Jaded city dwellers from Mumbai or Pune needn’t go all the way to Rishikesh in Uttarakhand or Dandeli in Karnataka to experience the rush of white-water rafting, or even wait for the monsoon to ride the waters in their own state. The Kundalika river in Kolad, Maharashtra’s only white-water rafting site, is open all year round since it is a dam-fed river.

We set off early from Mumbai on a weekend to avoid bottlenecks at Pen town, and took a diversion off National Highway 17 towards the undulating Mulshi-Pune state highway, punctuated by scenic fields, farms and a view of the Kundalika river.

Since the waters are released from the Bhira Dam at around 8.30am every day, we needed to be there well before water levels receded. Purists often dismiss a dam-fed river as a tepid choice when compared with the thrill of tackling natural rain-fed torrents. But the 14km stretch had many grade II and III rapids (novice and intermediate levels) that transform into grade IV (the advanced level) during the monsoon. A few rafts had already been launched as we geared up and practised our commands.

While Kolad’s first river run took place in 1996, the sport has become popular only over the last few years. Like most white-water tracts, the rapids have ingenious names. The river kicks off with a prayer—"Good Morning Buddha". Thereafter, our raft bounced past “Hilton" and “Pumphouse" to “Fisherman", which gets its name from a fishing spot for villagers. At Butterfly, the waves curled and flapped gracefully around the rocking raft, drenching us and eliciting delighted squeals before swooping into a wicked eddy called “Crow’s Nest".

The next series of rapids came fast and furious, forming the highlight of the Kundalika. “Key Wave" comprised a series of waves, “Bush on the Bend" glided us smack into a tree growing in the water, and, before we could recover, we were in the thick of “Morning Headache". Pema, our Nepalese instructor, explained, “If you go overboard in this 2km stretch of rapids, it’s a headache to haul you out!" As if that wasn’t enough, the most ferocious rapid, “John Kerry", whacked us before hurling the raft drunkenly into “Johnny Walker".

From there, we were dragged aboard “Rajdhani Express", a set of non-stop rapids, and floated on to “Boom Shankar", which concluded the wild part of the ride. The tame course thereafter prompted us to fling our paddles and dive in to swim and bodysurf, soaking in the beauty of the forests and hills. Friendly villagers along the banks chatted and cheered us along.

The rafting session down the Kundalika river. Photographs by Anurag Mallick and Priya Ganapathy
The rafting session down the Kundalika river. Photographs by Anurag Mallick and Priya Ganapathy

Clambering into the raft near Broken Bridge, we rowed to the finish line, Kamath village, completing the exhilarating journey in one and a half hours. By this time, we were ready for some vada pav (potato fritter in a bun) and kanda bhajiya (onion fritters) at the local tea vendor’s stall.

While many go to Kolad on a day trip, some extend it into an overnight stay at camps and farms in and around for a taste of the country life, amidst paddy fields and groves of betel nut, coconut, chikoo and guava. For some, the gharguti, or home-style, meals of chicken, rotis, rice, dal, vegetable fry and salad are a big draw. The stays are easy after the rough and tumble of the outdoors, with comfortable cottages, hammocks to laze in, and barbecues or bonfires in the evenings. For us, Pooja’s Farm, situated on the edge of the backwater, offered the perfect setting for unwinding.

An ideal escape, it turned out, from the urban tedium.

Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros. The authors tweet from @anuragamuffin and @priyaganapathy.

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