Let me make this clear at the outset – I’m terrified of the ocean, and it goes without saying that I can’t swim. The thought of cold water being splashed on me leaves me completely breathless, gasping for air. The cold water hitting my head in the shower leaves me almost choking.
Given this, I surprised myself when I agreed to go river rafting in Kullu. We were on our way to Manali from a night’s stop at Mandi, and without prior accommodation arrangements in Manali, we wanted to reach early enough to ensure we had a good night’s rest. So we left Mandi, wearing our thermals, ready to brave the Manali chill. It was January, after all, probably the worst time to visit Manali. Going river rafting was a spontaneous decision; we knew that the best rafting experience was in Rishikesh, and that wasn’t en route for this trip.
Nonetheless, there we were, strapped into our life jackets, riding to the starting point on the river Beas. I thought twice, and a couple more times after that, for a possible escape from getting into the raft. But 5 minutes later, I was getting into the raft listening intently to the guide, as he explained where we had to hook our feet, how far we would go. Fortunately for me, he said that the rapids weren’t too bad this time of year, as the ice was barely melting from the mountains. What I didn’t realise was that it meant that the ride would be more bumpy, since we would be hitting rocks at the bottom.
Since I didn’t want the trouble of rowing through the water, I was designated to be at the helm of the raft, holding the rope tight. What freaked me out was that out of the 5 people in the raft (excluding the guide) I was the only one who had no place to hook my feet to! Being the only one who couldn’t swim, surely I was the one who needed it the most!
As the raft was pushed away from the shore, I remember thinking to myself, “This is it! There’s no going back now! The only way out of this raft was at the end!” The raft inched ahead slowly, and I was glad I didn’t take charge of any of the oars. Just as I thought that it wasn’t that bad, the raft nose-dived into the chilly river water. It threw up a 7-feet wave that proved to be as closest I’ve ever gotten to facing my fears. As the wave obeyed gravity and descended upon us, every hair on my body stood up, and before I knew it, I was soaked to the bone. It left me blinking furiously to get the water out of eyes, and taking deep breaths to get the air back into my lungs.
With the chilly mountain air hitting my already numb face, I felt I could take any other wave head on, and I did. After all, I was soaked right to my thermals and numb all over. We got off the raft and walked in knee deep ice-cold water to shore when we were done, and if any part of my jeans and thermals had even a dry spot, it stood no chance against the Beas rapids.
So while we started the day prepared to take on the Manali cold, we had ended up soaking our best winter wear and were forced to enter the coldest leg of our journey with just a pair of jeans and a sweater!