India's most sacred river is known as a cleanser of sins. It's also a great place to go white-water rafting
When it's time to escape the sweltering Mumbai heat, the beaches of Goa, a few hundred miles to the south of India's most sprawling city, are always inviting. But for something a little cooler—but no less spectacular—I thought I'd check out the mountainous district of Tehri Garhwal, in the foothills of Uttaranchal in north India.
The state of Uttaranchal was only carved out of Uttar Pradesh, India's largest state, in 2000, but it has a character all of its own. In particular, its varied topography is a stunning blend of lofty mountains—the southern slopes of the Himalayas—river valleys, and dense forest.
For lovers of the great outdoors, a three-day drive or trek north leads to the Valley of Flowers, where 300 species of wildflowers bloom naturally. Sightseers can also trace India's premier "pilgrim trail", from Haridwar to Kedarnath, or relax at nearby hill stations, which are a favorite with tourists and honeymooning couples.
For those looking for something a little more laid-back, where better than Glasshouse on the Ganges, a restored palace once home to the maharajas of Tehri Garhwal, but now a 16-room hotel and bungalow complex set in orchards of lychees and mangoes? Situated 16 miles from Rishikesh, a holy town known for its spas, Glasshouse on the Ganges overlooks the famous 1,560 mile-river, which runs from the southern slopes of the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean, and is believed by Hindus to contain holy waters.
For me, though, a big temptation was the chance to raft down the mighty Ganges. While it was my first river rafting trip, I felt safe when I was joined by a family of four returning to the western Indian state of Gujarat and instructors.
The first of the rapids were a cakewalk, a mild swirl of the raft and we were out. The subsequent ones were scarier and, blinded by the streams of water, I expected the raft to capsize any minute. From then on, every time we approached a rapid, and there were 16 of them, I offered a silent prayer.
Along the way, we were even asked to jump into the finally placid water for a swim in the sacred waters, before encountering more furious torrents. Two-and-a-half hours later, and after much huffing and puffing, we finally returned to firmer ground, 16 miles from the starting point.
The return trip was just as challenging. Local buses were crammed to the point that people were clinging on to window railings. Faced with a long trip on foot, I flagged down a truck driver en route to Rudraprayag further north. Fifty minutes later, I was reunited with my family at the Glasshouse and ready for some welcome downtime.
How to get there: An 80 minute flight from Delhi to Dehradun and a 30-minute drive into Tehri Garhwal.
What to bring: Trekking shoes, a jacket, and mosquito repellants are a must.
Fun fact: If you see pugmarks on the banks of the river, don't take them too lightly—a leopard was probably in the area.