Behind the coffee and cardamom estates in Coorg, a thrilling adventure awaits

Marenad is hidden in South Kodagu (Mare is invisible and Nad is land), and through it flows the pristine upper Barapole River. We are going river rafting. “It is the perfect way to complete your outing in Coorg,” K.C. Poovaiah, head of Plantation Trails, Tata Coffee, assures us. We have just bid goodbye after a memorable stay at Tata's Cottabetta bungalow.

We drive past picturesque Hudikkeri, and stop at Tata's Glen Lorna bungalow (named after the grand children of the British planter who planted the first tea bush in 1914). It is the sole tea estate in the coffee country, set amidst 1,000 acres on the Kerala border. Sipping fresh lemon tea with a dash of Coorg honey, we head to Coorg White Water Rafting.

The organisation, managed by Prakash Devaiah, Deepak Chengappa and Alok Appovah, has been active for four years now. “Safety is our priority,” says Devaiah who drives us through the organic Ponya estate to the centre of action, the gurgling upper Barapole. Qualified guides from Nepal take the guests on the water only after an hour of briefing.

You are advised to preferably wear shorts or jeans and T-shirts, with floaters. And, no valuable jewellery and mobile phones. A safety kayak accompanies every raft. Devaiah, Chengappa and Appovah started rafting to kill boredom during the monsoons; they've been riding the frothy white waters for over 10 years now. In the Marenad belt, when it rains, it rains hard. “There is a lull in activities because of the continuous rains, and can get depressing if we are idle,” they say. “The river outing helped us stay connected with Nature. We took our friends along. Then, we wanted everyone else to enjoy the experience.”

Pristine environment

Barapole is unique because of its zero-pollution zone. There are no industrial units in the rain-fed area, and most of the farms are small to average holdings. As the region receives heavy rainfall, the sediments are washed away, and what you get is clean water with gradients, tailor-made for river rafting. “Keep aside just three hours, and you can go back with happy memories,” they say, and let the friendly Mahendra Saru take over. “I need your co-operation,” smiles Mahendra and hands over the life jacket and the safety helmet. Mahendra acquaints you with the raft (inflated boat made of PVC rubber), the seating positions while navigating the river, the right grip for the oar and the rhythmic forward and backward rowing movement. He reiterates the dos and don'ts (for instance, he says always pass the pole side of the oar and not the flat paddle side to someone who has fallen overboard).

Saroj Ale, another guide, joins us on the raft. Subash Thapa follows on the kayak. Before we set off, there is the simulated boat capsizing drill. A deep plunge and all I remember is yelling ‘help' in panic. “You have your life jacket. Just lie on your back,” Mahendra instructs. “Stretch your arms and look at the sky.” I calm down, follow his instructions and watch the sky in awe. Soaking wet, we get back to our positions on the raft, compose ourselves, and row on.

Roughing it out

The first level is ‘Morning Coffee', and we smoothly glide on the frothy rapids. Next is the ‘Grass Hopper', and with a rush of adrenaline, we dive into the waves, and emerge with a splash on the white waters. Just within a short stretch (a three-km distance), there are five levels of rapids. After every rapid, you glide along the still water for a while. Take in the sheer expanse of the water body flanked by the organic coffee and cardamom plantations. Then, gear up for the next plunge!

‘Ramba Samba' is thrilling with turbulent waves, always threatening to topple you. Tackling the thundering rapids leaves me feeling victorious. And, that is when the heavens bucket down, an intervention that adds magic to the whole experience. “Now, meet the crocodiles,” says Mahendra. He diverts the raft, and you realise it is just a cave that resembles a crocodile! “It is a calm river, and no crocodiles. But, the waves can be tricky, the sudden spurt could last a few seconds,” he warns. After the ‘Wicked Witch' dive, there is more excitement. A big pool awaits us at the end of ‘Big Bang', the last rapid. That concludes the thrilling experience.

We warm ourselves with piping hot tea at the fireplace in a thatched hut. “Nature always throws up more than what you expect. We want our guests to go back satisfied and that matters the most,” says Deepak. And, I am ready for a repeat.