Rafting And Trekking the SUBANSIRI RIVER-
A River Soon to be Dammed
“Hi, this is Nino.” Sitting in a hotel in Dibrugarh and using my driver's phone... it was the first time that I had actually heard the voice of the man that I had flown around the world to meet. Nino had my passport and Visa information, my flight and travel plans, but we had never actually spoken before this moment. Stuck in Dibrugargh, trying to contact him and waiting for my Special Use Permits to be administered so that I could cross the river to this state that I had dreamed of visiting for the last ten years, I was frustrated and relieved at the same time. “Ok, let’s get you out of there.” Four days into my journey from Bend to get this far, my journey began. This man (a friend of a friend whom I had come to meet to plan a trip) existed. After 9 months of emailing when he had accost internet, I had finally heard his voice. The next day, my permits having been issued, I would take a jeep taxi loaded with people about an hour from Dibrugargh to the Brahmaputra river. Getting out of a packed jeep, walking away as soldiers berated and beat our driver for some perceived sin, walking through water with shoes removed since the river had flooded, and boarding a wooden ferry that had cars, families, and local rockstars, sliding across that massive river past an enormous bridge that has taken twenty years be less than half complete, my true journey began. Eight days of “unexpected” around every turn, of bonding with vodka and local brews, flat tires, a nighttime motorcycle ride with diesel nestled between my legs on windy roads back to a stalled Jeep, of stories and laughter and beauty that is hard to describe and that pictures can’t do justice.
Entering Arunachal: Fragile Culture, Fragile Land
Claimed to be one of the most remote places in the world to visit, the Northeastern state of Arunachal is home to many tribes with distinct languages as well as to thousands of unique species of animals. The Subansiri River, which is one of the destinations for a rafting and trekking trip scheduled by Bend Kayak School for February of 2016 (the trip that I had journeyed so far to plan and map out), is a major tributary of the Brahmaputra River. This watershed affects five states and four countries as it flows from Tibet through this breathtaking landscape. Not only does the watershed affects the surrounding countries and states, it supports a multitude of species in a state that has more unique flora and fauna than the famed Madagascar. Arunachal exists as one of the major remaining lungs of the earth, with endless forests that absorb a large portion of the world’s greenhouse gases; the river system is the life-blood of the forests, providing the constant redistribution of water between the air and the ground... cleansing the air and distributing nutrients. We will visit both the forest and the rivers, learn of the people that live by them as we get a glimpse into the story of this place that is so fragile.When I traveled to Arunchal, it was to meet up with Nino, a local guide who had been partners with an old river guide friend that I worked with on the Kern River in California. Nino is a native to Arunachal, when he left the state to attend university he was exposed to river rafting and became the only Arunachali river guide in India. Nino worked on rivers in India far from his home in the 90’s when his home state was closed off to outsiders and tourism, not knowing at the time that he was preparing to run his own company in his home state.
About a decade ago, a long standing dispute between India and China began to resurface, and China was becoming vocal about its claim that Arunachal was Chinese territory and that India’s claim to it was illegal. Seeing a very real possibility that Arunachal would share the fate of neighboring Tibet, the Indian government opened the area (with tough restrictions) to tourism and began to develop infrastructure. As this happened, Nino was called back to Arunachal and asked to become a partner with the American guide, starting the first rafting company in Arunachal.
The land and the place were not quite ready for a river company; the roads were too remote and the people had never heard of rafting so guides were hard to train. The American partner pulled out, and left Nino to develop a rafting business. For the last ten years Nino has done that, continuing to take locals rafting and trekking and sharing this beautiful land as well as the culture and stories that add to its mystery.
Bend Kayak School: Sharing The Adventure
Bend Kayak School, in partnership with the local Arunachal guides, will be taking a few people on a big-water Class III+ rafting and trekking trip in 2016 to raft to the site of the dam that has already been built across the Subansiri and visit local Adi village people, the tribe that Nino belongs to. Only protests from the Assam people whose livelihoods will be negatively impacted has halted this valley from currently residing underwater, another place soon to be wiped away. Our takeout for the trip is at the dam site itself. Rafters will have the opportunity to fish (catch and release only) the endangered Golden Mahseer who find their last stronghold here. Trek with us to the villages of people whose culture and way of life is under the onslaught of the push for development. (We will maintain a respectful distance while having the opportunity for the villagers to share the value of some of their culture which allows them to be self sufficient and in-sync with nature.)
Join us in February of 2016 on a trip to this place that has been called the most remote place in the world to visit. Come, add your voice to the pressure to protect it. Bend Kayak School’s mission is to bring awareness to the situation that this fragile area is in, with development encroaching this place that is one of the world’s largest watersheds, and a proclaimed international biosphere site. Learn about initiatives that we are working on to help block plastics form being brought some of the villages (the people are still self-sufficient), and to educate the tribespeople about the importance of their way of life and close partnership with nature. Developers are trying to conquer the steep landscapes with roads that cause erosion, to bring industry to a people work with the seasons weaving their gardens into the jungle landscape. Join our adventure, lend your voice, live out dreams...
Bend Kayak School - www.bendkayakschool.com