Leave It Wild – Kali River, India

My feet dug into the sand as it moved like silk over my toes. Impossibly brown hands scrawled over the white page, tanned and cracked by the river life. My cheeks felt slightly sunken in from the sun’s pounding fists. My body finally rested its complaints, use to the pulling of the river. The sun sunk behind the furry green hills and the forest in front of me cracked with mysterious sounds of monkeys jumping hopefully not towards me.

The day started before the sun rose. The thing that always made me know I wasn’t home in Colorado but half a world away, was the way the moon hung so high in the sky. Staying late in the morning as if it was reluctant to give the sun the day. At home the moon rarely joins the sun on the sky’s stage. That morning I rowed through my favorite section of the Kali. Far away from roads, the canyons cut steeply away from the wide winding river as it ran angrily into the cliff side. The monkey and Gurms swarmed the sides, feasting on mysterious river deposits.

The Kali’s walls opened again and the forests stretched for miles. We pushed the boats against the river’s current into a wave surfing it. My tube sunk into the hole and sucked me with it. I held on by one hand to the raft line as the river pulled me under the boat. I let go and swirled into the currents, popping out moments later to swim to another boat. The river played and left me laughing at the adrenaline rushed ride I had just swum. We passed over a sunken wire bridge, carefully navigating the man-made strainer that collapsed into the river.

Riding the rapid. 

Before a boulder field rapid called Chuka, we pulled off to India. The rapid is named after the town above it where Jim Corbett, an explorer, had shot a man eating tiger almost 90 years before. A warm river ran into the Kali. We pushed small boulders around, creating rapids to body surf. We shot down the fast current and curves until that night’s camp called us back to the big river.

The next rapid required perfection from the paddle guide. Our stern hit the wave perfectly and powered through. As we began to slide off the pillow into the next big wave. It almost crashed onto our broadside flipping us into a huge hole, but we made it, laughing wildly and whooping at our narrow victory.

The sun shone bright on us as we pulled into a large beach for camp.  A huge dinner of ember cooked pizza and a beach fire kept us warm as the sun disappeared. Crickets as big as baseballs hopped and eventually flew into the burning fire. We had a moment of silence for such a grand creature’s death. Everyone turned into their sleeping bags, but the night was still young.

Nalgene strobe light parties ensued with wild dancing under the moons light until we were so tired our bodies collapsed into our sleeping bags.

The next morning, I struggled to find a private spot for my morning ritual away from the early rising fisherman. I had become so use to dropping into the cold powerful arms of this river that I jumped into rapids letting the waves crash into me. Boats flipped around me as pirate games were played. After a large rapid from the river pushing into a steep canyon, we hit a few miles of deep green flat river. I belly flopped out into the water to swim with a friend.

Look at Gurms on the banks of the Kali river. 

We sunk into the emerald water completely surrendering to the push and pulls of the Kali. I remembered why I loved the water so much. The way it made me feel completely safe as I trusted it to hold my weary bones.

The canyon walls shot up into the blue skies as our oar boat followed behind us. For a moment it felt like just the two of us. The canyons green and grey walls veered off into the distance and the green stretch of river was interrupted only by four small Chaco’s sticking out of the river.

I laid my head back into the water, and silence enveloped me. The world turned to a muffled peace, and I felt like I could breath away from the chaos of India and the Kali’s rapids. The river leeched the darkness and stress out of me, swallowing it right up in its glassy green. I felt each tendril of the river tease and pull at my body.

All I could think at the moment was there are moments camera’s do not deserve.

But another thought entered my mind. This wild river had taught me so much, given hundreds before me adventures that effected people for their whole lives. It supported a whole ecosystem of both animals and humans. But, like every river in the world it faced a dam along the same banks I had slept on. Caught up in the diplomacy between India and Nepal, the building had not started, but planning for the dam had not stopped.

As those waters held me, the injustice of harnessing the power of the Kali infuriated me. This holy river was not meant to be wrangled into submission for the petty demands of humanity’s existence. This river held life and death, laughter and tears, joy and pity all within its waters. To cover those canyon walls under human greed made me curdle inside.

Hard to imagine this beautiful river as a static dammed lake.

The stretch of river, that held our expeditions lives for almost two weeks, would be fractured by the concrete dam, and the dam would submerge essential land for animals and villagers that lived on the banks. The water still caressed my face as I sent a prayer up to the blue sky: leave it wild. By the graces of fate to fight the greed of a whole species, leave these wild waters free to rage and carve this land into their own Michele Angelo. Nothing good ever came of caging a beast meant to be wild and free, only tragic eulogies to echo its ghosts.

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