Without any warning, Bijay, our rafting instructor, caught me by my shoulders and threw me into the Barapole. Though momentarily disoriented by the impact of the ice-cold water, I resurfaced with a grin plastered on my face. The river surged around my body, nudging me gently against the boat. Minutes earlier, the same river had angrily rocked our raft, making the seven of us scream in unison. Such are the paradoxes of the Barapole.
Pulling the group out of its philosophical funk, Bijay screamed, “Let’s go!” After I’d hoisted myself back into the inflated raft, we gave ourselves up to the rhythm of the chilly wind and the piercing rain. Struggling to grip the paddles with our numb fingers, we set off to tackle rapid three, the toughest of them all. “Forward all!!,” Bijay hollered in a voice entirely disproportionate to his small frame, trying to outdo the sound of the river. Rowing, digging deep into the water, we forged ahead. “Left, forward! Right, back! Don’t stop!” he shouted as the raft performed an impromptu 360-degree turn.
Slam dunk: The rapids on the Barapole river range from class 1 to 3.5 during the monsoon.
Visibility was limited by the wall of water all around, panic was writ large on each of our faces. “Just. Don’t. Stop. Rowing.” The raft tilted to the left, rising by at least 45 degrees to the right. The choice was between holding on for dear life and rowing. Courage ruled and we rowed. Another cresting wave threw us out of our seats. Struggling back to resume positions, we rowed. Yet another swirl later, we reached tranquil waters— almost as much of a shock to our systems as the turbulence.
Not to be compared with the violent rapids of the Ganga or the Zanskar or any of the north Indian rivers, the Barapole offers a medium-level, 3.5-class rapid. But the challenge is not one of power. Because of the low rainfall in Karnataka, the rocks were not entirely submerged. The trick was to manoeuvre the raft to avoid the rocks. Each of the four rafts that preceded us fell into the trap and had to be freed physically by the instructors.
We, on the other hand, emerged like warriors. Raised yellow paddles and a victory cheer greeted us.
Three rapids earlier, Bijay had not been a confident soul, leading a raft with five women and one other man. We smiled at him in an effort to pool our bravery. “You all have to row very hard, and always listen to instructions, okay?” he’d smiled faintly. “Yes, sir,” we chorused, deferring to the little man who’d come down from Nepal to be a rafting instructor in Kodagu.
The Barapole is a tame river for most months of the year, gurgling through forests and coffee estates after its birth in the Brahmagiri range, in a serene statement of its power. Come the monsoon, however, and the river swells, producing four rapids ranging from class 1 to class 3.5 in a 3.5km stretch.
The fourth rapid, a class 3, was less tricky than the third one. There was abundant water, which reduced the chance of the raft getting stuck, but that was all the good news there was. Digging our oars deep into the water with confidence chuffed by our recent conquest, we fought to keep the water from drowning the raft.
“Stop rowing, get into the raft!” screamed Bijay as we, in partial confusion, ducked and cowered. Strong, cruel water lashed our backs, rocking the raft violently and swinging it around. Resuming our positions, we found ourselves disputing with an opposing current.
Paddling was impossible, so the river had its way.
After being suspended mid-air for a brief moment, the raft landed in a calm stream. Still heady on adrenalin and anticipating more thrills, we were, literally, let down by the rapid that ended almost before it began. But we were still at a high.
The Barapole, in southern Kodagu, Karnataka, offers a great introduction to rafting, even for non-swimmers. Between June and October, several stretches along the river are opened for rafting and water adventures. Ace Paddlers (www.acepaddlers.com) and Southern River Adventures (09845514122/09448134375; firstname.lastname@example.org) operate trips of various distances in the upper reaches of the river.