Rafting on a swollen muddy river in the Goan hinterland was the last thing I expected to be doing on a recent trip to Goa. Given a last-minute choice to attend the Sao Juao festival, or, go rafting on the rain-fed Mhadei River, I decided to literally, take the plunge. The mini-expedition began at Valpoi–a small town around 40km from Panjim– where we met John Pollard, our instructor for the trip. Pollard, a veritable rafting legend, has taken more than 50,000 people through swirling rapids in rivers in South India. Pollard and his team drove us–a motley group of journalists–to a small village called Ustem where, ominously, the skies opened up the moment we rolled in. Drenched, shivering and more than a bit apprehensive, we lined up on the river bank, listening to Pollard’s safety briefing and wondering whether this had been such a good idea after all!
After learning how to use the paddles, clad in rafting gear, and confident that we knew what to do if any of us fell into the river, we stepped, gingerly into the raft. The Mhadei River looked anything but inviting: muddy and tumultuous and swollen exponentially with a deafening roar to boot! Intimidating would not be overstating it, and that perception wasn’t helped by Pollard’s stories about the river being infested with crocodiles! And in spite of our team of trained instructors’ assurances it took a lot of guts to listen to their bidding then we were asked to jump into the water to learn safety procedures. And for those who couldn’t swim, well, let’s just say it was a leap of faith!
Fears quelled and paddling down the river exhilaration soon overtook fear and we were raring to hit the rapids. The Mhadei River flows through the eponymous Wildlife Sanctuary and the rain-drenched lush green of the Western Ghats stretching into the distance on both banks cut a sharply contrasting picture to the earthy hues of the swiftly flowing river. For a moment–with rain pelting down a muddy river, the cacophony of birds and insects, and the dense foliage–it seemed like nothing less than a tropical rain forest!
So rafting is as chilled out or as extreme as the rapids along the route. Our baptism by fire came about as our raft got sucked into ‘Big Daddy,’–the most dangerous rapid on this stretch. A huge wave broke upon us, drenching us yet again with gallons of muddy water. Through the confusion of trying to paddle and the roar of the water we heard Pollard yelling instructions and the team rallying to steer the raft to safety. It was an amazingly adrenaline-pumping experience and got us hooked on to rapids! The ten kilometer stretch was over before we knew it and as we disembarked, I couldn’t help but being seized by a desire to do it all over again.
At the end of the day, I did miss the festival, but fun as it would have been, it was the rafting that I will remember. Not only did I not expect an experience like it in Goa–the land of beaches, shacks and parties–but the green side, jungles et al, of Goa was revealed to me for the first time. This is why some people choose to visit the state during the monsoon season: the rains transform the entire region–the laterite soil turns into a bright red, the Ghats look lusciously green and the muddy sea looks like liquid desert. For those who aren’t particularly enthused by rafting could get their kicks from hot air balloon rides, navigating amphibious vehicles and treks into unknown parts of the forests of the Western Ghats.
Rafting in Mhadei River is a monsoon exclusive (between June to and September)
Price: Ã¢?¹1,800 per head.
Make sure you book at least a day in advance at www.goarafting.com
Phone number: +91 7387238866 or +91 8805727230.
Goa Tourism Office
Address: Paryatan Bhavan, 3rd Floor, Patto Plaza, Panaji, Goa
Phone no: 832 2437132 / 2437728 / 2438515 / 2438866