the raft and fell into the stopper wave formed behind the submerged boulder. He had been tumbled round and round in the water unable to determine what was up, down, left or right and his glasses had been torn off in the water. Fortunately for him the stopper wave eventually relinquished its hold and spat him out. We saw him in the river 20m behind the raft drifting downstream. Then I spotted Tazir about 15m behind us in the water, under the water actually. Tazir had been thrown from the raft but was not wearing a lifejacket and had exhausted himself just trying to keep at the surface. I saw his head emerge from the river and then he disappeared again, his arms flailing about trying to find strength. Our raft was too big to stop and rescue Tazir so I bellowed at the Ito and Tilak (who were alongside us in slack water) to throw a line to Tazir upstream. They kind of understood what I was saying but couldn’t see Tazir so didn’t know where to go to. Fortunately Bob had also seen a fuzzy Tazir in front of him and grabbed him so they could both struggle ashore. Nino managed to get our raft into the side and everyone flopped exhausted onto the rocks wet and bedraggled.
We got a fire going and everyone got round it to dry out and warm up. People were shivering and some were in mild shock. Fortunately the sun was on us so it and the fire warmed us quickly. Dhiraj’s cheek was going black and blue and his top lip was swelling and bleeding badly. Biscuits were found and handed out to give us all energy. There was lots of talk and banter but I think we all knew that was a very lucky escape. Tazir had, in his words, “given up hope” until Bob grabbed him and dragged him ashore. I got a photo of everyone shouting and waving as a ‘we survived!’ memento. We all shook hands and hugged at our lucky escape.
I wandered back upstream to try and spot the hole in the river that had caught all three of our rafts. It was even more difficult to see from the riverbank and looked so innocuous now. Looking at the rapid as a whole, it appeared almost childishly simple to raft, far easier to negotiate than the other rapids we had rafted earlier and definitely less frightening than the one Chris had freaked out over.
After about an hour, we had pretty much dried out but no-one was in any mood to get back in the rafts so we had a discussion with Nino about how to proceed. Arun’s raft had been punctured during their journey and so this would have to be repaired soon. We could see an eddy pool downstream beyond a small confluence and a shallow rapid. It was decided to gingerly make our way across the river, beyond the confluence and beach in the eddy pool downstream where we would camp for two nights to allow repairs to be made to Arun’s raft. Just then a commotion attracted everyone’s attention. One of the two remaining chickens had managed to escape from it’s bamboo cage and had fallen from the raft into the river in its bid for freedom. It was clucking wildly and flailing about in the water as it got swept downstream. Amit jumped in and recovered the feckless bird which lightened the mood of us all somewhat. I suspected that these two chickens would not last the night anyway as we had no mahseer to eat and a hearty meal was in order to boost morale.
We got back onto the rafts and headed off towards the eddy pool 1K downstream. We drifted by the confluence which looked gorgeous and everyone was eager to fish it later or tomorrow. The small rapid before the eddy pool was very shallow and our raft repeatedly dragged on stones as we drifted down. At one point the raft stuck completely so we had to climb out and cajole it over the boulders. Arun’s raft caught up with us and drifted by but Arun forgot to get his large oars out of the way. I was in the water looking back at the raft when I saw Arun’s oar about to decapitate Chris, Rup and Nino in the back. “Heads down!” I barked and we all ducked as Arun’s oar narrowly swept over our heads. What next!
We made it to the eddy pool which was perfect, deep and big and very fishy with a lovely sandy beach for us to camp on. The sun was sinking behind the mountains so we made camp quickly and got a fire going to continue drying things out. Dhiraj’s cheek continued to swell which was causing the wound in his lip to open and bleed. We applied ointment and gave him painkillers to help him take his mind off it. We figured that nothing was broken otherwise he’d be in much more pain which offered some encouragement for him.
Nino and the boys made us tea and biscuits and then Rup set up his rod and cast a silver spate spoon in the reverse eddy right in front of the camp. Suddenly he let out a cry and his rod was bent into a fish. After a short but powerful fight a beautiful golden mahseer of 13lbs was beached. It brought tremendous encouragement to us all as we were beginning to lose faith that the golden mahseer were still in the river. Once again Rup did the business as he’s so often done and pulled out a mahseer when we all thought there were none there. Other rods were hastily assembled and we all set up casting. Then Rup lost another fish from the eddy pool and then another soon after which really got out spirits up, mind you, we all secretly wanted Rup to stop fishing now so that we could have a chance. We all split up and fished the eddy pool, confluence and other likely looking spots along the river but no other fish showed that afternoon.
We returned to camp and gathered more wood to build an even bigger fire for the evening as light faded quickly and the temperature dropped. As I suspected, the chickens were hastily dispatched and now formed the centerpiece of the evening feast of chicken curry, aloo, dal, rice and pudding. Red wine and rum was produced as we warmed ourselves around the fire to take away the aches and pains of the day. Bob was having difficulty seeing without his glasses and would stagger semi-blind around the camp. Dhiraj was being extraordinarily stoical about his face and the pain that was obviously hurting. We had deliberately withheld showing him his face in a mirror for fear that it would scare him still further. We eventually reneged and when he saw himself he was indeed shocked at how big his check and top lip had become.
At one point in the evening Tazir came over to Bob by the fire and knelt beside him. He had to get someone to translate his words as his English was not good. Somewhat emotionally he told Bob that he owed him his life and that he would never forgot what Bob had done to save him. He really had given up hope and was sure that he would drown in the rapid. Tazir then handed Bob his small machete that he had made himself and had had all his life. It was a token of his gratitude and indebtedness to Bob. It was a poignant moment and we all cheered and applauded with our heads full of alcohol.
All of us went to our tents that night with personal reflections of an ordeal that no-one expected from a very simple straight set of rapids 1km behind us.

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