I have been fortunate enough to run whitewater in India on three other occasions, all in Uttarakhand, on the Kali and Saryu Rivers. Working for NOLS, I was able to lead whitewater sections of the India semester in multiple years and seasons. Each adventure layered upon the next, developing a rich affection for India: the people, the history, the landscape, the natural wonder. The deepest, is a bond over thousands of miles that has steadily augmented, which recently re-manifested itself in the form of the December 2018 Kameng River Expedition. A relationship that flip flops around the globe. A bond that can best be described as the characters in Wilbur Smith’s The Sunbird. This is the bond I share with my Indian brother, Anvesh Singh Thapa. A bond of life, adventure, and unquestioned mutual support.
The Kameng River is river located is in the northeast state of Arunachal. It is an area of natural beauty, good whitewater, and a collision of antiquity and modern culture. It is seemingly a recently discovered area by the Indian Government with massive road and infrastructure development underway. Our expedition traveled 160 kilometers in 10 days experiencing warm days and cool evenings. We encountered a river in a low volume state, creating a highly technical boating environment until reaching a confluence below Seppa, then the river shifted to a pool-drop river with larger features and more river running opportunities.
Our expedition was made up of Indians, Nepalese, Americans, and one Brexiteer. Two of the Americans were friends of mine, one a college housemate (Andy) and another a friend from NOLS (Gene). I have had fortune to run rivers in Idaho with both of them.Our Nepalese and Indians included Pramod, Stenzin, Richie, Shivam, and Domen. They were a mix of kayakers and rafters supporting the expedition, but mostly in pursuit of the river runner’s ultimate goal, to discover a new river. The third American, Paul, also was pursuing a personal new descent. Finally, Nathan, our citizen of the Crown, was excited to kayak and explore a new river as well.
The river did not disappoint. The Kameng River was its own. We discovered its bends, drops, corners, shallows, and depths. Initially the water was low and required careful lead ins for the 16’ raft and 16’ cataraft to find the water and avoid rocks. We were able to find some routes cleanly and some other routes on edge. By on edge I mean when the cataraft is forced to pivot off a large rock while on edge. We encountered one entrance that required some precision lining, and yet one more where portage was necessary. The Kameng increased in volume with additional confluence meetings. The waves and holes added punch. Momentum became essential.
We camped nearly every night on nice sandy beaches with ample driftwood for fires and plenty of time for superb food. The kitchen operations were spearheaded by Pramod and Stenzin, with excellent flavours consistently in the bowl. Gene lead the charge on yeast / baking initiatives as the trip progressed.
To me, a good expedition should challenge someone mentally, physically, and emotionally. To allow an opportunity to be your authentic self, enjoying successes, encountering obstacles, and growing as a whole. The Kameng River easily afforded a plethora of opportunities and outcomes in all categories. My mind is still trying to process the experience, particularly the unique view of cultural collisions only available due our remote river route and expedient development of the area.
The ability to contemplate some of the more macro aspects of the Kameng Expedition are only possible due to the competence and detail of the operational aspects of organising and running the trip. Expeditions India put over one month of time into the preparation, execution, and wrap-up of the adventure. In actuality, the truth is that Anvesh, Ing-Marie, and Mango made sacrifices to support this expedition. ...to support an expedition with a wide pool of participants with very different motivations and aspirations.
In the end, the expedition was true to the river runner soul, no matter your background, it was an opportunity to explore and grow, individually and with one another. It was awesome.