Finding Inspiration on the Zanskar

It was a rapid called “Constriction” on the Zanskar River in Ladakh, a province of the State of Jammu and Kashmir in North Western India.

Constriction is not really a hard rapid. A simple wave train flows down into a very narrow short canyon. The canyon is full of confusing eddy lines and whirlpools of current. This confusion of currents makes it hard to read when guiding a raft, but not normally something to lose any sleep over.

I looked behind me and saw an oar assist raft, (a raft that has a set of oars and guide in the back of the raft, with paddlers in the front) had been slammed into a rock pocket on the left hand bank and was obviously in some difficulty. I quickly looked around to make sure my own raft was in no danger and then looked back to see how the raft behind me was faring.

The Raft Behind Was in Difficulty

In the short time I had looked away, the oar assist raft had flipped against the rock face and was temporarily stationary there, held by the force of water, while the crew after “enjoying” some down time were now surfacing and being swept downstream in the ice cold torrent of glacial water. Shortly thereafter the upside down raft joined them on their trip downstream.

A raft flipping on a white water rafting trip, while not a super common event, is also not an entirely rare event, and can happen on any rafting trip.

What Then Made This Flip So Memorable?

What made this flip so memorable was the composition of the crew. This was no crew of 20 to 30 year old gung ho adventurers. In fact other than the guide and the expedition cook, no one on the raft was under 65 years of age, and they may have in fact been nearer 70 than 65.

It was the age of the participants, and the ice cold water, that raised the drama level of this incident.

Why Were This Group of People on the Zanskar?

What were a group of retirees doing in the Himalayas rafting the Zanskar River? This question is especially pertinent when you consider that the area is remote with no emergency services close by, communication to the outside world is patchy at best, the area is a hotbed of tension between Pakistan, India and China, the trip is high altitude (10,000′ to 14,000′ feet above sea level), and the area is Third World.

This question of why these people were there is something I asked myself and not having a clear answer, I decided to ask them.

What Was The Question Put to the Group?

The question I put to the group was this – ” Why did you sign up for an expedition style trip such as the Zanskar? After all it was always going to be challenging, and near the edge of many of your comfort zones.”

What Were The Motivating Factors?

The responses I received split the motivation factors into two broad areas. These two areas are:

  • The desire to assuage our curiosity, and see and experience things that are different and new
  • The challenge of doing and experiencing new things that leads to a feeling of accomplishment

An example of the first factor was articulated by Larry (who incidentally along with Laurel his wife, experienced some down time in the flip – I am sure that assuaged some curiosity!).

Remote, Exotic and Different

Larry had this to say – “I think people, us included, go on these trips to see something more remote, exotic, and different, and to do so focusing on some activity as a way to go through the countryside and environment (in this case rafting). We do a lot of biking for that reason too. But most don’t want too much adventure, and most want it well controlled, flips included. For us, the cultural aspects are really important as well.”

Jann on the other hand was on the Zanskar for the challenge. What she wrote to me contained the details of an experience that she had on the trip that best describes the motivation of the challenge.

The Motivation of the Challenge

From one campsite, deep in the Gorge of the Zanskar River, there is the opportunity to walk for about an hour to a Ladakh village on the heights above. This is a steep walk on a dry dusty rocky path at about 12,000′ above sea level. It is a tough walk. The reasons to visit the village are twofold.

One is to visit a traditional village that has no road access – it is a three day walk to the nearest road end – and the other was to view, and maybe purchase, some of the collection of locally spun rugs and carpets that are produced there in the winter.

Jann shared this – “It is all about the challenge. Pavane summed it up well. She and I were making the trek to the top of the hill to the rug weavers village. I got maybe a third of the way up and said I am not going any further up the hill for any rug. She said, “It isn’t about the rug, it is about making it to the top”. It isn’t about the rug, it is about challenging yourself. Testing your limits. Seeing what you are capable of doing and completing.”

An Inspiration For All

Both of these responses I found inspirational, and hence this article is about wanting to share them.

Most of my life working as a River Guide, which spans 26 years, has been spent guiding the 20 to 30 year old gung ho brigade.

It is both refreshing and inspirational to spend time with people who are most definitely well past that age group and unlike many of their own peers, who think that a game of golf or time on a cruise ship is high adventure, have not lost their curiosity and desire to learn, see and experience new things, nor have they given up challenging themselves in new and different ways.

There is a lesson here for us all.


Were you wondering about the flip?

Everyone survived it, though a little shaken up and certainly chilled from the ice cold water. Luckily much of it was caught on video, meaning that it was probably the most viewed footage from two weeks spent in the Himalayas. And what a talking point, both during and after the trip!

After all it wouldn’t be an adventure if we could always guarantee the outcome.

Brian Megaw

Has This Article Inspired You?

River Valley has a range of trips and Lodge stays available for adventurers of all ages. For more details, follow the links below.

Multi Day River Rafting Trips – New Zealand, Nepal, Africa and The Grand Canyon

Horse Riding Holidays– based from River Valley Lodge, North Island New Zealand

The source of the river Doda, a tributary of the Zanskar, not far from Penzila Pass

Campsite on the Zanskar River, Ladakh, India

Rafting the Gorge on the Zanskar River

Isolated village above the Zanskar River

The crew, Zanskar River 2012

A harsh environment in which to live

Passing a village on the Zanskar River

Eroded rock walls on the Zanskar River