Goa Rafting takes you on a ride with one of the most thrilling white water experiences in India. Truth be told, I was petrified. The thought of crashing into rupturing rapids on an inflatable raft sent flutters through my heart. It didn’t help one bit that I would have to paddle at the same time. Still, there was something magnetic about white water rafting that drew me to Goa Rafting’s latest venture on the Mhadei River near Valpoi town, in the northeast of Goa.
I got into my car and drove off before I could change my mind. John Pollard was waiting for me at Mapusa bus stand on a Saturday morning at a time when I would have been better off in bed. We set off towards the Valpoi and one of my greatest fears. John runs Goa Rafting, a white water outfit that has a crew of internationally trained guides to give adventurers in Goa a taste of fun. Most ‘adventure sports’ this side leaves much to be desired – many a far cry from the what they claim to be. There are few that provide a true adventure but John with his long-established company called Southern River Adventures which is partners with Goa Tourism and their Goa Rafting brand is one of them.
As he narrated tales of his many years of rafting experiences across the world, my brain began to tell my heart and stomach to start going loopy. Johns experience is vast and over the last 25 years, he has seen everything a river can throw at him. It was only when he told me about the extensive research that he puts into mapping a new course, the safety precautions the team takes and the preliminary training sessions they hold with guests before the adventure begins that I fought back what turned out to be a tiny case of the nerves.
It was a picturesque drive to Valpoi where we met at The Earthen Pot restaurant, a place where one can enjoy lunch after rafting and also a place for guests to get changed into appropriate clothing and leave their vehicles behind.
John and his team can host up to 60 guests per trip, using nine high-quality rafts and a host of world-class equipment. We had enough guests on this trip to fill five rafts, so we set off towards the starting point along forest roads with beautiful misty monsoon jungles. After 20 minutes we would reach our location where we disembarked from our vehicles and headed for a 10-minute hike to the river.
The first site of the Mhadei river down in the valley below was breathtaking. It looked huge. Then we were introduced to the guides and then started getting kitted out with safety gear – helmets and life vests followed by paddles. A brief run-through of the equipment was followed by lessons on paddling and rafting commands. There’s an important section on safety, and while much of this is thankfully never used, it’s wise to keep your eyes and ears open.
I was in a raft with our guide of who has an experience of 15 years along with several other rafting beginners. As we got on to the river and felt it’s massive current our guide took us through our paddling and instructions once again. In a calm spot on the main Mhadei River, our skills were honed before we set off down a ten-kilometer stretch of rafting fun with the Goa Rafting brand.
The course has been picked with care, Class 2 to 3 rapids come immediately as you get into your paddling rhythm. The banks of the river are flanked by thick forest and the left bank is all The Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary. It really resembles something more like the Amazon. A new perspective on Goa. The vegetation drowns out the little civilization in the area which is just the odd farm. There is ample opportunity to spot a lot of birds, unless, of course, you’ve been screaming from too much excitement, in which case, you’d probably have scared them off.
By the time I had passed a couple of rapids, I realized that all my fears had been unnecessary, and I was raring for more. Rapids with names like Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and Pipeline kept me engaged and focused, as the guide’s voice is heard shouting instructions over the gushing waters. John named all the rapids on this river, as he did for most of the Peninsular Indian rafting stretches. He is the pioneer and gets to pick appropriate names which usually have some humorous significance.
The experience of rafting with Southern River Adventures and Goa Rafting doesn’t stop with getting into a raft and following a guide’s instructions. It involves tales of experience, a dip in the refreshing river, a water fight with fun-loving guides and hi-fives after the rapids. This is all enveloped in high safety standards to ensure a world-class experience that isn’t confined just to the monsoons.
I did feel a little silly about being afraid to try rafting, but I was glad to have gotten over my fears with John Pollard and Goa Rafting.