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Braving the wild

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So, river rafting comes as easy to you as drifting in a mellow lake. Be warned, though; there are rapids worldwide that can put fear into even the best, particularly Grade 4 and Grade 5 rapids. (Grade 6 rapids are too dangerous and best avoided.) Here are some of the world's toughest river-rafting destinations for you to soak in the adrenaline. (Statutory warning: if you're a first-timer, don't bother.)

Grand Canyon, Colorado, US
Cradling the Colorado river, the spectacular Grand Canyon is the world's white-water capital. The wilder portions of the river, which originates near Rocky Mountain National Park, are in the desert southwest as it flows through Utah and the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon has a scale of 1-10 for rapids, 10 being the most difficult (unlike the 1-6 grade international classification). Some of the Grand rapids in the Colorado are the Crystal, Granite and Lava, besides awesome blast rapids such as the Hermit. Horn Creek Rapid is rated a 7-9 grade; one of the most difficult rapids, it forms, at lower levels, very large waves and hydraulics. Check it out in April.

Futaleufu, Chile
Move from North America to South America, to Chile's Futaleufu river, which is known for its powerful white-water currents the world over. The upper part of the river, which runs from Pueblo de Futaleufu to the Rio Azul confluence, offers the most trying rafting options and contains Grade 5 rapids such as the Gates of Inferno, Wall Shot, The Perfect Storm, Zeta and the Throne Room. Among the more dangerous Grade 5 rapids here is the Casa de Piedra (house of rock). Keep in mind, though, that the flow of the river can vary significantly even over a week depending on rainfall. The Chilean government has proposed a hydroelectric dam, which may restrict the free flow of the river in the future. So, if you're planning a trip, make it fast.

Zambezi, Zambia

BEATING THE CURRENTS: A rafter takes on the powerful white-water currents on Chile's Futaleufu river, which boasts the Gates of Inferno rapid, among others (CORBIS)

From the alluring climes of Latin America, move to Zambia in wild Africa, towards the south of the continent. The 3,540-km Zambezi river, the fourth-longest in Africa, starts in Zambia and flows through Angola, along the borders of Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. One of its spectacular features is the 1.7-km wide Victoria Falls (along the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe), where the Zambezi drops some 100 metres into a narrow gorge. Rapids in the Upper Zambezi are very frequent (between 100 metres and 2 km), many of them being Grade 5 and Grade 6. Some of the fifth-graders are Gulliver's Travels, Open Season, Upper Moemba and Ghostrider, while the Grade 6 rapids include Commercial Suicide, Lower Moemba and Deep Throat. The stretch just south of the Victoria Falls to Batoka Gorge contains some of the most dangerous rapids in the rafting world, including the Stairway to Heaven, Devil's Toilet Bowl and Oblivion rapids.

Victoria Nile, Uganda
From Zambia, move north to Uganda. Here, you find the White Nile, which runs through Uganda, Sudan and Egypt. Known as the Victoria Nile, the river arises from Lake Victoria in Uganda and is widely considered one of the world's most thrilling white-water rafting destinations. Most trips start in Jinja by Lake Victoria. In addition to some Grade 4 and Grade 3 rapids, there are several Grade 5 ones in the Victoria Nile. Rapids such as the Big Brother and G-spot can terrify as your raft spins around the whirlpools and climbs vertically into waves. The most dangerous Grade 5 rapid is the The Bad Place. To get there, you have to carry your raft around a Grade 6 rapid — don't try rafting that one — before rejoining the river.

Yangtze, China
Finally, from Africa to Asia, to the world's most surging economy, China. The Middle Kingdom cradles the Yangtze or Cháng Jiang, the longest river in Asia and the third-longest in the world. Flowing over a 6,418-km expanse, Yangtze has seen very few rafters successfully navigating its rapids. At places, its flow is six times as fast as the Colorado river in the Grand Canyon. The most difficult stretch is the 192 km through three gorges — Xiling, Wu and Qutang. The rapids are characterised by intense hydraulics and surges of white water, dangerous ledges, huge holes, whirlpools, and 10-15 ft breaking waves.


  • A pair of drying shorts to wear over your wetsuit

  • Toiletries, personal medication, etc. Pack your stuff in a duffel or kitbag as a large part of the journey will involve travelling in vehicles

  • A warm sleeping bag

  • Woollen/thermal underwear

  • A wind/rain-proof jacket

  • A good pair of sandals to last the entire trip. Spare sneakers or flipflops will come in handy for camping

  • A flashlight and spare batteries

  • Sunshade/hat

  • Vaseline/lip salve

  • Insect repellent

  • A small daypack for your camera, lunch, water bottle and jacket