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White-water rafting on the Zanskar River: a near-death experience (Page 2)

I kept my grip on the lifeline but saw Craig, the man in the front left corner and his girlfriend go flying out of the raft. I can’t imagine what it was like for them, but I felt myself being sucked downwards and it was all I could do to keep a hold of the lifeline. Always a sad sucker for following instructions, I managed to hang on to my paddle too. A few seconds (they felt like minutes) later, I bobbed back up to the surface next to the raft, about 10m from where it flipped. I couldn’t see anyone. I began to maniacally (and with hindsight, embarrassingly) scream Craig’s name. I had visions of him stuck in a muddy Zanskar grave underneath a mass of downward-pressing water. A head popped up next to me. It belonged to the Englishman. I’m ashamed to admit it; I was devastated.

After what seemed like an eternity of mewling out for Craig, for anyone, and hearing only the hated drone of river rushing by my ears, I heard a voice that sounded vaguely Canadian. It turned out the river had sucked Craig down and, when he thought he wouldn’t make it out alive, vomited him up about 20m from the raft. Within seconds the guide appeared on top of the upturned raft. He motioned for us to make our way to the front of our sorry state of a vessel and wait for him to tip it back over. Bedraggled and shaken, all six of us were pulled back on board, with some help from the other raft, which, incidentally, also managed to jam me between it and our stricken craft as part of the rescue effort.

Emergency over, the old cockiness started to return and our boat held the most hardcore rafters in India, apart from the two Polish guys who decided to abort when we pulled ashore for a well-earned break about 10 minutes later. The rest of the journey was spent recounting (and exaggerating) our individual experiences of Our Flipping, taking in the surroundings and generally feeling lucky to be alive. The extremely strong man in a kayak somehow managed to fetch all of our sodden belongings from the Zanskar, including water bottles and a Marks & Spencer bag fresh from Britain, and spent the rest of the ride lithely skipping around the rafts like a playful dolphin.

The rest of the trip passed with no drama – no grade three rapid can count as drama following Our Flipping – and we drifted down to join the Indus River and toast our safe arrival with a bottle of Godfather, a Kashmiri beer “guaranteed between 5.25 and 8.0% ABV”.

I’m left with a far healthier respect for the might of a river and appreciation of the necessity for a life jacket, but I’d feel cheated if something dramatic hadn’t happened. I’m convinced the group in the other raft were secretly jealous that their ride was so tame. To their credit, they did make it there and back on the Ladakhi roads, which I still insist require far stronger nerves.

We booked our Zanskar River white-water rafting experience through Dreamland Trek & Tour, Fort Road, Leh but there are literally dozens of other tour companies offering similar trips, flipping not guaranteed.

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