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Kayaking in India

January 21, 2019 5 min read

Kayaking in India

ioMerino Outsider Chris Baer knows the best places to explore by kayak, that’s why there’s no surprise we wanted to hear more about what he got up to on the Siang River, India. Here's what he had to say about his latest adventure.

The Assam region isn’t part of most people’s mental map of India. Its location and indigenous culture create a beautiful landscape reminding me more of Northern Myanmar than the hustle and bustle of Delhi. My travel buddy Colin and I had a few mutual acquaintances and were both looking for an opportunity to explore via kayak. We shook hands for the first time in a bus station in eastern India, exchanged pleasantries, and bought tickets to make our way to Pasighat. The bus ride was overnight, close to 16 hours of bouncing through the far Indian wild (east). The view out of the bus window of the countryside was of beautiful, distant rolling hills that fed into the Himalayas. Occasionally the bus would come to a stop and all of the occupants would file out and into what I could only describe as an Indian truck stop. I still can't believe I didn't get food poisoning during this leg of the trip.

Arriving in the small, jump-off town of Pasighat meant the chaotic pace of the big city was behind us. While sipping Assam tea we chatted with locals about the logistical challenge of getting our boats to the town of Tuting. Our local advice had us arranging a two-day, jarring jeep ride north to the border town. It was seven hours up the watershed to the midway point and the mountain town of Yingkiong.


Seven in the morning came early as we waited outside our hotel. We watched a handful of taxis and tuk-tuks rallying by, but to where? We started asking questions and determined that we ought to catch a taxi to destination unknown… hopefully where the jeep was waiting. The microscopic taxi, with our two multi-day laden kayaks on top, bounced and bottomed out on our way to a partially completed bridge. Here, the driver gave us the international hand signal of, “Get out and walk across the bridge.”


It may have been that I hadn’t had my morning allotment of caffeine yet, but the bridge was sketchy and I wasn’t really feeling it. I’m pretty sure it was erected mostly with driftwood and bailing wire. There were missing boards everywhere, and it swayed with the lightest breeze. To top it off, the early morning fog was thick and you couldn’t tell how long, or for that matter how high up, the bridge was. Then I had the unnerving thought that I alone might be the heaviest thing that the bridge had transported in quite some time, not to mention I was shouldering my loaded down creek boat.


We scurried across the bridge and walked up the steep embankment on the other side to see a myriad of loaded down jeeps. We were quickly greeted and given another hand signal, “Tie your boats down, we are about to go!” Still unsure if this was exactly the ride we had paid for, but not caring so long as we had a ride, we helped tie our kayaks to the roof and crammed ourselves inside with seven other passengers. We bounced another seven hours up the valley.


Arriving in Tuting late, we awoke to a partly cloudy sky, and we wandered down to the massive blue-green river. The hike in gave us a good vantage of the first rapid, it looked like it was going to be big. Trying to get comfortable in massive volume water, I paddled out to the main current and felt what seemed like ocean waves coming at me from every angle.


The first day on the river produced by far the best whitewater of the section, including two utterly massive rapids. The water surged upward into a handful of 15+ foot tall crashing waves. Coming over the first lead-in wave, I finally grasped how huge the rapid was. I was quickly entrenched in the pit of the wave and all I could see was water. The second enormous rapid was caused by a tributary coming in on the right, but this time, instead of compression waves, it had scattered, house-sized boulders throughout the riverbed making a variety of features to avoid, and a couple of Himalayan-sized waves to blast over. The whitewater stayed world-class throughout the entire day. With huge smiles, we pulled over on river left at about five o’clock in the evening to set up camp.


Awaking on the second morning to no sun, my tarp was drenched with dew and the temperature was just shy of cold. At this point I was very thankful for my ioMerino. On the water, we were greeted with more giant features and a couple of intense river directional changes. Mid-afternoon on day two, we passed under the sketchy Yingkiong bridge which we had crossed on foot in fog only a few days before. We continued downstream through one more splashy wave train and then eddied out on river left so we could hike up to town, where we were excited to find a filling meal and an okay bed to sleep in.


The roosters were crowing as we awoke in Yingkiong on the morning of day three. The rapids were slightly subdued compared to the previous days, and we were able to cover some substantial mileage. By mid-afternoon we had stopped for a good camp location just upstream of the town of Boleng, allowing us to gather firewood and the chance to set up tarps before the sun set and the thick dew set in.


Extra-heavy dew and thick clouds awaited us on the fourth morning. When it was time to get on the river, we started out strong, paddling a handful of good rapids and then some long pools, and then some more long pools until finally we hit the confluence with yet another substantial tributary, the Yamne River. It felt more like the ocean than a river. My hands and shoulders were sore and the sun was starting to set. From everything we had gathered, we shouldn’t have been too far from Pasighat, so we paddled on. By the time we got a glimpse of the Pasighat Bridge, it wasn’t so much that I could make out that it was a bridge than there were levitating headlights in the distance.


Climbing out of our kayaks after a solid eight hours of paddling was painful. We sluggishly carried them up to the bridge and hitchhiked into town. Luckily, kayakers are an extreme oddity in these parts and a few young men getting off their shift, with smiles and multiple handshakes, quickly picked us up and drove us into downtown. We eagerly, hungrily, hopped out of the truck and made our way to our favourite hole in the wall eatery. With a solid meal in us we wandered back to our local accommodations, blowing off return logistics until morning.


While packing for multi-day kayak adventures it’s ideal to pack light. The evenings where cool and wet with a heavy dew, and the days where almost hot, but we were immersed in ice-cold Himalayan snow melt. I wore my Keystone long sleeve and Altitude Boxers non-stop for the entire trip. Needless to say I was a little ripe by the end, but the merino wool wasn’t, such a spectacular attribute for multi-day gear.


Want to see more of Chris' adventures? Check out his website at www.whereisbaer.com