This year the JNU Mountaineering Club (JNUMC) organized a three-day White Water River Rafting expedition. On the evening of
27th February 2004, a motley group of forty students gathered at Ganga bus stop with backpacks of different colours and shapes.
They boarded the 615 bus, with the enthusiasm which shouts aloud, "Hurrah!! We are off. Out to have a Good Time!!"
In good time we reach the ISBT, from here we are to board a bus to Rishikesh. The girls queue outside the 'sulabh sauchalya'.
This provides them with an opportunity to exchange names and smiles. The fact that the attendant is charging two rupees for
using dirty toilets raises their ire. They refuse to buy the attendant's arguments that the frequency of users prevents maintenance
of cleanliness. Thus, compelled he cleans the toilets. Anna from Sweden is impressed with the display of women power. She
wants 'toilet paper'. We laugh at her and rub our hands on our jeans. She follows suit.
Once inside the bus the party begins. It is Pallavi and Sameer's birthday. The club members have thoughtfully arranged
for pastries and everyone is only too ready to sing "Happy Birthday to you" in chorus. The group does not lack lead
singers like Sanjeev and Fakir. Sanjeev succeeds in rabble rousing and Fakir gets them into a mellow mood. Anousha, Paushmi
and Namrata have an unending repertoire of songs to keep the antakshari in full swing.
We reach Rishikesh at four in the morning. The shops are brightly lit with sweets of every imaginable colour. After almost
a decade, I glance through a Hindi newspaper, locally available, as we wait for daybreak. Our base camp is at Shivpuri, half
an hour's drive from Rishikesh. The new day is picturesque with forest covered mountains, the deep blue sky only hinting at
the freezing temperature of the river water. The river Ganga is calm and welcoming green.
A group of five to share a tent in the Snow Leopard Adventure camp-site. Any number can join the game of frisbee, volleyball
or basketball. There will be a long queue in the coming days for the single hammock. Ranaji - the head instructor - and his
camp associates provide a hot and filling breakfast. But the demand for life saving jackets reaches a pitch as everyone wants
to jump into the river. Shock awaits us all. The water is freezing and we are to stay near the river-bed, as the current mid-stream
is strong. We can hear 'the rapids'.
We listen to instructions on how to use a paddle, how to hold a lifeline and the design of the raft. We are to follow
them as we take our seats inside the cheerful red rafts. Time and again our ability to follow the instructions, to establish
a rhythm as a team is tested by Veeru our raft supervisor. In the calm waters, we sing, "Hum honge kamyaab". In
the rapids, it is just Veeru belting out instructions as the rest of us paddle for our lives. The huge waves embrace us, engulf
us, and leave us speechless; thrilled beyond words...five rapids are not enough.
We were encouraged to indulge in body surfing and those who can swim are already in the river. Noor and Swami soak in
the sun, float and turn a deaf ear to our shouts to come aboard. We promise them more next day with the added bonus of cliff
jumping. Everyone wants to jump off the cliff. Some flap their hands like ducks and hit the water making a big splash. Rajesh
cuts a clean slice through the water. For most of us, once is enough.
We are happy to hear the village children shout "hello" and "bye" as we trek through the neighbouring
villages and dried river beds. The elders are reserved but acknowledge our quiet "namastey". The pea fields are
lush green, wild flowers bloom. A local MLA has inaugurated a school playground: it is covered with rough stone and there
is enough empty space waiting for swings and slides. Will only an 'activist' bring in the children to play?
Questions arise and are stilled into silence. The morning sun trudges up one mountain, its golden rays target the other
mountain. Its forehead pushes against the sleepy blue sky and the child emerges independent and happy. The evenings are spent
around the campfire playing dumbcharades, strumming the guitar and requesting Fakir for 'one more ghazal'. The sky is littered
with stars. Impossible to close one's eyes.
Dillip as our team leader insists on camp discipline. We have to sleep at 10. No smoking, no alcohol, no litter on the
river bed. To express our gratitude for these sensible rules, we kick him and set out for Rishikesh; a city of temples, offering
yoga classes and continental food. In thirteen rupees we are transported from Rishikesh to Haridwar. Some choose to stay and
watch the evening 'aarti' on the banks of the Ganges. Some take the cable car to the Mansa Devi temple, bathed in a green
light and serene in its abode on the mountain peak.
We are content to have played, rested, acquired river rafting skills and made friends. We have their pictures and our
memories. With these we meet each other on the campus. Each meeting is greeted with laughter and the question, "when
is the next trek?" We know we have imbibed the spirit of the JNUMC, "Team Work with Team Spirit". (Contributed
by: Ritu Mathur)