Racing the river

Rafting down Mahadayi river will give you an adrenaline rush like no other.

Rafting in Mahadayi river

For a river that runs for just 70-odd kilometres, the Mahadayi’s waters are indeed turbulent for its relatively short journey from source to sea. Originating from a cluster of 30 springs at Bhimgad in Karnataka’s Belagavi district, a major portion of the river flows through Goa as the Mandovi. The region where it enters Goa is one of the most pristine patches in the Western Ghats, and the river skirts the scenic Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary before it meets the Arabian Sea at Panaji, forming the lifeline of the state. While the sharing of Mahadayi’s waters may be a contentious issue between Goa and Karnataka, the river’s bounty knows no boundaries.

With the advent of rains in June, the Mahadayi drains the surplus waters from the southwest monsoon, which lashes the slopes of the Western Ghats. The otherwise-placid river transforms into a gushing torrent with Grade II-III rapids as adventure seekers converge on it for the untamed joys of white water rafting. Unlike the usual rafting season across the rest of India between October and May, in Goa, it’s a monsoon activity from June to October when all the action shifts from the beaches. John Pollard of Southern River Adventures, who pioneered rafting in South India, has introduced six stretches from Dandeli to Coorg since 1999. In 2012, he started rafting in Goa, in partnership with Goa Tourism. John considers rafting in Goa, especially the upper Mahadayi-Tilari belt, as “the most advanced rapids south of the Himalayas.”


Rafting in Mahadayi river

Water, water, everywhere

We’ve had our share of crazy escapades in Goa — from full moon parties and coastal treks to an adventure bike ride to Dudhsagar Waterfall. Yet, we were filled with a sense of expectation as we left for Valpoi to take on a 10-km stretch of the lower Mahadayi. The Goan hinterland seemed awash with the first rains as we drove through the lush countryside of Sattari taluka. From our meeting point at The Earthen Pot restaurant, minivans transported us to the river, a short 25-minute drive away. It was a 10-minute walk to the launch point at Ustem village.

Pleasantries were exchanged between the rafters and the motley bunch of river guides from the South, North India and Nepal as we shared anecdotes about our rafting adventures from Rishikesh to Bhote Koshi in Nepal. Mohammed, who has been with Southern River Adventures for the past 14 years, briefed us on equipment, safety instructions and rafting commands. “‘All forward’, ‘back paddle’, ‘hold on’, ‘over left’, ‘over right’,” he announced with the seriousness of a drill sergeant. After a quick mock paddling session, we carried the raft to the river down the bank. It was overcast and drizzling steadily.

Raising our paddles in salutation to the river, we heaved off. We paddled through nearly 10 Grade II-III rapids starting off with ‘Big Daddy’, which lived up to its name. ‘Giant Haystacks’ has high waves that start stacking up when the water level is good. The strangely named ‘Y-Fronts’ owes its strange moniker to a funny incident during a trial run. John’s journo friend Monty Munford had such a churn in the rapids that when he emerged he was left wearing only his y-fronts! Between the whitewater stretches, we stopped paddling to admire the lush forest backdrop and jungle scenery.

After the ‘Pipeline’, we reached some flats, we jumped off the raft with our guide’s permission for some body surfing. The water was cool and invigorating. We disembarked at the finish point at Sonal and squelched our way up to a tea stall for some hot chai and pakodas. The minivan dropped us back to the restaurant where we devoured some poi and Goan sausages before heading back. The Mahadayi is perfect for first-time rafters as well as seasoned paddlers, and ought to be on everyone’s ‘must-do’ list for the monsoon.

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Racing the river

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