DIBANG AND MORE! - Arunachal Pradesh - NE India 2005
This is a brief report to announce the successful completion of the Dibang River and Arunachal Pradesh kayak Expedition. Our fully international team made its way up the Dibang River, mapping the canyons and tributaries as we went. After reaching the furthest most point permits will allow we made a descent of the two main headwaters, the Dri and Mato. We then ran a day of the Talon river to the confluence, from which the river then flows as the Dibang all the way to where it joins the Siang or Brahmaputra.
The team then headed west to explore the Brahmaputra's western tributaries exploring several valleys and hiking out of one. We finally had a successful descent of the Upper Subansiri river, down to where it has been rafted in the past. We traveled by jeep for 28 days in Arunachal, which is a State of India. This amazing area is a medieval cultural tour as each valley holds a different tribe and method of life, not to mention style of river.
The dibang started in alpine territory and came to plains level of about 230 meters in less than 200km, which is quite amazing for a river of this size. We were constantly amazed at how run-able the river is, almost everything was boat scoutable, bar a few huge rapids you feel better taking a look at. There was one gorge of Doom, a 3 km section of deep bedrock, hiding in its depths falls of major consequence. Stories emerged from this gorge of a place a mouse could jump the river, also man had made it a across. There were stories of 30 meter falls and the fish species being different above and below the gorge. From what we saw I think we made a pretty good decision to leave this gorge with its legends.
This trip was prompted by the enthusiasm of Shalabh Gahault, who runs the 'Ganga kayak School' in Rishakesh. 2 years back after many beers on a beach in Nepal, Shalab drew a map in the sand of rivers he had run and had seen on visits to Arunachal. Many emails later he organized permits and our team miraculously made it to Dibrugarh on the 15th Nov. A jeep turned up that just happened to have a perfect roof rack for 5 boats and we were off on an adventure of a lifetime.
This is just a brief of a long story, for which you will have to wait for. The team is now heading on back to their corners of the globe, or continuing the next few months mission. Articles will be written and a Documentary will be produced some time in 2006. But i can tell you know, plans have already started for the next visit in 2006. We scouted a few valleys and pin-pointed several others that just need to be done! As awareness increases I am sure this area will be the destination of many future kayaking adventures.
Our trip was jeep support and we used 'Government rest houses' for accommodation along the road, and also stayed in local houses in more remote areas. On the river descents we went self support, but used the road to provide food re-supply so we still had the luxury of pretty light boats.
We chose to visit Arunachal in early winter, hoping to find low water and pleasant temperatures. Overall we hit it bang on with all the rivers apparently running at their lowest flows of the year. Things could very well be different, as we found after 2 days rain the river rose to flood level and a huge landslide blocked the road for a day.
The Dri, Mato and Talon Rivers were flowing at around 60-80 cumecs, combining to make the Dibang a rolling 200-300 cumecs. Starting at 1500 meters and reaching the plains at 230 meters in under 200 km. Most of the rivers were boulder-bed style with the occasional bedrock wall thrown in here and there. The Subansiri had some amazing gorges that left you wondering if it was going to close up and throw the book at you.
This is 'Mouse Leap Gorge'. Legend has it that a Mouse can jump the river somewhere in there, maybe even a man. On investigation we found a contorted bedrock gorge that hid possibly several large falls capable of stopping the upstream progress of fish species. An amazing place with deep spiritual power. Gorges like this are better left to keep their legends. We battled through the forest for hours and barely saw a thing!!
Lower Dibang - Big Boulder bed rapids with the high water mark 10 or more maters above the current level. Most everything was boat scoutable and it was possible to 'sneak' most of the ugly rapids via imaginative channels through the boulder fields alongside. Sometimes it was just a good idea to get out and have a look, it would be shame to miss a sweet line!
The Final Section
The final section of the Dibang took us through 40 km of isolated canyon where we were not exactly sure what we would find. We had 150m contour maps and images from 'Google Earth' to go on. From what we learnt from the upper river it seemed this gorge would go, so we dropped right in. Deep within 400m high cliff walls we found big volume fun and incredible beauty. We found a small bedrock ledge beach to spend our last night on the Dibang.
At some time Arunachal has been a disputed territory so when a truck load of gun wielding guys turn up and start walking towards your car, its OK to be nervous! Turned out these guys where under-cover Army and they just wanted their pictures taken with us.
Traveling to Arunachal from Assam and crossing the Dibang and Siang to get West involves some very exciting ferry crossings. Small boats with platforms carry pretty much anything across the surging rivers and sometimes it does not all got to plan. On our first ferry across the Lohit river we made it onto the ferry no problem, but driving off nearly ended the trip as the jeep fell off the runners and balanced on a fine line about to slip back into the depths of the river. The locals did not seem too worried, apparently it happens all the time, so we went with it and it all worked out.
Most of the rivers around Arunachal have some sort of road access, which means you can get the feel of the river as you try to get as high up as the 'Indo / China' Boarder Police will let you get. Quite often though this will leave you scouting the river from a 1000ft above or more, where it is very easy to under estimate the size of things. Without reliable altitudes of put-ins, bridges and take-outs you can easily find yourself hiking out of a river you probably should not have even started up, as we did on the Upper Syom river.
Every District in Arunachal is named after the largest valley and river which contains it. Each Valley holds a different Tribe, which have managed to stay unique due to the isolating character of the terrain. Each Tribe has stories of the other tribes and all are some of the most interesting and friendly folk we have ever met. Not once did we feel in danger, or at risk of having anything stolen. Which is quite funny as most everyone carries a 1 - 3 ft long sword which they say is for fighting men with!
One thing we have learned from many trips to Asia is that you gather information from as many sources as possible. This means you go ask the same question to several people and see what average you can work out. Some gorges can reportedly be 10 - 80 km in length and waterfalls can range from 2 to 20 meters. We did find here that when the locals though we were crazy for going 'down there', they were pretty accurate and should be believed next time!
This trip was one of the most amazing experience of my life and would like to thank everyone for making it possible, from our sponsors to our driver, shalab for the enthusiasm and the Permit offices for letting us go in there.
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