Siang River Expedition

From its source atop the sacred Buddhist site of Mount Kailaish, the River Yarlung Tsang Po flows nearly a thousand miles across the barren tundra of the Tibetan plateau. A pinch between two towering peaks, 7,782-meter Namcha Barwa and its little sister, Gyala Peri, forces the river southward around the “Great Bend,” where it plunges nearly ten thousand feet in less than a hundred miles through the Tsangpo Gorge. Tumbling into the jungle territory of the indigenous Adi in Arunachal Pradesh, Northeast India, the river takes an Adi name, the Siang.

Opened to foreign travelers in only 2003, the Siang remains one of the least explored gorges on the planet to anyone – other than the 100,000 Adi who inhabit the corridor, which sustains the last surviving rainforest in India. The Adi subsist much as they have for thousands of years in the steep, forested Siang River Valley, hunting; fishing; foraging; cultivating rice and wheat; and lodging in picturesque bamboo, cane, and thatch homes, which dot the landscape.

The river has only been descended a handful of times; and sections of the gorge are all but inaccessible by boat, making for some of the most preserved and pristine scenery remaining on the planet. Enormous sand beaches, flanked by showers warm enough for bathing, make for perfect camping; fifty species of mammals, including eight primates and several species of leopards, thrive in the surrounding jungle; and professional kayakers compare the quality of the whitewater among the greatest in the world, ranking with the Zambezi, the Grand Canyon, the Futaleufu, and the White Nile.

Sadly, the Indian government and the Chinese government upstream are concurrently working on projects that will flood the Siang Valley along with its rainforest, the wildlife, the Adi homeland, and the spectacular Siang River Gorge. Global Descents urges you to take advantage of the opportunity to explore this remote, wild, and astonishing place before it ceases to exist!

 

Typical Day on the Siang

On a typical trip, find yourself:
• Being one of fewer than 100 people each year able to raft the Siang
• Rafting down cascades and magnificent rapids on the upper Brahmaputra, one of the world’s top rivers
• Encountering Mishmi tribals who must walk nine days to reach the river
• Sampling local food like deer, mithun, rat, and rice-beer (Optional!)
• Camping under the stars on white-sand beaches
• Savoring Indian sweets next to the shimmering Siang

We begin our river journey in Yingkiong, a remote town high in the Eastern Himalayas. After a thorough safety session, we set off through deep river canyons encountering big volume class IV rapids, separated by calmer pools. In these stretches we learn about any one of a myriad of topics: the geology of the region, India ‘s people and customs, its history and mythology.

Mornings always begin with the echo of a conch, calling us to coffee and a mixture of Assam and Darjeeling teas. At lunch we stop on a sandy beach, for an organic, deli-style meal complete with Indian treats and an informative talk on Indian culture, dance, or music. Evenings find us camped riverside dining on tasty Indian dishes. Accompanying dinner we might enjoy a traditional Thadiya dance, a fire-spinning performance, a tabla-sitar recital, witness an Aarti ceremony, listen to tales from the Ramayana, or just get to know each other!

During the days, we hike to scenic overlooks and waterfalls, float under swaying bamboo bridges hanging high above, visit templetowns such as Ponging Yingkiong, and arrive at confluences with other rivers, such as theYamne and the Yamgo. On the upper Brahmaputra, we experience the might of the Siang, the waters of which are said to make the drinker as powerful as a horse. We culminate with a morning drift to Pasighat. After a week of life on the river, we find ourselves again interacting with locals, describing our travels and experiences.