What is Rafting? History, Equipment, Fundamentals, Safety, Rafting in Uttarakhand

  • Post last modified:7 January 2023
  • Reading time:19 mins read
  • Post category:Tourism in India

What is Rafting?

Rafting is water-based adventure sport in which the rafting team row an inflatable raft (Synthetic made boat that is inflated while rafting) down a fast-running river. Rafting often termed as white-water rafting. It refers to the white water because of the bubbling foam called as Rapids created when fast-moving water falls over obstructions.

White-water rafting has now become one of the most popular adventure sports of the world and an upcoming event in Uttarakhand. Rafting not only provide thrills of river but it is also a better option to travel through remote terrains which otherwise difficult to access by other means.

History of Rafting

The first recorded great accomplishment of white-water navigation was in the 19th century when an American, John Wesley Powell in 1869, crossed Arizona’s Grand Canyon in wooden boat. White-water rafting as a commercial industry was born in the early 1950s, in America. The sport gradually expanded throughout the West to Utah, Colorado, California, and Idaho and by 1964 commercial rafting took the whole country.

Rafting as a commercial industry has now extended internationally in recent years. In India, especially the state of Uttarakhand and Himanchal offers some of the best rafting spots in the country.

Rafting Equipment


Rafts are constructed from inflatable tubes made of nylon or polyester fabric covered by layers of a rubber-like material called Hypalon or a plastic material such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or urethane. [1] Raft is 10 ft. (3 m) to 18 ft. (5.5 m) in length and carries 4 to 9 people. Rafts typically have more than six separate air chambers for safety purpose if in case one or two chambers burst the raft will remain afloat.

Six chambers are on the outer side and two to three thwarts are in the centre for stabilization of the raft. In paddle rafts every adventure enthusiasts are provided with a synthetic T paddle for rowing the raft. Apart from this a number of other important equipment’s are listed below:

Safety equipment and personal clothing

  • A radio,
  • First-aid kit,
  • Whistles, and
  • Throw-lines,
  • Life Line,
  • Flip Line,
  • Life preservers (Life Jackets),
  • Rafting vest,
  • Helmets,
  • Dry bags & special rubber bags,
  • Special clothing to keep warm and dry,
  • Waterproof paddle jackets and pants,
  • Polypropylene long underwear for insulation when wet,
  • Footwear consists of water sandals or neoprene wet shoes,
  • Paddling gloves keep the hands warm and prevent blisters.

Note: For multi-day trip into a remote area, rafters were supposed to carry following equipment in addition to above mentioned list:

  • Camping gear,
  • Cooking stove with sufficient fuel,
  • Food as per requirements, &
  • Extra clothing and personal gear as per requirements.

Fundamentals of Rafting

There are two basic kinds of white-water rafts, oar raft and paddle rafts.

Oar raft

An oar raft has a metal frame attached on top of the raft for its protection. A seat is attached to the centre of the metal frame with two big oars to control the raft. The passenger does not require much skill to ride on an oar raft. During big rapids and big waves the rafters need to switch the weight towards the high side of the raft, which is technically called high-siding, to avoid the flipping of the oar raft.

Paddle raft

To row the paddle raft requires a complete coordination and team work. The river guide commands the whole crew of the paddle raft to strongly paddle to push and navigate the raft.

The guide’s commands goes like “Forward!” “Back paddle!” and “Stop!” To turn the raft, the guide shouts “Left!” (in which case paddlers on the left side back paddle, while those on the right paddle forward) and “Right!” (Vice- versa). The front paddler on each side of the raft sets the cadence, while the paddlers behind synchronize their strokes to the leaders’. 2

Safety of Rafting

Regarding the safety concerns, the rafting enthusiasts at first hand should have knowledge of the grades of the river which are expressed in grade I to grade VI as follows:

GradesDescriptionSkill Level
Grade 1Very small rough areas might require slight manoeuvring.Very Basic
Grade 2Some rough water, maybe some rocks, might require some manoeuvringBasic paddling skill
Grade 3White-water, small waves, maybe a small drop, but no considerable danger. May require significant manoeuvringExperienced paddling skill
Grade 4White-water, medium waves, maybe rocks, maybe a considerable drop, sharp manoeuvres may be neededWhite-water experience
Grade 5White-water, large waves, large volume, possibility of large rocks and hazards, possibility of a large drop, requires precise manoeuvringAdvanced white-water experience
Grade 6Substantial white-water, huge waves, huge rocks and hazards.successful completion of a Class 6 rapid & extreme skilled

The six-point international scale of river difficulty is part of the American White-water affiliation Safety Code (AWA). The designated code are relative, not absolute in measurement, hence is subject to varying regional interpretation.

The rafting enthusiasts, a part from having good knowledge of the river grades should also have into consideration of cold water which has the potential risk for hypothermia. The water level of the river is yet another factor to take into consideration while rafting. Higher water levels make a rapid more difficult at times but depend on rapids to rapids. Some rapids during low volume are more difficult to manoeuvre as the obstacles are exposed.

It is a rule of thumb to take a competent river guide who knows the river, dangerous holes, complex flow patterns of the river, and well judge the river current.

Rafting in India

  1. River Rafting in Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir: One of the best stretches for white-water rafting is on the Indus between Spituk and Saspol. Further to Saspol, rafting in Ladakh becomes challenging and rafting requires technically sound participants and vigilant association of the rafting team.

  2. River Rafting on Zanskar River: Zanskar River Rafting runs between Padum and Nimo regions traversing through the mesmerizing Zanskar Mountain.

  3. River Rafting On Teesta River, Sikkim & Darjeeling: Teesta River offers some of the best and challenging white-water rapids in a series. Rafting in Teest provide some of the amazing vista of the valley with sheer amount of adventure with fear.

  4. River Rafting On Brahmaputra River, Arunachal Pradesh: Brahmaputra River cruise down across Tibet into Arunachal Pradesh offers unique blend of adventure and landscape.

Rafting in Uttarakhand

Rafting in Rishikesh

The holy Ganges attracts thousands of rafting enthusiasts from India and the world to experience the exhilaration of white water rafting. No doubt! Why it is considered one of the best rafting stretch in India.

The most suitable period for River Rafting in Rishikesh is from September to December and from end February to May. The stretch of 26km till Kaudiyala en-route Srinagar is full of gargling rapids of IVth grade. Few of the best rapids in this stretch are as follows: Table – I

Sl.#Name of the RapidGrade
1.Three Blind MiceII
2.Black MoneyII
4.Roller CoasterIII
5.Golf CourseIV
6.Body SurfingBasic

The Ganga stretch today is hub of rafting enthusiasts almost from Rishikesh till Srinagar one can find number of Rafting camps and beaches. Almost around 140 licenced rafting agencies operate in and around Rishikesh. There are almost 67 rafting camps along the Ganga River out of which 30 camps are in forest land 12 are in Revenue lands and 25 camps are in private land.

Some of the big names operating in Rishikesh are as follows:

  1. Five Elements – Claridges Group
  2. Great Indian Outdoors
  3. Snow Leopard
  4. Bajaj
  5. Venture Himalayas
  6. Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam
  7. Kumaun Mandal Vikas Nigam
  8. Mercury Adventures
  9. Himalayan River Runner
  10. Aqua Terra

The Bhagirathi River Rafting

Rafting down the lower Bhagirathi gorge (mostly Grades 3 and 4) offers rapids like “Elephant rock”, “The Chute”, “Sharp S”, “Confluence rapids” and many more is a life time voyage for any rafting enthusiasts.

Rafting in Mahakali

Rafting on river Mahakali is a lifetime journey along the India-Nepal border. The rafting on Mahakali offers some of the scenic vista of old Kumauni villages and wilderness. The rapids, like the ‘Chuka’, ‘Dimberghat’ and ‘The Creek’ thrill the novice and the experienced alike.


Is rafting safe?

Rafting can be safe when proper safety measures are taken, such as wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) and following the instructions of the rafting guide. It is important to choose a reputable rafting company that follows safety guidelines and has properly trained guides.

What do I need to bring on a rafting trip?

You should bring a swimsuit, water shoes or sandals that can get wet, a change of clothes, a towel, sun protection (such as sunscreen and a hat), and any personal items you may need (such as medication). The rafting company may also provide a list of additional items to bring.

Is rafting suitable for children?

Rafting can be suitable for children, but it is important to consider the child’s age, ability, and comfort level in the water. Some rafting companies have age restrictions for their trips, and it is always a good idea to consult with the company or a medical professional before bringing a child on a rafting trip.

What is the best time to go rafting in Uttarakhand?

The best time for rafting in Uttarakhand depends on the river and the section you will be rafting on. The rafting season typically runs from April to June and September to November, when the water levels are optimal.

How long does a rafting trip in Uttarakhand typically last?

Rafting trips in Uttarakhand can range from half-day trips to multi-day expeditions. The length of the trip will depend on the river and the section you are rafting on, as well as the rafting company you choose.

Do I need to be an experienced rafter to go rafting in Uttarakhand?

No, you do not need to be an experienced rafter to go rafting in Uttarakhand. Many rafting companies offer trips for all levels, from beginners to experienced rafters. The rafting guide will provide instruction and assistance as needed.

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