Has the Indus River been tamed?

If you’re a kayaker looking for an extreme challenge and a have a bit of money in your back pocket then the Rondu Gorge on the Indus River, North Pakistan, is the place for you…

This is some of South Asia’s best kayaking!

“Huge whirlpools, enormous water masses and an abyss hundreds of metres deep,” the Rondu canyon is the biggest gorge on the Indus, or “Lion River”. Most of its really difficult rapids and waterfalls are here. With its 3,180 kilometres, the Indus is the longest river of the Indian subcontinent with massive  gorges 4,500-5,200 meters (15,000-17,000 feet) deep near the Nanga Parbat massif. Originating in the Tibetan plateau of Western China, it then cuts through the Kashmir province of India entering Pakistan in the north and running through the entire length of the country. It merges into the Arabian Sea at Karachi in Sindh.

It is not only Pakistan’s longest river but it has an astonishing drainage area exceeding 1,165,000 square kilometers (450,000 square miles) and is the 21st longest river in the world in terms of annual flow.

Another bit of trivia, quite important trivia, is that India’s name comes from this river. In ancient times, ‘India’ initially referred to the region of Pakistan along the eastern banks of the Indus river, but by 300 BC, Greek writers like Megasthenes applied the term to the subcontinent which extends further eastward.

It’s quite something to think that this mighty river stems from a perennial spring, known as ‘The Lion’s Mouth’ in the highlands of Tibet.

File:Indus river.svg

Apart from its crucial role in supplying water to the Punjab and Sindh plains forming the backbone of agriculture and food production in Pakistan, it offers one of the greatest challenges in the world to extreme kayakers… to become the first to conquer the Rondhu Gorge.

Other tributaries to the Indus have been successfully kayaked. The Sutlej, the Indus’ largest tributary, was first successfully navigated with the use of small inflatable kayaks, the most suitable for this expedition, in 2004 by a German team led by Bruno Bauman and a month later it was again navigated by a Russian team. It is a great repeat run except that it is a six day backbreaking drive from the nearest airport – Lhasa …each way!

In 2005, an expedition led by Pete Winn of Earth Science Expeditions, set off to navigate the headwaters of the Indus in Tibet. After riding or leading yaks over a 17,500′ pass loaded with their kit and inflatable kayaks, the 9-man team, which included Tibetan Chong Dak, put-in at an elevation of 16,500′ and navigated 70 miles of the Class 2 river to take-out at Bongba. Their ride in was spectacular and well worth every minute, but it was a touch exasperating to have made such an effort only to find that the Chinese had put in a socking great road along their route!

okay okay – perhaps I exaggerate, perhaps it’s not a ‘socking great road’ but it was a road nonetheless!

It was in April 2007 that the first serious attempt was made to conquer the Rondu Gorge. A team, which included film-makers and kayak pros Olaf Obsommer (GER) and Bernhard Mauracher (AUT,) became the first to make a successful descent of the Rondu Gorge.

Indus river

photo courtesy of zarega

The 250 km course includes the piece de resistance – a 50 km canyon which is the highlight of the expedition. With must-run sections and a gradient of 40 ‰ , this course is guaranteed to push extreme kayakers to the very limit of their capabilities and the capabilities of a kayak…

The Indus River delta is also home to one of the world’s few great tidal bores. In fact, way back in 325BC, this very same tidal bore nearly caused the death of the most powerful man in the world at that time – Alexander the Great.

Alexander would have had no way of knowing that the turbulent wall of water that raced up the Indus River from the sea was a tidal bore. Having come from the Mediterranean, he was probably fairly unaware of tides at all. Exploring the lower reaches of the Indus he and his army suddenly became aware of the water furiously flowing backwards and suddenly they were engulfed by a huge  roaring wave. The Macedonians “thought they were witnessing prodigies and signs of heaven’s displeasure.” Great damage was done to his fleet and unaware of what this phenomenon was Alexander, fearing that there might be a repeat performance, despatched horsemen downriver to provide a warning incase another wall of water attacked them. Twelve and a hlaf hours later it happened again, but the horsemen out-galloped the wave and, as it was not as large as the first one, it did little damage, and the “shore and banks rang with cheers from the soldiers and sailors as they welcomed their unexpected rescue with exuberant joy.”

Tidal bores only occur in an estimated 100 rivers in the world and only during extreme tidal ranges. A few of these bores have developed famous and sometimes deadly reputations.

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