On December 1, 1988, the
USA members of the Indo-USA Chenab River Expedition arrived in New
They were led by Ken Warren as the leader of the expedition,
in the fulfillment of a promise he had made in 1984, that the Chenab
river was goint to be run by a joint Indo-US team. With the team
came 3000 pounds of specialised equipment to meet the challenge of
the Chenab river which had never been successfully run before. On
December 5, a helicopter was arranged for by the Jammu & Kashmir
Tourism Department, in order to carry out an aerial survey of this
difficult and turbulent river. It was essential to determine
the put-in-point on the river. Ken Warren says, looking
down, the river was really beautiful and I counted as many as 140
rapids graded from 1-6 in a 150 kilometres stretch of the river, but
there was so much timber floating from Atholi to Kishtwar, that
running this stretch would have been suicidal. This resulted in
a change of plans. The expedition decided to run from Kishtwar to
Ramban instead, a distance of 130 kilometers. From December 5th
to 10th the equipment arrived from Delhi and was lowered
into the water from a height of 600 ft., The other member arrived
from Jammu and a press conference was held.
The dramatis personas of
these events were:
Expedition Leader (USA)
Still photographer and mountaineer (USA)
Oarsman (West Germany)
Oarsman and professional hunter (USA)
Movie maker and kayaker (USA)
Lucas von Bluecher
Kayaker and writer (West Germany)
Professor of creative writing and writer (USA Today)
Co-leader Road Support Team (USA)
Expedition co-leader (India)
Air Marshal B.S.Sikand
(Retd PVSM and AVSM) Expedition co-ordinator and co-leader of
Road Support Team (India)
Only women who was part of the rafting team (India)
Four members of the Nehru
Yuva Kendra Sangathan (India)
Four members from Jammu
and Kashmir Tourism, Government of J&K (India)
Producer/Directors in India
The Nehru Yuva
Jammu & Kashmir
Official carriers for the expedition
Protagonist / Heroine
The Chenab River
expedition for the late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
Excerpts from Ken
Warrens diary and Shaukat Sikand are reproduced here:
December 11, 1988: The
great day had arrived. Priests of practically every religious
denomination Hindu, Sikh, Muslim came to pray for, and bless the
expedition. And as cameras started rolling, the Director-General of
information and TourismPublicity, Government of Jammu and Kashmir Mr.
S.P.Sahni, flagged off the expedition. Just before we left, I dipped
my fingers into the river and prayed to her. I always think of a
river as a woman, because it gives birth, and sustains life and I
prayed to her to protect us. I wanted to make my peace with her, and
she was beautiful.
The three flags of the
three nations were hoisted. The first raft named Kesar
was oared by Ken Warren and had the American flag. The second raft
Atlas was oared by Andreas Wallach and had the West German and the
J&K State Government Tourism flag. The third raft Thor was oared
by Shaukat Sikand and had an Indian flag. We were off at 12.15
p.m. Radio communication was established between the rafts, kayak,
and the Road Support Team. As I dipped my oars I could feel the
force of the river. She was violent. After about half an hour
we encountered our first major rapid, a grade 6 on the scale of 1-6,
names Kellys Worry . It had falls on both sides
and a number of rocks, circling it. Looking at the height of the
falls and the half-jutting rocks and sometimes totally concealed
boulders, we decided to line the rafts. That is, we tied ropes on
the two ends of the raft and helped the oarsman take the raft down
the rapid safely. The three rafts had to negotiate the rapid one
after another which took nearly three hours. This was an essential
manoeuvre because the river was reversing at a tremendous speed and
the current turning back on itself would flip the rafts over and
smash us to bits. As the light faded, the oarsmen pulled the rafts
together into an eddy and anchored them for the night. We then
climbed 600 feet and went to Thatri where we decided to camp for the
night. We sat around a bonfire and discussed the strategy to finally
complete a successful run on the river. She had showed us how
powerful she was.
December 12 : At 7
a.m. this morning we started off to catch most of the light. We
descended the cliffs and as we set off, the radio communication link
snapped. The river was rougher than the first day. She would suck
us into a trough and jam us against the wall of water and rocks. The
rafts were to negotiate the water, with the two kayakers who acted as
scouts and gave the rafters rescue support.
We were to take
back to back drops from the right, but because the radio
connection was broken we entered from the left. Shaukats raft
hit the first reversal and he was flung overboard, and Lucas rushed
to his rescue. Shaukat tried to swim for about 60 meters but the
force of the water was so great that Lucas was also thrown out into
the water and his kayak was jammed between two rocks jutting out.
Shaukat now went down an eight foot-waterfall, and probably what
saved him was his helmet which took a battering from the sharp rocks.
Finally, while we watched this terrifying drama helplessly, Paul
Sharpe with his kayak managed to save Shaukat, just before he went
over another set of falls and brought him ashore. All this could not
have taken more than a few seconds, but while we watched it seemed
dramatized in slow motion!
boat was caught in the same set of rapids, reversals, and the current
of the icy water and it took him 15 minutes to extricate himself.
The river now with terrific force picked up Kens oars and broke
them on the rocks like matchsticks. Six of the oars were lost. This
rapid was named the masala grinder. This was aptly named
because not only were the rapids at this point 30 feet high, the
reversals were about 14/15 feet from the trough or hole. This
section of the river was also partially blocked by a huge log,
sticking out of the water. The three rafts and the two kayaks now
regrouped themselves and a certain kind of doubt set in, perhaps the
river was too dangerous and the expedition should be abandoned?
Anyhow we decided
to carry on and encountered four to five rapids until we came
to another rapid, which we subsequently named Steves
Plunge, this was a grade 6 rapid. Again the rafts had to be
lined to encounter the lower half of the rapid. It took us an hour
to get the raft into position. Andreas and I successfully negotiated
the rapid but Steve and Shaukats raft flipped over and they
floated for about a hundred meters till they were picked up by the
kayakers. Fortunately, this was the placid section and the raft
could soon be righted. After encountering some more rapids of grades
4/5/6 for over 10 kilometres we decided to break for the day.
We started early as we wanted to arrive at Thatri by lunch.
On the way we encountered grade 4 and 5 rapids. At Thatri we found a
warm welcome awaiting us, given by the citizens of Thatri. Ours was
the first expedition that had successfully, negotiated the gorge
After this the expedition
continued for another 10 kilometres and it was a very placid section,
almost an anticlimax after the events of the previous day. The
rapids, were now in the category of grades 1 and 2. But now another
problem presented itself. Most of the oars were swept away or
broken. We sent an urgent message to Delhi to send spare oars on the
first available flight or by road or rail.
Another bright and clear day dawned. It was a day to enjoy the
river and relax. In a rapid just before Prem Nagar, Steves
boat got caught in a reversal for about 30 seconds. Thanks to the
presence of mind of his crew, who scrambled on the high side of the
raft, the raft did no flip. At this point Steve lost both his oars,
as the current snatched them out of his hands, and this raft had to
be taken out of the water. Half an hour later Andreas lost his oars
on the rapid, the Rock Garden. This rapid was also aptly named
because of the closed ring of rocks which circled it. We were
now left with only three serviceable oars. I decided to leave the
other rafts, until the spare oars came and take one raft, and one
kayak and come back later for the other rafts and kayak. It was the
proverbial story of the tiger, the patch of grass and the goat! We
did this and we were in Doda by at 5.15 p.m.
This was a day of relaxation in Doda, the District
The oars had not arrived and Ken had to make a hard decision.
He decided to continue with one raft and one kayak. Doda to Ramban
is approximately 40 kilometers and there could be no road support.
Hence all the food supplies, camping gear, and personal equipment had
to be carried on the raft. Ken was the oarsman and Ancil,
Andreas, Steve and Shaukat were on his crew. Since Lucas von
Bluecher was ill, Paul Sharpe was to give kayak support. Some of the
biggest and most difficult rapids on this expedition were now
encountered by the members. Back to back rapids, extremely tricky
reversals, deep troughs, all these could have kept a raft forever.
After arriving at Assar,
the members camped on the beach. The radio communication had been
re-established, and we received a message to say that the oars had
arrived at last.
The sky was overcast. The weather was obviously turning bleak.
The villagers came to welcome the members of the expedition. They
seemed to be so overawed by our feat of daring that we also felt like
heroes! They brought a fowl for us as a present, in fact the rooster
became our mascot. Wherever we went, it traveled with us, grave with
responsibility for our safety! The oars arrived at last! Air Marshal
Sikand brought them down to us and we continued on our journey along
the river. About eight kilometres from Ramban, my raft joined up
with the other two rafts and the second kayak. The sky was dark with
the promise of rain, and sure enough it began to drizzle. We
arrived at Ramban at 2O clock in the afternoon.
Commissioneer of Doda was there. All the school children were
therewith with banners and flags, the legend of which ran, Welcome
heroes of the Chenab. They had been waiting in the rain, and
we were moved to think our efforts had been appreciated. What seemed
to us a great banquet, was laid out, and we fell to. A holiday was
declared so that everyone could see the rafts and kayaks.
We had managed to run
this turbulent river successfully. The river goddess had answered
our prayers. It was a great and wonderful day for everyone who had
helped to make the expedition a success. Elated, euphoric in our
achievement, we made plans for our next river run. I think
India could one day become the white water rafting capital of the
world said Ken Warren.