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Taming Siachen’s raging waters

MAKING HISTORY: The rafting expedition in the Nubra river. Photo: Special Arrangement

MAKING HISTORY: The rafting expedition in the Nubra river. Photo: Special Arrangement  

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Making a world record for first ever rafting expedition in the Siachen Glacier, Madurai man Captain K.R.C. Pratap shares his experience of rafting through the Nubra and Shyok rivers.

One sunny morning, two autumns ago, in the Karakoram range of the Himalayas, the raging waters of the Siachen glacier were a frothy white, snaking through the valley with a deafening roar. The clouds were just a pluck away at the 18,000 feet altitude and the Nubra river was in spate at a freezing minus 30 degrees. Braving the harsh weather and holding an unrelenting glint of determination in their eyes, Captain K.R.C. Pratap and his 18-member team were armed with paddles, rafts, life jackets and wet suits, to undertake a rafting expedition in the river, which, if completed successfully could be a lifetime achievement.

The expedition, a first of its kind was flagged off at Snout, Siachen, world’s highest battle ground and the team of army men took off in two rafts, plunging themselves into the massive sheet of turbid water. Soon, they were taming the beastly Nubra until one of the rafts capsized, throwing out nine men into the water current. As the river churned them with its ferocious waves, the other members pulled them to safety and re-flipped the raft swiftly. “Thankfully no one was injured and we went ahead with the expedition,” recalls Captain Pratap, heaving a sigh of relief.

Pratap’s story of the Siachen expedition is nothing less than a heroic tale from the epics. Though it’s widely understood that rafting is not to be done after dusk, a highly motivated Pratap went ahead to take on the river in the dead of the night. “With just the moonlight and the vociferous noise of the gushing waters to guide us, we rafted through the darkness. Once we reached the point where the Nubra joined the Shyok river, there were so many rapids (high levels of water flow),” says Pratap. “I knew the course of the river. Shyok, the river of death, was huge and the water was too high. The visibility range was only five metres and we were absolutely cut off from civilization. We thought we were lost.” That’s when, Pratap who was heading the raft, saw a distant light at a local temple and started drawing the raft towards it. “On day one, we covered 120 kms. That was a record in itself as the longest continuous rafting done before was only 75 kms. We started at 11 a.m. and reached our first destination Partapur at midnight.”

On day two, the team had to negotiate heavy water rapids but it didn’t deter them from surging ahead. “At places, the rapids were above Grade four or even higher. Instead of avoiding those places, we plunged into them and emerged victorious. When you are in the middle of an angry river, you have only seconds to think and act. I just applied the principles and techniques I learnt,” says Pratap. Clocking over 45 kms through the Khardungla Pass at 12,000 feet height, the team successfully crossed Shyok. And on day three, the team was lauded and flagged in at Turtuk, after rafting across 250 kms. “It was such a heartwarming moment when we completed the expedition with no causalities and we were all on cloud nine,” gushes Pratap, excitement still ringing in his voice, two years since the expedition. Now, he is a proud world-record holder, recognized in the Limca and India Books of Records. The 31-year-old army captain has also been awarded an honorary doctorate in rafting by the World Records University, recently. “Every moment in the journey was like straddling between life and death. The river was so unpredictable that it could be a deadly game changer. It’s important to respect the river, be humble, follow safety measures and coordinate as a team. We never tried to show guts and understood that the river is mightier than us. Nature is all powerful.”

Hailing from Madurai, Pratap’s love for sports and adventures comes from a cheery childhood. “My father was an Army man and he is my inspiration.” Before undertaking the expedition, Pratap and his team mates underwent basic course and training in white water rafting by the Army Aqua Adventure Wing at Raiwala, Uttarakhand. The three-week course gave him an insight into the techniques of pedalling, break-pedalling and tackling rapids. However, his skills got honed at the civilian rafting competition held annually in the Zanskar River, Leh. “I learnt the technique of flip and re-flip of the raft. It comes handy in case the raft capsizes. The time within which a rafter is expected to re-flip a raft is 60 seconds and completed it in 42 seconds,” says Pratap, who went on to do an intermediate course in rafting after the expedition. The course was on the Brahmaputra where he mastered over 27 commands and the science of river reading and now is a qualified rafting guide.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2020 8:21:53 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/taming-siachens-raging-waters/article8528323.ece

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