Racing down Rapids. White water Rafting At Kitulgala.
Forward paddle! Go! Go!! Go!!! Holy s***! (The last command is used in dire circumstances and alerts paddlers to hang on tight) I am perched on the front end of the raft, desperately trying to keep my balance, listen to commands and forward paddle at the same time. My paddle slips from my grip and vanishes into the swirling rapids of the Kelani River. I end up scrambling in the bottom of the raft, trying to get myself upright again. There is water in the raft, in my face and up my nose.
I am spending the weekend at the Borderlands Adventure Camp located in Kitulgala. Just under 100 kilometers from Colombo, Kitulgala is considered to be one of the wettest places in the country and popularly known as the place for adventure water sports. The Kelani River, that flows past this Camp winds its way down from the mountains of Adams Peak and offers seven high quality Class Two and Three rapids making this an exciting location for whitewater rafting, kayaking and canyoning, the sport of jumping into a fast-flowing mountain stream and allowing oneself to be carried downstream.
I am rafting down 6.5 kilometers and have conquered the ‘Killer Fall’ and the ‘Butter Crunch’ without too much drama. Then, despite my vehement protests, my guides, Ollie and Gwen insist that I try canyoning. We anchor the raft by the riverbed and climb through steep forest inclines and up gullies until we finally reach the point of no return…at least for me. We have clambered up one of the river’s tributaries that offer a range of waterfalls, water slides, and deep plunge pools. Another quick briefing, my helmet is securely fastened, life jacket pulled in a notch tighter and despite my pounding heart I think I am ready to face this daunting challenge.
Ollie points to a rock crevasse that looks like a deep basin filled with inky blue water. He counts to ten and urges me to jump. I stand stock-still. He barks an order and I leap over the rock and hit the water, coming up spitting and spluttering. Ollie and Gwen are grinning from ear to ear. One down. Three more to go.
We reach the second ‘jump’ after sliding down slippery waterfalls and narrow, craggy chutes. This one is higher and deeper. Again, I shut my eyes, hold my breath and leap over the edge. I feel good.
But this feeling does not last for long as I see the next jump. It looks dangerous and daunting. My heart is pounding. My nerves are stretched. I can barely look over the face of this rock and despite urging, cajoling and coaxing, I chicken out and quickly clamber down the rest of the way on foot back to the raft.
Floating along the Kelani River is an exhilarating feeling. We careen down a couple more rapids before coming to the last of the seven rapids and Ollie orders me to jump overboard and free float through the last eddying rapid. I jump overboard and get myself into ‘position’- legs up, hands crossed over my chest, head straight and face the gushing, roaring waters in dismay. But there is no turning back now and I am fiercely swept past boulders, crags and churning water and reach the other side spluttering and spitting out more water. I take deep breaths and thank my lucky stars to be alive! I made it! Holy s***!
The Borderlands Adventure Camp is popular for its various corporate and leadership training programmes. With a comprehensive menu for adventure, some of the more popular offerings are canoeing, kayaking, rafting and hiking that changes lives, personalities and possibilities of every participant. Trained guides ensure international safety standards and strictly monitor the procedure on and off the river. Pre-briefings are mandatory and safety gear is a must.
Accommodation at the Camp consists of comfortable double or single-bed tents with a private sit-out overlooking the gushing river below. Meals are served in the Long House that doubles up as a workstation with free wi-fi, a place to network with fellow adventurers over a glass of wine, or just sit back and enjoy a compilation of jazz music that plays softly in the background. We sit on floor cushions, enjoying a bottle of chardonnay and listening to the calming sounds of the rushing waters of the river below.
The next morning, we take a short drive to see the remains of the famed bridge used in the 1957 British American World War 11 movie, Bridge on the River Kwai.
Although nothing but fragments of steel and metal remain, the locals are ever willing to show off this once famous location. I wonder if they realize that this film won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and the Best Actor Award for the outstanding performance by Alec Guinness at the 30th Academy Awards and is widely considered to be one of the greatest films of all time. The Prime Minister at the time, S W R D Bandaranaike and an entourage of government dignitaries were present during the filming of the explosion of the bridge.
Just past this is an interesting footbridge that spans the entire breadth of this river. We cautiously walk across it and spend a couple of minutes suspended above this awesome river whilst nimble-footed village children walk past us totally oblivious to the rocking and swinging of this suspension bridge.
Back at the Camp, we enjoy a delicious breakfast and steaming cups of coffee and tea. The coolness of the morning air that blows across from the river is soothing. Two aspirins help me ease the aches and pains of yesterday’s adventure on the river.
The Camp is quiet for the moment, until the next group of adventure seekers arrives. The Boat House is neatly packed with gear and the tents are being cleaned up. The unending river gushes by. This has been a weekend of endurance. And I survived!