Thursday, 4 February 2010

7th November – The ratfs are just around the corner - honest?

I woke before first light and fished in the darkness without success whilst I waited for everyone else to rise.
We had an early breakfast and then packed up the camp to make an early start on the rafts. We were behind time and still had no clear idea of how far the Subansiri confluence was. The rafts were loaded and we set off across the eddy pool. We knew there were more rapids just ahead but we couldn’t check them properly due to sheer cliffs blocking our way downstream.
We tied off the rafts on the far side of the river and inspected the rapids ahead. They were straightforward and we got through them fine before pausing to inspect the next set. This pause turned into 1.5 hours as we watched and waited for Nino and Arun (who had disappeared downstream) to return. They walked at least 3km downstream and when they eventually made it back to the rafts, they said we would have to walk three sets of rapids.
Nino said that there was a jungle path that would take us passed a bluff and they would be waiting for us somewhere below that. Each raft would be taken fully laden with gear but without us through the rapids and they would wait for us in calmer water downstream.
We all set off across the boulders to find the jungle track. It was tough going as the boulders were big and not easy to negotiate. Phil and I dropped down to the riverside to take a look at the rapids for ourselves. I have to say that I considered them to be no worse that some of the other rapids we had rafted. I think issues over the last few days had left everyone a bit jittery and I felt Nino and Arun had also lost their nerve with regards to having us on board in big rapids.
The jungle path was located and everyone set off to find the rendezvous downstream (which hadn’t really been made clear to us at all) except for Phil and me. We stayed by the river and took pictures of the rafts shooting the rapids. There was a ‘chicken run’ which they choose and it all seemed very easy and harmless so I was still surprised at Nino’s choice to make us all walk.
Rather than walk back up to find the jungle path, Phil and I set off down the river bank as we figured we’d come across everyone eventually. We saw lots of night lines in the water where locals were baiting up heavy lines to catch anything that took the bait. It was a fairly easy walk expect for a few places where we had to negotiate cliffs. At one point we saw Nino and the other rafts on the far side of the river resting. There was a landing spot on our side where we thought they would stop to pick us up but they drifted right by it and disappeared around another corner.
We met up with the others who had taken the jungle path that was now near the river and set off to find the rafts downstream. On the jungle path they’d come across a simple hunters shelter made of banana leaves. Beneath the canopy was a small fire with a frog impaled on a stick being smoked over it.
The path quickly faded and became a maze of bamboo and jungle. I jabbed and cut my head several times on broken bamboo stalks that poked out of the jungle above me as I focused on where I was walking. We got to a point where the path disappeared completely and the ground fell away below us. Tazir climbed/slid his way down to the river to try and find a lower route. Rocks were now being dislodged and I was nervous that someone was going to get hurt by falling debris if we tried to proceed via this route. Some of the others were getting tired as they’d been scrambling and walking through the jungle for a few hours now. I joined Tazir and we found a route down by the river so shouted for everyone to retrace theirs steps and come down to join us. The river here was relatively calm so I was mystified as to why Nino hadn’t stopped to pick us up here and there was still no sign of them downstream. I walked ahead whilst Tazir waited for the others to join him and after a few hundred metres saw the three rafts moored on our side of the river. I called back to Tazir that the rafts were not far now.
Watching everyone scrambling down the river to get to the rafts was a sorry sight as they reminded me of walking wounded. Sanjay’s knees had given up completely and he was in pain. Dhiraj’s face was black and blue and he had to walk carefully over the rocks. Bob was virtually blind without his glasses so couldn’t go fast at all. Alka was very tired and was being helped by Billy. I felt that it was not a good decision to get us all to walk through the jungle for so long as especially as many of the party were not at their peak of physical fitness.
Finally we all plonked ourselves exhausted on the rafts and I asked Nino for biscuits and water for everyone. Time was getting on again and we’d spent most of the day walking or waiting in the heat. It was very frustrating.
We set off on the rafts again and looked for a suitable beach to camp for the night. The river was not being kind to us and the sides were steep and rocky. After a few kilometres or so, we chose a tiny patch of sand and rocks next to a small stream falling into the river from a steep hillside. It was very cramped but we figured that it was the best we’d find. The sun was off the river now and the temperature was falling rapidly again. Everyone scrambled to find a suitable place to pitch tents which brought some interesting improvisations. Phil and I excavated a site by removing sand and rocks to form a flattish plateau. We then just erected that fly sheet and tied it to branches as we couldn’t be bothered with the tent inner itself. Other people strung up fly sheets to overhanging branches and soon a very makeshift camp appeared. The rafters set about getting food and hot water going for tea and coffee.
Everyone took to washing in the side stream to get rid of the grime and dust from today’s exertions. Rup started fishing shortly after and soon hooked (as only Rup can) a small mahseer but lost it. No-one else was fishing so I set up my rod and wandered off upstream. The river was featureless here and running straight so I just side-stepped my way up river casting upstream and retrieving downstream. I saw what looked like leopard tracks in the sand. The light was almost gone as I made my way back downstream to the camp. A few other people had fished but no-one had caught anything.
Supper was good and everyone ate heartily. The day had taken its toll on many of us and we all got an early night. With no real clue as to where the Subansiri confluence was we were all now hoping it was soon, very soon. The Kamla was a great river with excellent looking water however, the uncertainty over camping spots, the amount of surveying required for so many unknown rapids and the relative lack of mahseer (compounded by the dynamiting going on), left us all with the desire to get to the better known water below us (somewhere).

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