Guest Blog by Nick Pearce (Sponsored Paddler)
This autumn, needing to escape the grey Norwegian weather before the snow arrived, it was time to take a trip south. Like most people, I had seen and followed the growing development of Meghalaya as an up and coming kayaking Mecca in India. My problem though, now that I live a slightly more grown up life, is that I don’t have three months to travel. I have just two weeks and need to pack in as much as I can; something I think a lot of people can understand. Knowing a few of the boys who have spent a lot of time down there, we knew about the All India Overland bus and booked in for 2 weeks with James Smith and his crew.
Meghalaya is not the quickest place to get to, taking around 35 hours total travelling time from Norway. We flew into New Delhi and then took an internal flight over to Guwahati. But, even before you start that, you have the joys of dealing with the Indian visa system. It can be difficult to get the required e-visa but after more than a little fighting, we had them sorted.
We were an international crew of 5 who all now live in Norway. Lucie Sediva and Lee Royle flew out a few days beforehand followed by me, Nini Bondhus and Christopher Ebbang. Everything started as expected when Lee and Lucie’s airline refused to take their boats. Luckily, the rest of us had opted to rent boats and they had a few spare. We met at Shillong Whitewater Village, where we would meet the bus and head out onto the road.
The bus and your guides
The bus is the brainchild of James Smith and Callum Strong. These are two of the guys responsible for opening up this amazing place to kayaking and definitely know their way around. We were joined on the bus by James for our trip and Callum remained back in the UK. In James, you could not ask for a better host - super chilled and easy going - sometimes prone to bursting into spontaneous song with a very eclectic music taste. He was seen most often with his stylish pink umbrella. The third member of their team is Banjop, a really chilled local guide from Shillong, who has learned to kayak with the boys and runs the bus outside of the kayaking season. He’s also apparently an expert pineapple whisperer (apparently they tell him when they’re ripe!).
The bus itself is a piece of art, with everything you need for a trip on the road - it even has a shower, which is really quite a luxury. It has room for up to twelve and with just eight, it was a really comfortable and relaxing way to travel.
Meghalaya offers a different culture than the normal Indian experience. To start with, it is a Christian state. Also the lack of Western travellers means you are not dealing with haggling and street traders all the time. Instead, there’s mostly just local people who are interested in you and your strange plastic boat. The standard of living is a little higher and life just generally has a relaxed feel to it for India.
Unfortunately, we were not able to get on all the runs we would have liked due to levels but the runs we managed were amazing and just left me desperate to come back for more.
A perfect warm up, this river runs right next to the white-water village in Shillong. When we first arrived the river was running bank full and gave us an epic introduction to the type of class 4 jungle boating we would go on to explore. We ran the same section also on the last day when the water had dropped to half the flow, giving a much more chilled class 3 (4) run which was perfect to relax and take in the amazing environment.
This action-packed section, flowing through deep jungle, is just stacked with rapid after rapid. They say it is very possible to do in one day if you know the lines but with the comfort of the group, we decided to split the section into two and camp out at a small village half way down the river. The first day was filled with really fun technical class 4 rapids with the odd 5 thrown in here and there. Unfortunately, the river rose overnight about half a meter and it was decided not to put on the lower half. I look forward to coming back to this one later.
The crown jewel of Meghalaya, you will be hard pressed to find a better river anywhere in the world. I just wish it were closer to home. Anyone who has been to Meghalaya and paddled the Kopili raves about it and as soon as you put on the river you will understand why. It is kilometer after kilometer of epic class 4 (5) big volume river running. The river is best split over two days, finding yourself a perfect flat rock to camp on down by the river, leaving enough time to relax and enjoy the world.
For more information and to check out the other rivers, I really recommend getting a copy of the new Meghalaya guide book and for an epic, stress free trip, have a chat with the All India Overland boys.