Rishikesh Rajan's arms ached as he paddled hard to help steer his raft through a particularly sharp bend along the river. Further downstream, he heard the faint, familiar rumble of a gushing rapid and spotted the milky white foam that frothed on the surface. The raft's guide hollered at them to stop paddling and Rajan felt a surge of adrenaline as the little raft hit the rapid and a huge load of water tumbled on them.
"That sums up my all-time favourite rafting experience. Nothing else can match the rush," said Rajan, a 25-yearold software engineer who first went rafting two years ago as part of an HR team-building exercise.
Adventure closer home
The river in question wasn't a huge Himalayan one, but a smaller one closer home. Unlike snow-fed Himalayan rivers that are gushing torrents of water all year round, most rivers in Maharashtra are weak trickles in comparison. But as soon as the southwest monsoon settles into the Konkan by July, the meek little rivers swell into an angry force of water, with their own rafting rapids.
And it's this tiny window of a month or two every year usually between July and August that turns into a river rafting rush for adventure seekers in the state. Rafting in Maharashtra still isn't as widespread as it is in the North and is in fact done only on two rivers in the Konkan belt close to Mumbai the Kundalika, near Roha, and the Ulhas, near Karjat.
The level of rapids you find in rivers in Maharashtra (levels 1-3) may not be much compared to their Himalayan cousins (levels 1-6), but rafters say that there are other advantages to monsoon rafting in Maharashtra.
"The rivers here are completely rainfed, because of which their levels differ every year. This makes them unpredictable and adds to the fun," said Andre Morris, Outbound Adventure, who has been organising rafting and canoeing trips on the Ulhas for the last 20 years.
Sometimes, the water levels of the Ulhas rise so much that Morris' group has landed at the rafting starting point and decided against rafting that day. Sometimes, they have also decided to wait a few hours for the water to recede, given safety concerns.
The rivers are almost dry in the summer months, which lets adventure companies scout the length of the river. "We usually walk down the 7-8 km rafting stretch of the Ulhas in summer to check the riverbed for sharp rocks and boulders and get an idea of where risky points could be. So it's a boon from the safety point of view," said Morris.
As for the Kundalika River near Roha, its 10-12 km rafting stretch packs in double the fun during rainy months. Apart from being fed by rainwater, the river also gets water released by a nearby dam of a hydroelectric power plant between 7 am-11 am on all days except Mondays.
"Between the rainwater and the water released from the dam, very good rapids are formed, attracting many rafters to the river during the rainy season," said Commandant S.P. Ahuja of Mercury Himalayan Explorations, an adventure company that's been offering rafting trips on the river for over three years now. "Many are between level one and level three," he added.
Rafts of all sorts
The rivers also have a few stretches that are ideal to go kayaking or canoeing on. But that's taking the adventure sport to the next level if you're the sort who likes to strike it solo, train hard and long in kayaking.
"Kayakers need special skills to handle kayaks in rapid flowing water. We don't yet offer courses that teach it, but if an experienced kayaker comes along, we are happy to provide him with the equipment he needs," added Morris.
Want to play the game?
Who can RAFT?
Almost everybody except pregnant women, people with heart trouble and those with severe asthma can raft. Children below 10 years aren't allowed. Different tour groups have different age restrictions. Mercury Himalayan Explorations restricts children between 10 and 14 years to certain sections on the river, Outbound Adventure has an age limit of 12 years. You need to be physically fit.
Whom should you contact?
To raft on the Kundalika River: Mercury Himalayan Explorations, cost: Rs 1,200, www.himalayanadventure .com; Nature Knights (organises a pick up and drop facility from Mumbai to Kolad), cost: Rs 2,150, www.nature knights.com; And Rafting on Kundalika, cost: Rs 1,250 on weekends and Rs 1,000 on week days, www.rafting onkundalika.com. To raft on the Ulhas River, Karjat: Outbound Adventure, cost: Rs 1,600. www.outboundadventure.com.