INSIDE THE INDUS
WORDS BY: MIKE DAWSON
There are rivers that are accompanied by their own legends, fabled lands of giants where few have ventured. Rondu Gorge of the Indus is such a place. Kayakers have long been interested in the reputedly massive rapids lying between deep gorge walls in Pakistan’s northeastern corner, with expeditions to upper stretches and nearby tributaries taking place as early as the 1950s. Later trips only amplified the Gorge’s reputation, ultimately luring Mike Dawson, Aniol Serrasolses and Ciarán Heurteau into its depths. They emerged equally as exhausted, battered and chastened by the rivers raw power as they were uplifted by the warmth of the Pakistani people, with their own story to tell.
“WHEN YOU ENTER THE RIVER YOU TRULY ARE ON YOUR OWN, ALL THE COMFORTS OF CIVILIZATION LEFT ON THE DUSTY ROAD TO THE PUT-IN.”
It begins as a mountain spring named Lion’s Mouth, deep in the Tibetan heart of the Himalayas, a nearby monastery signifying the holiness of the site. By the time the Indus River hits the Arabian Sea in the Pakistani port city of Karachi more than 3000km away, it is one of the biggest rivers in Asia. Carving an isolated path alongside the world’s highest peaks through gorges more than five kilometers (three miles) deep, the Indus has become a pinnacle of big water paddling.
Fresh from winning the extreme kayaking world title, Spaniard Aniol Serrasolses joined French/Irish filmmaker Ciarán Heurteau and myself to attempt a descent of the fabled Rondu Gorge deep in the northern heart of Pakistan. Eight years had passed since the last expedition, lead by American Ben Stookesberry, ventured into the gorge, emerging with stories of massive flow, heinous portages, impossibly high gorge walls and spectacular adventure. Since then, Pakistan’s precarious reputation off the water had stopped any planned trips into the North Pakistani state of Gilgit Baltistan in their tracks.