We’ve been planning to run the Brahmaputra all year. But as you might have heard, two landslides on the Tsangpo, a tributary of the Brahmaputra, have created an artificial dam, threatening a breach and major flooding. At the time we had to make a decision about the trip, this situation was still ongoing. After a lot of research and careful consideration (read: Another Landslide Dam on Yarlung Tsangpo Raises More Questions) we decided not to run the Brahmaputra this year. (Sorry, big water, we’ll see you again.)
We’ve shifted our trip to run the Kameng, and frankly, we couldn’t be more stoked. In fact - and we’re not just saying this - it’s our favourite river to run, and our signature trip. Anvesh was a safety kayaker in the first ever commercial descent of the river back in 2007 with Ultimate Descents, and Expeditions India ran the river in 2008 and 2009. (The 2009 trip was written up in Outlook Traveler, Descent into the Valley of the Hornbills.) As far as we know, we’re the only company that’s run it this many times, and we’re thrilled to be running it again.
While we’ll miss the big water of the Brahmaputra, there are gems hidden in the Kameng. Here are our top five reasons that we love the Kameng, with help from excerpts of Janaki Lenins’s amazing article, “Descent into the Valley of the Hornbills - A Kameng Odyssey” (permission given by the author).
1) It’s remote.
“ “I’m an Indian and even I don’t want to visit this place. It’s a punishment posting for me, I’m sorry to say. But I have no choice, I’m building a dam here. Why did you people choose to come here?” asked a loud voice that cut through our dinnertime conversation rudely. The man was drunk and we were suddenly tongue-tied. No one tried to reply to his befuddled face and eventually the engineer’s embarrassed colleagues hustled him away. How was one to tell him that the idea of visiting this part of the world had made us salivate with anticipation? However, we didn’t blame him for his uncharitable thoughts. If we had been stuck in Seppa (christened “Septic Seppa” for its garbage and disarray), we would have also rudely barged into someone else’s party and asked the same question. But we were just transiting through this frontier town and had another 60 km to go.”
2) The wildlife.
“We followed the stream silently, ears alert to sounds of elephants feeding. Despite it being far away from humanity, there were abandoned fishing traps on the river. High up in the nearest hill, we heard the bleating of goats. Yikes! We were close to humans, I muttered dismissively. It was while I was climbing over some large boulders that I realized that the elephants had also done the same. I would never have believed that possible had it not been for the tracks imprinted in the sand. Large ones and little baby ones. A leopard had also walked along the river as had others, such as civets or martens. Colonies of little towers, about three inches high, rose in the drier parts of the river bed; it was dirt that had passed through the gut of earthworms. Birds of unknown pedigree flitted amongst the red flowers of the bombax trees. Contentment and peace settled over me at the sight of all this life.”
3) The locals.
“School kids clutching fragments of textbooks and notebooks in their hands crowded around, a few also had catapults, and all had runny noses. One of the older ones shyly asked, “The last year when the kayakers came, they gave us American food. It was very tasty. Do you have any American food? We’d like to taste it once more.” Unfortunately every article was packed in the wet bags which were lashed to the rafts and the catamarans and there was no way we could unpack kit and caboodle there. Another poked the inflatable raft and asked what was it made of. Rom countered, “What do you think it is made of?” and the thoughtful youngster replied “elephant skin”. Last year, a man had tried to puncture the inflatable “cat” with his dagger, perhaps not maliciously but out of curiosity. Some of the kids wanted to get into the raft and we were afraid that it might capsize because once a few got on, there was no way we could hold back the others. Although we said it was dangerous, we did wish we could take them for a ride. Our trip wasn’t bringing any benefits to local people directly, but we could share the fun at least. As we prepared to leave, one of the kids hailed us. We had left a rescue bag behind.”
4) Technical whitewater.
“The next morning we woke up to discover that the river level had gone up overnight. Our campfire was inundated and the still pool had turned into a cascading waterfall. It had rained upriver; and it could only get better. The day’s highlight was Gruesome Geyser (Class 5). We braced ourselves for the washing machine turbulence and I was mundanely hoping not to lose my contact lenses. But then, anticlimax: the river guides decided not to risk it; so we portaged the bags over the boulders. Once the rescue team signaled “ok”, by holding one closed fist on top of the head, to each other, the guides rafted down. Thus we chickened out of rafting two of the best-named rapids of the river!”
5) Did we mention the remote-ness?
“We drifted along gazing up at the towering cliff sides, content in the knowledge that there were no roads or any infrastructure for a few miles around. It’s a miracle that in this country of a billion plus people, one could still lose oneself in the wilderness.”