Fate determined Bhupi’s white water career – he was fortunate enough to grow up in the small village ‘Sirasu’ based on the side of India’s holiest river, the mighty Ganges in Northern India. The time was right and since he’s rafted across the globe. This week we meet the globe trotter that is Bhupendra (Bhupi) Singh.
When he was a kid, rafting and kayaking in India was picking up. When someone told him that these raft guides and kayakers actually got paid to play on the river, he was sold. Later he realised that there was a much bigger world out there than he could have ever imagined.
“Back in the days my village only had school up to 5th grade so we had to cross the river in a wooden ferry boat from 6th – 12th grade to go the school. Most of us were already expert flat water oar boaters and very strong river swimmers by the time we graduated high school, which was a huge bonus for us to get jobs at the rafting camps to work as a trainee raft guide. I had lots of fun but I was really scared too. My village Sirasu is also known as “the village of river guides” and has produced numbers of national rafting and kayaking champions as well. I started my guiding career in 2003 but I found kayaking a much more fun activity. My first year I mostly worked as a safety kayaker and then later I started taking customers down the river. Just watching my customers having fun made me fall in love with rafting. Working as a full time raft guide I had plenty of time to alternate between rafting and kayaking. It opened up a world of new opportunities for whitewater rafting from the very first time with my uncle Dhruv Rana (one of India’s most recognised river guides) in 1997 at the age of 13. It has led me to travel around the world.”
What has motivated you to keep rafting?
Any day on the river is the best day for me! I worked as a professional river guide for over 12 years around the world, and since 2015 I’ve been working as a river guide and rescue trainer. It never felt like work to me. Instead it felt like I was getting paid to do what I love doing, rafting and kayaking. I knew it from the early age that I wanted to see the world from my raft or kayak. Finding some of natures most hidden treasures that are only accessible by your river crafts and meeting some of the most amazing people that you meet along the way.
Most memorable experience on the river and why?
I was lucky enough to be the first Indian to work on the White Nile which was very special for me. Certainly, one of my favourite rivers of all time. I have some amazing memories from the White Nile including meeting my partner in crime (my wife Trina) in 2011. Check out kayaking in Norway and rafting action from the While Nile
Representing India at the extreme kayaking world championship Sickline, in Austria in 2012 was very special too.
My entire river experience and knowledge became very useful when my home state, Uttarakhand, had an extremely devastating flash flood in 2013. I was assigned to lead the first rescue team ‘Lifeline’ to provide food, aid and shelters to the village Chandrapuri (Mandakini River valley) one of many villages in the area that lost complete connection to the outside world and got trapped in the village. Check out our 1st rescue video
We later went back to the same village with the goal of providing long term support for the entire village. We selected our team of professionally trained rafters, kayakers, rope masters etc and built over 100 meter (300ft) long zip line over the raging river Mandakini. You can watch the full documentary here
After being involved in this rescue mission, I realized that there is a huge need for professionally trained river rescue expert who can play a key role to save lives in these critical situations. Hence I took my river experience to the next level by becoming the first Indian Rescue Trainer by Rescue 3 International, Sierra Rescue International and International Rafting Federation and Rescue India was born in 2015. Since then Rescue India has trained over 200 River Rescue Technicians in the country who have played a huge role in the flood rescue in Kerala and Kartnataka a few weeks ago (August 2018) www.rescueindia.co.in
Funniest / most ironic river moment
I definitely have lots of fun memories from spending over a decade on the river. Its kind of hard to share all those memories but here are few.
1 – After wrapping up our 10 month long season on the river Ganges it was time to head further up north to run the worlds highest commercial river – Zanskar Expedition (8 days). This takes 6 days to drive one way from Rishikesh to the Zanskar river put in. We usually stay a day or two in the town of Leh to acclimatize our body in the high altitude. After getting enough rest we planned to get some sleep and start early the next morning and hit the road by 4 am. Our friend who was also a team manager set his alarm for 3:30 and went to bed around 9. Around 10:30 we decided to change his alarm to 3:28am and all of us pretended to be in deep sleep. When his alarm went off he woke up so confused and start waking up everyone up and we all refused to wake up. After watching him stressing out for 20 minute we couldn’t hold our laughter anymore. It took him a few minutes to realize what the heck was going on 😊.
2 – During my 2nd season working in southern Norway, it finally got warm enough to raft down without a drysuit so my friend hung her drysuit in the guide gear house. A fellow guide thought it was a good idea to hide a left over sausage in her drysuit without realizing that this drysuit wont be used for the next few months, the entire gear house stunk and the sausage turned into mold in the drysuit before we found it. Surely the drysuit’s owner wasn’t too happy about it but eventually we all had a great laugh.
Worst moment on a river
The river nightmares are never so easy to share as it will bring all those moments back. My first year working as trainee raft guide and safety kayaker on the river Ganges is when I experienced a client who died during rafting. Here is the brief details. I won’t call any individual guides or rafting company out though. We had a busy weekend with the majority of repeat clients. They always want something different and more exciting rafting trip on the same river section. We had 4 rafts and 2 safety kayakers. After setting up our full safety below the rapid on both side of this river and the detailed safety briefing. The last raft hit the Daniels Dip hole (1st rapid) and flipped but flushed out right away.
While rescuing a girl and bringing her back to the raft, I noticed something very unusual – a man floating face down about 20’ away from me. I approached him in my kayak but he was already being pulled on the raft by the safety raft. After a quick assessment we found out that the person was unconscious and not breathing. We passed an emergency signal to the entire crew and gave them signal to pull on the river left eddy. The raft guide immediately started CPR while we manage to stop all the rafts and kayaks to the side. Being the youngest and trainee guide I got assigned the simple but the hardest job – the crowd control. The victim’s entire family was on the same trip and they were of course freaking out. After multiple unsuccessful CPR and breathing cycles we made stretcher with paddles and carried him out to the extreme uphill (300ft) to the road side. This is when a 250 lbs person felt like 2500lbs on our shoulders! Once we got to the roadside we began CPR again and rushed him to the hospital (over an hour away) where doctors declared him dead due to cardiac arrest. When we stripped him to give CPR we found a huge SCAR across his chest. His wife later confessed that her husband had a bypass surgery about 12 years ago and was totally fine since then so they didn’t feel like letting the guide know about his heart condition. All I could hear was her screaming with tears. Later that afternoon the victims 6 year old daughter came to me and asked how her father was doing? I had no answer for her and I had broke down. Even though we did whatever we possibly could, I still question myself what more could we have done?!
How do you maintain a life balance?
I moved to the USA in 2013 with my wife and now we are based in Connecticut, USA with our 2 year old dog Shanti (Golden Retriever) and our daughter Lily who turned 1 year old on August 16th, 2018. My wife Trina and I are figuring out the life between 2 countries – India and USA. I’m currently in the process of starting a Rescue Training company in the US. I also work for a property management company. Life definitely gets much busier once you have a child so currently I’m trying to enjoy the second phase of life with my daughter and boat every chance I get.
Words of wisdom to those new to rafting?
Working as a river guide for over 12 years is something I will never regret! I would go back to the river life on a heart beat if I could. My advice to anyone new to rafting is to learn well, train hard and play safe out there. Respect the river and nature. Every day is a new day on the river. Hope for the best but be ready for the worst. Have a professional appearance, know your safety brief, learn about the local area/river. Let them know what they can expect from the day. Make sure to let them know about the consequences before running big rapids and don’t forget that you’re there for the guests and not for yourself so give them the option to walk around rather than forcing them to run the rapids. I’ve seen most clients getting hurt on the flat water or at the end of the trip while playing games. Watch out for those paddles! Don’t forget to enjoy
What do you think is the key strength of the IRF?
I personally got lucky to be the first Indian who got IRF grade 4/5 raft and kayak instructor certification with the President of the IRF, Mr. Joe Willis Jones in 2015 in Idaho. I feel very proud to be part of the IRF family. I like how IRF has set international standards for the commercial rafting and rafting championships. The majority of the river community from around the world adopted the IRF standards and that is huge deal. A big shout out to the entire crew who is associated with IRF for all your hard work and dedication to make the rivers a safer playground for the river guides and clients.
When will we see you next?
My wife and I love traveling and kayaking (me) and we will keep continuing to do the same with our daughter Lily. Not sure when and where but I’m sure our paths will cross on the river one of these days.
Key endeavours/projects going on?
I like to keep myself busy on or off the river. For my passion for teaching rescue’s I run Rescue India
I’m a founder and president of India’s first ever international kayaking event that happens every year in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand
My wife and I also run a women empowerment project in my village Sirasu, India. Our ladies are specialised in making a hand made wallets that is made of paper magazines and hand embroidered jewelries. We will be launching the website later this summer.
My recent kayaking episode for Mercedes Benz India ‘Home Waters’.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to let me share my river experience! #WeAreRiverFamily
Bhupi is one of our River Family. Are You?
#AreYouReady #RaftersAreAwesome #RiverFamily #StrongerTogether #WeAreIRF
We’re looking for more stories of River Family – if you have a story to tell, email Sean with your story and photos.